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Finding Value in a Teacher Evaluation

Teachers should study their school’s evaluation criteria and prepare for their own review, experts say, making the most of a process that, despite its flaws, can improve their teaching and make an impression on their principal.

Anxious teachers, overworked administrators and a host of others argue that the evaluation process has it flaws, but is not likely to go away. With passage about a year ago of the Every Student Succeeds Act (and the likely approach of the Trump administration), responsibility for the structure of evaluations is shifting to the states, each having a variety of policies but perhaps not offering dramatic change.

So the specific evaluation you’ll face is uncertain, but regardless, experts say, try to influence shifting policies, understand them and make the most of the process. Here are 10 tips that might help:

1) Do your homework. “First, teachers must know the exact criteria,” says Furman University education professor Pat Hensley, who promotes teacher performance with a blog called Successful Teaching. You will be judged on some combination of learning objectives, student test scores, peer feedback, lesson plans, self-assessments, parent surveys, student work, a portfolio, examples of professional learning and observations. “Knowing what is being looked for, and, more importantly, what each domain looks like in a classroom, will minimize surprises,” says Jayne Ellspermann, principal at West Port High School in Ocala, FL. 

2) Show off. Peter Fusaro, principal at Flathead High School in Kalispell, MT, says you should build a relationship with principals, clearly understanding that administrators are busy (and have dozens of other staff asking for desk repairs or more heat in their classroom) but appreciate good work and want to evaluate it fairly. He suggests teachers encourage walkthroughs and visits. This sort of “formative” observation can generate good relations, provide an opportunity for feedback and refinements and deflate observation pressure. Participation in the school and visibility for you and your students’ work also helps.

3) Court case. Once you understand the process, break down how you’ll make your case, like an attorney presenting evidence. Hensley says you should clarify goals and explain in advance how you’ve met some and plan to meet others, making an evaluators job easier. “Know what is expected, and then write down how you will show evidence for each task. Keep this list on hand for meetings later. It can be handy if they didn’t see everything.”

4) Main characters. Education researcher and author Robert Marzano says you must remember administrators prioritize student learning. “When I go into a classroom to do an observation, I always tell the teacher that I am not as interested in what you are doing as much as what the students are doing,” says Amy McAnarney, assistant principal at Lawrence, KS, Free High School. “The days of the teacher as the sage on the stage are history, and they should show they understand that.”

5) Use people. Visit other classrooms, invite colleagues to visit yours and talk to parents (and even students, tactfully) about your methods. You should also have evidence that you’ve reached out and used the input. “We do lesson studies with groups of teachers,” says Elspermann, “We let them be ‘student for a day’ to get the student perspective, and we have teachers go with us on instructional rounds so they can experience walkthroughs from ours.”

6) Stress test.  Hensley says teachers must be well prepared and show off strengths, but also a variety of skills, carefully including what observers want to see. You should practice, she says, and have alternative plans and extra work in case they run short. Also, in a school, things happen, and you should plan for meeting or observation times changing.

7) Class considerations. Work with the personality of a class being observed, talk to the students in advance and don’t worry about behavior issues but be prepared to manage them. Focus on students and let them show a variety of skills, says Fusaro.

8) Corrections. “If I’m a teacher and receive a low rating on a strategy, I should be able to provide evidence such as videos, artifacts from students, and assignments showing I deserve a higher rating”, says Marzano. “Teachers should be able to provide evidence that students in their class have learned.”

9 Use them. “Be open minded in seeing new ways the information you’ve gained can help students succeed,” says Hensley, recommending that teachers record a lesson and use recommendations from evaluators to see if it improves their teaching. Or have a colleague review the recording and do the same thing. Well-known University of Virginia Professor and author Carol Ann Tomlinson says teachers also should request support. “Let them know about areas you want to stretch in as an educator and the things you’re doing to grow.  That gives you agency in your own development and lets you be proactive in establishing goals that matter to you.”

10) Don’t pout. Unfair assessment details often will dissipate with success and may be something you can learn from, though you should dispute or disprove them if necessary. “Do not take negative comments as a personal insult but rather as an opportunity to change teaching methods and meet the students’ needs,” says Hensley. Gather the valuable feedback, make the changes and show your growth.


Jim Paterson has been a newspaper and magazine editor and an award-winning writer for The Washington Post, USA Today Weekend, the Christian Science Monitor, Parents magazine, and a number of national and regional publications. During a break from writing he worked as a school counselor for seven years and quickly became head of a counseling department and "Counselor of the Year" in Montgomery County, Md. He now writes about education primarily. More about Jim at