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Evaluating teachers; motivating students

David Wilson's "Learning Every Day" column

At this time administrators and teachers at Jefferson City High School have completed the teacher evaluation process for the school year. But in all reality, it is a job that is never really done.

The reason for that is that the school principals, as instructional leaders, must always make classroom visits and have dialogue with teachers about how to best orchestrate student learning.

Evaluation forms that are approved by the Board of Education are used in this effort, but the entire process involves much more than simply filling out a form.

It is also more than simply determining if a teacher is competent in

his or her subject area. Doing that is easy, but helping teachers to truly energize learning for every student is much more difficult. It isn’t an easy task for the teacher; nor is it an easy job for the administrator.

JCHS teachers are very knowledgeable about their subject matter and they are good at what they do. But expertise as it relates to content knowledge is only the beginning of what it means to be an effective teacher.

Teachers today are called upon to make a connection with students, to tailor learning for each, and to teach them skills that are important to their success. In addition, instructional delivery has to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and all of society.

To help teachers stay abreast of where education is headed, it requires ongoing conversations with administrators and with other teachers about what the educational research says is most effective.

It is not easy for anyone to adjust and refine a craft on the move, but that is what educators must do.

With that understood, one of the purposes of the teacher evaluation process is to facilitate productive conversations and to explore new avenues of teacher growth and student discovery.

Meaningful progress can occur after an administrator has made classroom visits that result in reflective dialogue.

Charlotte Danielson is an economist, teacher, and educational consultant who has provided insightful commentary about the effectiveness of classroom visits and the ongoing conversations between teacher and principal.

She wrote, “Professional conversation is unparalleled in its potential for stimulating in-depth reflection and deep learning on the part of teachers .... Even a brief classroom visit (5-10 minutes) can yield sufficient information on which to construct a productive conversation ...”

Such conversations can be about specific criteria on a teacher evaluation, or they can be on any one aspect of a lesson and how it fits in to the overall teaching effort.

One of the criteria on the teacher evaluation form is “motivates students appropriately.” That criteria alone can generate helpful conversations on how educators can make learning relevant to the world of today and meaningful to each student.

Another criterion is “provides for individual differences” which lends itself to various conversations about how to reach each student where he or she is. A “cookie-cutter” approach to lesson preparation won’t work when a teacher is working with a class of students who are at various skill levels and with various interests. Teachers must orchestrate learning to capture the interest of each and meet the needs of each.

In any profession, those who rise to the top are always looking for areas in which to improve.

When it comes to providing the best for our children during their formative years, we should expect nothing less from educators than an ongoing quest for excellence and a continual dialogue about how to get better.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School.You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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