If there is one thing many of us can agree upon, it is that being evaluated is a stressful and anxiety-filled experience. Knowing the person observing you is watching your every move, listening to your every word, and seeing how the students respond to your teaching can make even the most distinguished teacher tense up with nervousness. It is hard not to respond with anxiety and stress when the process for teacher evaluations is set up in a way that makes teachers feel like they are being judged more than supported.
If I had to rank my job requirements from most enjoyable to least, evaluating teachers would be close to the bottom. It is not because of the paperwork, the observations, or the discussions. The reason it is not enjoyable is the ingrained mindset that the teacher evaluation is just an opinion of how well someone feels another person is doing at their job.
How can we as school leaders improve the evaluation process so that we can change the mindset of those we evaluate and make evaluations more meaningful for all of us?
In my quest to make teacher evaluations more meaningful, I read the book Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. The book as a whole is a great reference guide for leaders, but the area of the book that impacted my leadership the most was how to act as a coach instead of an evaluator. As leaders, we need to flip the mindset of our role in teacher evaluations. We need to look at the process from a different lens and start to understand that our role should move from being an evaluator to being a coach.
Coaching gets greater results than evaluation because the approach and avenue to reach your goals and dreams look completely different. Look at the famous coaches in professional sports history: Phil Jackson (NBA), Vince Lombardi (NFL), and John Wooden (NCAA Basketball). Each of them every day “evaluated” their players: ability, strengths, weaknesses, and work ethic. They knew how to push their players and how each player needed to be individually motivated and encouraged.
The differences between the processes of coaching and evaluating are when you coach, you don’t just watch as a spectator and give your opinion on how things are and how they should be. Instead you take your observations, show someone what they can be and how their skills can continue to grow, and encourage them with avenues to get there. That is what school leaders (myself included) need to focus on: helping teachers realize where they are and where they can go if they continue to grow in their abilities as a teacher, colleague, and leader.
With that said, leaders beware! With guidance comes great responsibility. If you truly want to be a coach there is much you need to do behind the scenes. Just as coaches watch game footage, study playbooks, and plan strategies, evaluators who want to be coaches have to put in the same work. We need to do our own homework on how to help our teachers grow. We need to create a playbook of resources that we have collected from books, websites, conferences, and experts in the field of education. We need to be able to show the way not just through our own opinion but through best practices that have been proven over and over by research and inquiry. Our teachers need to knowthat we knowwhat we are doing and that we have the knowledge and the tools to help them reach their true potential and are not just shooting from the hip with our own opinions. When teachers believe in you and your message, they trust you as their coach and their leader.
Last year, I started to flip the evaluation process, and I have seen some great changes in the relationships I have with many of the teachers. This change is an ongoing process, and even though mindsets won’t change in a flash, with time and effort on our part, we can show teachers we are not here to judge them but to coach them to their fullest potential. We can start to tear down the walls of judgement that the evaluation process has mortared together between us and trust between both sides can start to grow. This may seem like a daunting task, just like the answer to the age-old question, “How do you eat an elephant?” You do it one bite at a time. Take your first bite in changing your evaluation process.
Have I hit some bumps in the road? Sure I have. Are there still mindsets and relationships that I need to work harder at? Of course there are. Every day, every conversation, every action, everything I do will either build up that wall or continue to rip it down. This is why every day I choose to put my judgments aside and work alongside my teachers so they know we are in this together. My teachers are worth it, and I know yours are worth it, too.
What changes do you need to make today so that your teachers can reach their fullest potential tomorrow? What articles, books, conferences and professionals are you connecting with so your teachers know that you know how to take them to the next level?
Roger Gurganus is an assistant principal at Brownstown Middle School, a 6–7 building in Brownstown, MI. He has a passion for children and education and strives to ensure that every student is connected and feels part of the positive communities he creates. Along with creating a culture of hope and love in his own middle school, Roger also is committed to bringing hope, love and education to the children of Uganda, Africa, where each summer he travels in hope of making a bigger difference in the lives of students who need it the most. Roger believes that teaching is not a job, but rather a calling and hopes that through his work lives can be changed, dreams can become reality, and mountains can be moved.
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