Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Contorting Danielson

I really wanted to title this "The Bastardization of Charlotte Danielson" but I was afraid that might be too harsh.  But I kind of think it fits.....

A very good friend and colleague of mine sent me this post that came from Huffington Post.   The author discusses concern with who Charlotte Danielson actually is, what her qualifications are, and how her framework is being used and misused all over this country in school districts creating teacher evaluation rubrics based on her work.  It's a pretty interesting read, and it raises some very interesting points.

I am far, far from any type of "Danielson" expert, but I have a smidge of experience with her framework. (Check out the framework here.)   As of right now, I am on a committee in my district that is developing and teacher evaluation rubric that is based heavily on Danielson's framework, as was our previous rubric, which I also helped develop.  When I worked on my master's degree, we studied Danielson's framework and I did an extensive self-evaluation project using the framework.  But I'd like to share my feelings about her work and what it means for teachers.

I truly believe that of all the things I have done to make myself a better teacher, the self-evaluation project I did was the single largest contributor to helping me continuously improve.  I took my self-evaluation seriously and as a result, I am still constantly striving for ways to be the best teacher I possible can.  Regardless of how much classroom experience Danielson has, that framework has value, in my opinion.  It can be a fabulous tool of construction or destruction, depending on how it is used.

Sadly, as is pointed out in the Huff Post blog, Charlotte Danielson's work is being twisted into things it probably was never intended to be.  Instead of teachers using it to find their strengths and weaknesses to improve, administrators are using it to nit-pick teachers and down-evaluate them in an effort to say they are holding teachers to higher standards.  In worst-case scenarios, the evaluations are being used as the steering wheel to boot teachers out of their jobs.  Now, let me make it clear that I ABSOLUTELY WANT BAD TEACHERS OUT OF THE CLASSROOM!  I have been quoted as saying how fed up I am with teachers who are content to sit around on their tenured asses.  In order to make the good teachers -- both young and old -- get treated like the professionals they are, it is imperative that the bad teachers get weeded out.  But I also believe it needs to be done fairly, and while Charlotte Danielson's framework really does have value, I also think it has been bastardized to the point in many districts that it now just being used to eliminate teachers; there's not a lot of interest in using that framework on good teachers because, well, they're good.

Which brings me to a question that comes out of this discussion: what really is the purpose of teacher evaluation?  There is great hand-wringing over evaluations that aren't designed to help teachers improve.  But is that really what they are supposed to do?  Here is what I have always honestly believed about teacher evaluations:

An evaluation is done by my principal to determine how "good" I am, and it is up to me to decide what I do with any information gleaned from the evaluation.  I can file it and be done until the next time, or I can review it and take it upon myself to use the evaluation to improve myself.  I have never expected any principal to help me improve professionally based on an evaluation.

Which begs another question: how can a teacher really be fairly evaluated?  For tenured and non-tenured teachers alike, the idea of a truly fair evaluation is almost laughable.  To me, in order for my evaluation to be truly fair, the following things need to occur:

  • My principal needs to be in my classroom all the time to see everything that happens.
  • Other teachers need to come in to my classroom often to see what happens.
  • Students need to offer constructive feedback about what it's like to be a student in my class.
  • Parents need to offer constructive feedback about their experiences working with me as their child's teacher.
  • I need to seriously reflect on my teaching and the feedback I receive about my work as a teacher and then find ways to improve.
You can stop laughing at how ridiculous this is now.  I know it's literally impossible.  But until these things happen, or at least a good portion happens, evaluations are going to be unfair.  There is simply not enough time or people to do a truly high quality teacher evaluation.  And I didn't even bother to go into principals teachers, students, and/or parents being objective (leaving out any personal bias that might exist against a teacher because that ain't gonna happen, either, as long as we teachers continue working with and interacting with human beings).

Getting a decent, fair, meaningful teacher evaluation is probably a virtual impossibility.  I don't know exactly how to make it happen, but I'm fairly certain it won't happen by twisting something of value like Danielson's framework into a weapon; it won't happen by administrators adopting a "gotcha" attitude with ANY teachers; and it won't happen if teachers don't take their own professional growth seriously.

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