Last week I participated in the first annual #nErDcampBC. This took place in Battle Creek, Michigan and was wonderfully organized by @colbysharp @sharpsgalore @Suz_Gibbs @BrianWyzlic @mentortexts @daydreamreader @glo & @donalynbooks. I thoroughly enjoyed#nErDcampBC! There were so many intriguing sessions. The second session of the day that I attended was titled Reflection with Evaluation. This session was being led by a student from Albion College. Her name was Becca. The group attending this session was small, but excellent. Everyone was sharing and listening. I was the lone administrator in the room, but I was fine with this. My goal was to share some of the things I currently do and receive feedback. I also wanted to hear what other schools are doing with evaluations.
The first question that was brought up for discussion was, "As teachers, are you honest with your administrator about your weaknesses?" Becca asked the question and she then went on to share that her mom is a teacher in Detroit and her mom struggles with this. At this point in the conversation I listened, but I also thought of Warner Elementary.
I remember this year when a teacher told me she was struggling with Everyday Math. I remember when another teacher sat down with me and we discussed integrating technology as a way to increase engagement. I thought back to the time when another teacher told me that standard based grading was not going as smooth as they hoped for. I also remember a teacher openly asking me for input on reading. I relished these conversations! This is collaborating and being a true PLC school.
Then I listened to other teachers sitting in our session. The stories were very different from my thoughts. The comment that stuck out to me the most was, "I'm afraid to be honest with my principal because in the past I've been dinged on my evaluation for sharing my weaknesses."
This comment struck me as sad. The comment also struck me as courageous. The overwhelming opinion was that teachers cannot be honest with principals for fear of being penalized for their honesty.
I pondered these responses. What percentage of teachers are honest with principals? I'll admit I googled this. I couldn't find a definitive answer. I think this raises a bigger issue: Is Honesty the best quality? I had a great teacher growing up his name was Mr. Rod Hardy. Mr. Hardy was my HS Gov't teacher. I was fortunate to also have him as my golf coach. I remember a time when Mr. Hardy talked to our class about honesty in politics. He told us that an honest politician is tough to find, but when you find one you can be assured they are revered by the people. He then gave examples of honest politicians, he mentioned George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a few others. He then went on to say that our times are different. Mr. Hardy pointed out that past generations truly valued "their" word and character meant more. I listened intently. Mr. Hardy and I talked often, sometimes in class and sometimes on the golf course. I looked up to Mr. Hardy, he was a good teacher and a great person. I'll never forget a comment he told our class, "An honest man doesn't have to remember what he said." At first I didn't get it, but then it clicked!
To get back on track, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting? I believe this is a culture question.
So how does the cycle end? Here are my thoughts:
1) Educators must view evaluations as a growth tool.
- Too often I hear horror stories of Principals using evaluation as a punishment tool or as a way to force people out. Strong administrators must have the courage to have difficult conversations. I've learned that I must choose my words carefully, but I must be honest.
2) Teachers must honestly reflect.
- I attended MACUL this year. I listened to many dynamic speakers, but I won't forget one message. Nobody is PERFECT! We all make mistakes. This is true. I do believe some teachers view themselves as A+ teachers. I believe there are many highly effective teachers, but I would say a perfect teacher does not exist. No one is perfect. As I say this, I believe it is vital that teachers continuously reflect. Through honest reflection will come growth. Ask yourself, what went well? What could I have done differently?
3) Shift the culture.
- This begins at a local level, but then it must grow. I believe each building needs to have a growth mindset, a willingness to take risks, an open forum for collaboration, the willingness to honestly share and an administrator that is in classrooms often. After this is established the culture must grow! The community needs to hear "our" story. Education is the best profession in the world! We must share all the good and change the negative perceptions! It starts small and builds. Educators need to be telling "OUR" story. If we continue to let the media or legislature tell our story we will continue to be beat up.
4) It should NOT be about test scores.
- Teacher evaluation, Principal evaluation, Schools and Districts should not be graded on test scores. I believe this is when things went downhill. Standardized tests to my knowledge were never designed to be high stakes tests. Unfortunately they are. I don't know how, but this needs to change. There is so much more to a child's education. It shouldn't be about test scores.
The question was, are teachers dinged for honestly reflecting? I believe some are. I also believe this is a shame. The cycle must end.
When you sit down in the fall will you set goals that push you to improve? When you search for PD will you be honest with what your weakness is? Will you share your story this year?
Mr. Gilpin is a people first educator that is focused on serving others, building relationships, student engagement and empowering staff.