By Kimberly Niland and Allison O’Brien
In a time before there was Achieve NJ, PARCC, and new state mandates, Harrington Park School district had already reinvented the way their teachers were evaluated. The impetus for this change stemmed from experienced teachers wishing the time they spent preparing for formal observations could be put to better, more meaningful use. Likewise, administrators wondered how they could help support the growth of their veteran teachers. The two groups came together and decided that the traditional teacher observation system needed to be restructured. What emerged from their arduous effort was a long-term observation model unlike any other. Driven by research, student data, and teacher collaboration, an evaluation model that would work to improve teaching and ultimately, student growth, was born. This model would be known as the Self-Directed Growth Plan (SDGP).
Self-Directed Growth Plans have the capacity to transform teaching and learning. Their true power lies in the fact that they are created and lead by the teachers that will be using them. As the assistant principal at Harrington Park Elementary school shared, “The SDGP impacts learning where it counts the most, the classroom. Teachers are given the freedom to explore the ways in which they can improve their craft, which makes the school stronger as a whole. The fruits of their labor allows administrators to affect change in a manner that would take years to implement if we used a top down administrative model.” Teachers in the district also noted an excitement for the ability and opportunity to try implementing a change that has “been in [their] head[s] for so many years,” but didn’t feel comfortable suggesting it to other staff. Rather than spending time filling out pre and post observation reports, teachers are able to use their time to implement lasting and effective changes.
The SDGP model is based on the belief that like children, adults learn in different ways, therefore a differentiated approach to teacher-growth is necessary. Rather than participating in the traditional observation model, self directed growth plans allow experienced teachers to be evaluated alternatively. Teachers create clear, measurable objectives based on the current needs and data in their classrooms. Plans on how to achieve the desired objectives are created, embedding the required SGOs, and take the shape of action research, peer coaching, collegial partnerships, interdisciplinary team projects, portfolios, curriculum design/revision, or other mutually agreed upon models. Analyzing and acting on student data in real time, as opposed to looking at last year's student data and adjusting instruction reactively, has limitless implications for student achievement and growth. This data can also be used to make curricular and instructional changes across multiple disciplines and grade levels. Teachers at Harrington Park School are empowered to take risks in finding ways to improve student achievement because they have the trust and support of their administration and school board.
The most important question to ask about SDGPs is, “Do they work?” The answer is an astounding yes! Over the few short years that SDGPs have been implemented in Harrington Park, countless lasting changes have taken effect. By analyzing the school’s master schedule, the fourth and fifth grade teachers were able to find a way to implement additional math and language arts minutes into their weekly schedule. Special education teachers created common routines for note taking, study skills, homework procedures, and vocabulary that assisted special education learners in having a more fluid transition from grade to grade. Level 1 ESL students receive increased support in their mainstream classrooms because the ESL teacher can now effectively partner with any staff member.
Self-Directed Growth Plans are transformative tools that give veteran staff opportunities to refine their craft, as well as allow newer staff members to learn alongside those with more experience. As the educational system continues to change its face, the Self-Directed Growth Plan Model will remain a constant, reliable method for teacher evaluation and growth.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.