Teacher Evaluations Require More Than a Check in the Box

Trying to evaluate something you don't understand, is like trying to describe something you haven't seen. The introduction of computers on a massive scale (think 1:1) has led many school systems to include a mandatory technology integration or technology literacy component to the evaluation process. This leaves principals and school administrators tasked with conducting teacher evaluations in a rapidly changing educational environment that can be unfamiliar if not altogether intimidating.

Including a technology component in the teacher evaluation process sounds like a great idea since we continue to spend huge amounts of money to provide educators and students with technology-rich schools. But, this approach only works if the person conducting the observation knows what to look for. Many principles are former teachers who taught during a time when educational technology included film strips and mimeograph machines. To be fair, things are changing so fast, that even those who are new to the position can find themselves out of touch from one year to the next.

Charlotte Danielson, an internationally recognized expert in teacher effectiveness, specializing in the design of teacher evaluation systems has one of the most widely adopted teacher evaluation frameworks used in America's schools. The framework consists of four domains of teaching responsibility: Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. Despite the lack of representation in Danielson's framework, technology is (or can be) an essential part of all four domains.

Although Danielson lists "appropriate use of technology" as one of her common themes of professional practice, her teacher assessment rubrics do not specifically describe what constitutes appropriate technology use. - Doug Johnson

So, what other resources might a school principal or curriculum director use to wrap their arms around evaluation of technology use? They might visit the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to review their standards for evaluating the skills and knowledge educators need to teach. Where they will find some lofty, but fuzzy, performance indicators like "Contribute to the effectiveness, vitality, and self-renewal of the teaching profession and of their school and community."

This is by no means an article aimed to discredit or insult our educational leadership. I admire their efforts and tenacity as they work to improve student achievement during a chaotic and complex period of educational flux. What I hope to point out is that the our educational system is inefficient, and our expectations are unreasonable, if we expect our principals and curriculum directors to become educational technology experts.

How can schools provide better technology-specific teacher assessment, more effective and actionable feedback, and improve the overall efficiency of the teacher evaluation process? By using their in-house experts. Peer assessment by fellow teachers or technology personnel familiar with the classroom tools would aid in providing quality feedback and practical guidance around the use of technology. Further, this would increase teacher collaboration and spread good teaching practices.

As an alternative, outside consultants with the proper experience and qualifications could help with this specific area of teacher evaluation. A consultant can provide perspective that's not colored by history, assumptions, or political influence. Observations and evaluations of this type should be considered formative, as summative observations should be the sole responsibility of the building principal or in-house administrator.

Including a technology component in the evaluation process is tricky. Not every lesson requires technology. Perhaps, technology usage should be assessed outside of the formal evaluation process where it becomes less punitive and more positive. Individual observations should lead to individual professional development plans, and aggregate data can be collected and used to design school or district-wide professional development programming.

Effective teacher evaluations require thoughtful analysis and actionable feedback based on the observer's experience and pedagogical knowledge. Principals don't have to be an educational technology experts to figure out when something isn't working, or to recognize good teaching. But, if the goal is to improve technology integration, it will require more than a check in the box when a teacher uses an interactive whiteboard to view a Brainpop video.

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