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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Teacher Evaluation and Me

My state, Indiana, has adopted a new teacher evaluation system called RISE. Reactions to this massive new method for assessing educators were varied. Most teachers were terrified. I was fascinated (and a little terrified too). "How hard can it be?" I thought. "I've been through National Board Certification twice."

With that thought in mind, I decided that I could help Indiana teachers by showing them how to take matters in their own hands. The website Teachers RISE Above was created, and the teachers at my school began preparing for really tough evaluations. We met several times over the summer to aclimate ourselves to the process and began documenting.

To date, I've had one long evaluation and two short (unannounced) evaluations. Frankly, they could have gone better.

The first short evaluation came as I was demonstrating how to create a website using gmail accounts. My fourth grade class was preparing to create a collaborative website on words we were studying for WordMasters, a national vocabulary contest. In my mind, building such a website was pretty high level stuff and incorporated oodles of Common Core State Standards, such as L.4.4cL.4.6, RI.4.4, and RI.4.9. They would be using technology at the highest level of Bloom's Taxonomy, creating. But the evaluator didn't really see it as a good example of my teaching. After all, I was not teaching content at that particular moment, only how to use a gmail account.

Then came my first long evaluation. I planned to teach students how to choose the correct definition in a dictionary using context clues and parts of speech. For the guided practice portion of the lesson, which I considered to be key, we would look at some words in context, study multiple definitions given in the dictionary, and pinpoint the correct meaning. In preparation, I enlarged dictionary pages using the copy machine and created corresponding practice sheets. To demonstrate my tech savviness, I would use my Elmo and my Mobi, moving around the room like a pro! Then the digital projector went down. Five minutes before my evaluation. As they say, "Keep calm and carry on." And I did. But it was not the lesson I hoped it would be.

The evaluator popped in for a second short evaluation as my students were working on a project called "People Who Made a Difference." Each of them had chosen a famous person and read a full-length biography about him or her. They were now engaged in the next steps in the project. Most were creating timelines of the person's life by measuring and plotting on large sheets of tagboard. Some were searching the Internet for pictures to add to their timelines. Still others, who had finished those tasks, were writing monologues for the grand finale, a presentation in which each students dressed a the person and talked about his or her life. Pretty good, huh? Everyone was engaged. It was a high level project. Still, I did not attain highest marks in "engage students in academic content" or "set high expectations for academic success." I heard that they were told to be critical. They were.

Now it's spring break, and I'm preparing for my second long evaluation. This time I'm not leaving anything to chance. Everything will be spelled out for the evaluator before she hits my classroom door. I have learned my lesson. The teacher DOES need to take matters into her own hands. The teacher needs to be proactive in this effort. The teacher is not only her own defense attorney, but also her own best cheerleader.

This week's blog will be dedicated to the process of building a solid lesson plan for a long evaluation.