Administration & Leadership

How to Increase Transparency in Teacher Evaluations

When administrators share evaluation instruments early in the year, teachers can work on necessary skills and improve their teaching practice.

September 21, 2023
Hero Images Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Administrators are busy, and they know that providing feedback to teachers is a core part of their job. Some school leaders hesitate to give feedback because suggestions feel nitpicky or they even fear “running off” the teacher, even if that feedback may be helpful or welcomed. Introducing the teacher evaluation to teachers early can provide clarity to staff while making it easier for school leaders to give feedback later. School leaders often struggle to leverage teacher evaluations as a collaborative tool for instructional improvement. 

Take this example: In the bustling halls of Roosevelt Elementary School, the principal, Ms. Anderson (not her real name), envisioned fostering a culture of collaboration and improvement. Rather than introducing the teacher evaluation instrument during the typical back-to-school professional development, she waited five weeks into the school year to ensure that teachers were settled.

During a daily walk-through, she observed and recorded Mrs. Johnson’s exemplar small group reading lesson. The video captured an instructional priority for the school. Then, during an October professional development session, Ms. Anderson shared the video, highlighting the specific ways that Mrs. Johnson effectively led the class, and introduced the evaluation instrument she would use that year in observing each teacher. 

This approach to introducing the topic of evaluation was effective because it met the following criteria for success: active engagement, collaboration, and clarity. 

Why Introduce the Teacher Evaluation

As I started my third year of teaching, I sat in the school’s library listening to the same presentation from the previous year. The principal presented a PowerPoint slide about how evaluation ratings worked and when we would be notified of her scheduled observation. “Come in whenever,” I thought to myself, and quickly turned to rewriting my to-do list, tuning out. 

Instead of an obligatory slide in a back-to-school presentation, the introduction to the teacher evaluation is an opportunity to begin conversations about instruction, establish a culture of coaching, and help teachers meet school requirements.

Principals have limited time with teachers, so there must be a reason to prioritize a thorough introduction of the teacher evaluation. Here are some reasons why a principal might choose to do so:

  • By introducing the teacher evaluation instrument, the principal establishes clear expectations and standards for evaluation, reducing ambiguity and ensuring fairness in the evaluation process. It may even be required by contracts. 
  • The evaluation instrument can be a tool for self-reflection, goal setting, and planning. When teachers are familiar with the instrument, they can align their teaching practices and professional growth efforts accordingly, aiming to meet the identified criteria and improve their instructional strategies.
  • Introducing the evaluation instrument can facilitate open communication between teachers and the principal. Teachers can seek clarification, ask questions, or discuss concerns about the evaluation process, fostering a supportive environment where teachers feel valued, heard, and encouraged to improve.

In Ms. Anderson’s school, introducing the evaluation instrument was effective because teachers engaged in group activities. In these groups, they analyzed different scenarios with the instrument, fostering collaboration and reflection. Inspired, many teachers left the session motivated to work in small groups to implement the showcased instructional strategies. Some teachers even embraced the evaluation instrument as a tool for growth throughout the year. Teachers were asked to reflect and apply, not just recall information. In addition, there was a level of accountability as teachers knew conversations would continue throughout the year. 

Introducing the Evaluation Instrument

Asynchronous introduction: Ask teachers to engage in asynchronous learning, such as a prerecorded video, Canvas course, or online platform. This asynchronous content can include guiding questions related to the evaluation instrument, pushing them to analyze their teaching practices, strengths, and areas for growth. This introduction style also allows for flexibility in time, giving more room for other essential priorities. 

Collaborative workshops: Instead of a one-way presentation, organize workshops where teachers actively explore the evaluation instrument. Break the staff into small groups, and provide them with scenarios, videos, or sample lessons to analyze using the instrument. Encourage discussions, sharing of ideas, and collaborative problem-solving.

Gamification: Turn the introduction of the evaluation instrument into a game or a challenge. Create interactive quizzes, puzzles, or trivia games related to the evaluation criteria. Teachers can work individually or in teams to solve the challenges, enhancing their understanding of the instrument in a fun and competitive way. There is a risk that teachers may find this approach to be condescending, and it should be used with caution. 

Fostering Ongoing Engagement

Peer learning communities: Form peer learning communities or teacher study groups centered around the evaluation instrument. As data indicates a need for instructional shifts, teachers can meet regularly to discuss different components of the instrument, share their interpretations and strategies, and learn from each other’s experiences. For example, the third-grade team may choose to focus their energy on indicator 7 at their professional learning community (PLC) meetings all year. During one of the first meetings, the PLC leader asks the teachers to discuss the indicators related to indicator 7. This creates a supportive and collaborative environment for teachers to engage with the instrument. 

Observation and feedback practice: Conduct practice observations where teachers can experience being both the observer and the observed. Pair teachers up and have them practice using the evaluation instrument to provide constructive feedback to each other. This hands-on approach allows teachers to gain firsthand experience with the instrument while building their feedback and coaching skills.

Showcase best practices: Organize a showcase event where teachers can share examples of their best practices aligned with the evaluation instrument. Teachers can create artifacts, presentations, or short videos showcasing innovative teaching strategies, student engagement techniques, or effective assessment methods. This approach celebrates excellence, inspires others, and demonstrates how the evaluation instrument connects to impactful teaching practices.

Remember, the key is to actively engage teachers in the learning process, encourage collaboration, clarify the process, and create opportunities for self-reflection. By employing these interactive methods, a principal can foster a culture of continuous growth and support among the teaching staff while introducing the teacher evaluation instrument.`

Focusing on the teacher evaluation instrument is crucial for establishing a culture of transparency, self-reflection, and coaching. Principals can consider various approaches to introduce the teacher evaluation instrument, depending on their context, school culture, and goals. By employing these interactive methods, principals can create a continuous growth and support culture among the teaching staff, ultimately benefiting student learning outcomes.

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