Why we must get away from tick box style teacher evaluations

A large number of schools still continue to use tick box evaluation models that make little difference to the impact a teacher has on teaching and learning in a school.

First and foremost, this type of evaluation model has a set of criteria that does not really allow for meaningful, rich, conversation between teacher and evaluator. Too often these evaluation tools judge all teachers on doing the same things. There needs to be more scope for looking at the differences between the way teachers think and act, and the impact they have on student learning as a result.

Two teachers may use very different methodologies in a classroom yet have a similar impact on student learning. Conversely, two teachers may use the same teaching method with vastly different results. Let’s take, for example, the notion of putting lesson objectives on the board at the start of each lesson, is that really necessary for all teachers to do? Even if every teacher in the school does this, will it yield a positive impact on student learning in every classroom? Not necessarily.

In addition, tick box style evaluations are very much dependent upon how an evaluator decides to interpret the criteria and what they want to see. A single evaluator, can often end up looking for the same thing in each classroom when observing classes in an effort to see if a teacher ticks all the boxes. This approach can lead to an absence of accounting for teacher difference and when judgement is made and feedback given. Furthermore, it may result in teachers being told to instruct in a particular way that the evaluator thinks is best. What is clearly missed through this type of evaluation is the impact that a teacher has on students and whether, in fact, the students are learning and developing.

A second point to make is that a tick box approach to teacher evaluation focuses on far too many things, for any meaningful feedback to be given. From a teacher’s point of view, too many things need to be addressed at once through an extensive checklist, with the question of “How can I do all of these well?” This leads to the feeling of being inadequate and not knowing where to start. This is especially the case when the evaluator identifies lots of areas for improvement and is unable to assist the teacher in prioritising action from the feedback.

Ultimately, teacher evaluation should be about the direct and indirect impact that a teacher has on students. At its roots, evaluating teacher impact should begin with teachers evaluating themselves and genuinely reflecting on their practice as an educator. It should also involve teachers being able to identify where students are learning and where students are struggling. Essentially, looking a teacher’s impact is a long and continuous conversation, where the evaluator is listening to the teacher talk about their impact on students and how they know they are having an impact. During such conversations, teachers may ask questions about what they can do to improve to their practice to have a greater impact. Through doing this, teachers are given greater ownership of the evaluation process in terms of being reflective practitioners that are growth oriented.

So, what becomes of the tick box approach? In terms of trying to evaluate teaching and learning, it may form a good starting point for teachers to reflect upon their practice and begin to think about the impact they have on students before starting to have a conversation about the way forward to improve, rather than being judged first by an evaluator. It may have a purpose, if an evaluator wants to check professional behaviour and expectations in terms of dress, punctuality, meeting deadlines etc. Other than that schools should consider throwing it away if we really want to focus on improving student learning.

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