Teacher Development

Easing the Stress of Evaluations for Teachers

Teachers approaching their summative evaluations with a growth mindset will bridge the divide and diminish the adversarial relationship with the administrator, who is on their side.
May 26, 2016
Two female teachers from the waist up, facing each other, talking.
Photo credit: ©Gable Denims/500px

Of course I've done my best throughout the year. I've submitted my lesson plans on time and attended all of the professional and staff development. I've also documented efforts to help struggling students, completed my extra duty assignments, and conducted parent conferences over the phone and in person. I've differentiated lessons for special-needs students. I think I've done a good job. But what does my evaluator think?

It doesn't matter how many times I've done this before, but when I get that email from my administrator to discuss the summative evaluation, I become a bit nervous. Even though I've been on both sides of the table in the summative interviews, it's still an anxious experience.

Well, I propose that it doesn't have to be agonizing if we approach it with an attitude of change.

As someone who has given and received evaluations, there are some things that I think we teachers need to realize. The administrator doesn't enjoy summative evaluation interviews any more than I do. I have to accept that it's not easy for my administrator to judge how well I did my job this year. Yes, the administrator may be biased, or may have particular styles of teaching that he or she prefers. But if I believe that's a problem, I know that I can ask for another administrator to evaluate me or lodge a complaint following proper channels. But I have to remember that it's a hassle for administrators to be overly critical of a teacher because it involves extra paperwork and time that they simply don't have. I know it behooves the administrator to give me the benefit of the doubt when completing my summative evaluation. This is a calming thought. . . right?

An Attitude of Change

Another way to further reduce the stress of the final evaluation is to adopt an attitude of change. This means accepting that I'm not perfect and that there's plenty I can do to improve my teaching quality. If my administrator has been in my classroom several times, most likely he or she is also aware of some ways in which I can improve. Why not make it easier on both of us by eliminating the uncertainty and expressing what I want to change in my teaching before the administrator gets around to telling me? If I've intentionally developed an interactive relationship with this person all year and sincerely probed him or her for added perspectives on how I can improve my teaching quality, that attitude of change at the summative evaluation interview is a bit easier.

Arriving at this attitude of change requires four simple actions:

  1. I have to seriously reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of my teaching quality. I ask myself the hard questions (Actually writing the answers to these questions is not only enlightening, but also cathartic):
    • How well have my students learned the subject matter?
    • Can I estimate their knowledge and skill on a 1-10 scale?
    • If it's not a 10, why not?
    • What extra efforts have I invested in my students to ensure their complete success?
    Actually writing the answers to these questions is not only enlightening, but also cathartic.

  2. Of all of the things that I should do to improve my teaching quality, I have to choose the one with the largest effect size, to borrow a page from Robert Marzano. Which of these, if I improve it, will help my students learn the most? For me, it would most certainly be providing timely feedback for student progress (I tend to procrastinate grading papers).

  3. I have to create a plan on resolving that issue and turning it into a strength, such as setting a goal to have all of the week's grades in by Friday. This means that I'll have to take home some grading, especially if I gave a test or quiz. I'll also need to employ alternative forms of feedback (other than smiley faces) on their papers. I've promised myself to find some way of encouraging struggling students each day, whether it's a compliment, a leadership opportunity, or simply an extra credit "Bravo" for being persistent.

  4. Finally, in the summative interview -- or even better, before it -- I need to preemptively let the administrator know that I've engaged in some preparation and deep thought about my performance and have already developed a plan to improve my teaching quality. Nine times out of ten, the administrator will have thought of the same improvements that I put in my plan. f the administrator hasn't, then I've just made it much easier for him or her to fill out the evaluation.

Bridging the Divide

If we think about the evaluation process, it should come as no surprise that the person most qualified to evaluate our performance is the person most acquainted with our performance, and we are individually that person. Yes, the administrator may provide additional insights and a valuable outside perspective, but I believe that we're missing an opportunity to really change if we don't do an effective job of evaluating ourselves first.

So how does an administrator respond to a teacher that demonstrates an attitude of change? I can't imagine any administrator who wouldn't be tickled pink and shouting "hallelujah!" when a teacher demonstrates an attitude of change. Done correctly, the character and nature of the summative evaluation interview changes dramatically from, "What's the least harmful way that I can tell this teacher about his or her weaknesses?" to "How can I best add to what this teacher has already done to improve his or her teaching quality?" To a certain extent, demonstrating an attitude of change will bridge the divide and diminish the adversarial relationship between teacher and evaluator, and this will help the administrator cross over to become more of a valued co-worker with the same goals of improved student learning.

Summative evaluations are necessary, but they don't have to be uncomfortably stressful if teachers take the time to self-evaluate, prioritize needs, create a plan, and communicate that plan to their administrators, who appreciate teachers that show initiative for self-improvement -- and that goes a long way toward a good evaluation.

My next post will look at this challenging and rewarding process from the administrator's side of the table.

As a teacher, what successes have you had in preparing for summative evaluations?