By Matthew Tungate
Though it’s been a while since Instructional Supervisor Joy Gooding was teaching, she still remembers what it was like getting an evaluation. The 32-year Fleming County school district educator said her principal would come into her room on an appointed day and she would give an introductory lesson where she got to be center stage.
“It was a performance,” she said. “It was a one-shot thing. It didn’t necessarily affect my practice every other day of the year.”
From what she has seen as part of the field test of the state’s proposed Teacher and Leader Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, she would much prefer to be a teacher now, Gooding said.
She has been facilitating the work of five Fleming County High School teachers as part of the field test, and she said her conversations have been “rich and thoughtful.” One of the veteran teachers told Gooding it was the first time she’d ever had a conversation with an administrator about her professional growth plan.
Kentucky educators have been working on the proposed professional growth and effectiveness system for two years. Fifty-four districts are field testing parts of the proposed system for the remainder of this school year, and they will test all parts of the system next school year. Schools statewide will pilot the new system in the 2013-14 school year, and it will be added to the Unbridled Learned assessment and accountability system in 2014-15.
The proposed system will help define what it means to be an effective teacher and leader, and provide support, assistance and resources, including more communication between teachers and principals, to help all educators reach that goal. It is composed of multiple measures, such as student growth, observation and self-reflection, that each have their own standards.
Each of the 54 field-test districts is assigned at least one of the multiple measures, but 12 of the districts are going even further, according to Michael Dailey, director of the Division of Next-Generation Professionals at the Kentucky Department of Education.
Dailey said the 12 Integrated Strategy districts are the first to try the “Integrated Strategy to Educator Effectiveness,” which integrates the state accountability system, Kentucky Core Academic Standards and the professional growth and effectiveness system work as an integrated approach to teaching and learning.
Figuring out how schools can ensure they have a high-quality teaching and learning process is at the core of what integration is about, he said.
“So that integrated approach means we’re not doing these things in isolation,” he said. “We want to make sure that they are connected.”
Cherry Boyles, instructional supervisor in the Washington County school district, chuckled under her breath as she said her evaluation experience was similar to Gooding’s and many other teachers across the state. She got one or two observations a year, and sometimes it was only every couple of years.
“There may be some quick walkthroughs or something like that. But as far as the opportunity to really sit down and talk with your instructional leader about your practice in your classroom, that time is precious, and in the previous system, we didn’t always take time for that,” the 20-year educator said. “One of the great benefits of this effectiveness piece is it really requires that we have these conversations – it requires that we talk about practices, and we talk about what effectiveness means, and what it looks like, and that we share a common language and set of expectations. I would have appreciated that when I was in the classroom.”
Teachers are going through a lot of change, Boyles said, citing new academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices, assessment and accountability. She said it’s really important to take the time to see the connections.
“This is not just one piece – this is a whole systemic look,” she said.
For instance, adopting new state standards doesn’t “really change instruction. So you had to have something that you could implement that would really increase the rigor of your instructional practice in the classroom as well,” Boyles said.
That’s where programs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) come in, she said. Much of the teacher effectiveness framework revolves around rigor and relevance, and the LDC and MDC are helping in that area, she said.
“Essentially what this is doing for us is giving us a set of practices to work with and to implement in the classroom, and it’s given us a way in which we can measure those practices to see if they’re helping those teachers be effective with student performance,” Boyles said.
Gooding said leaders in Fleming County try to tie everything they do to the foundation of Unbridled Learning.
“Then we can help our teachers see, ‘No, we are not asking you to do one more thing. We’re asking that you use this vehicle to carry out this work,’” she said.
She said her district wanted to be part of the professional growth and evaluation pilot because leaders knew it was an area that they needed to grow in; their local process is cumbersome and it doesn’t always foster professional growth.
“We wanted to be part of a system that would truly nurture professional growth for all our teachers, even the best,” Gooding said.
Most districts overlook that the state accountability system includes more than just student testing, said Cindy Parker, literacy coordinator and Gates-funded initiatives project coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Education.
“But what they don’t do is make a connection to how you actually go about improving student performance through more professional development for your teachers, for having more effective teachers in the classroom that know how to implement rigorous, aligned instruction for their students,” she said. “It’s like they know the end result is, ‘We need more proficient students.’ But they don’t really think beyond how you go beyond improving a test score.”
The new system is designed to do that, she said.
Ron Combs, principal of LBJ Elementary (Breathitt County), said he is very excited that some of his school’s teachers can participate in the professional growth system field test, even though he is not in one of the integration districts. After 24 years in education, he thinks using the multiple measures is a step in the right direction.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity to really be able to help teachers help themselves, figure out exactly where their needs are and be able to move forward in addressing those needs to better serve our students,” Combs said. “I think with this new system we’re going to be able to really focus on the needs of teachers and the needs of the students as well, to be able to prepare our students to be college and career ready.”
Boyles said that districts that aren’t involved in the field test can still begin preparing. Districts should become familiar with the types of measures and the evaluation tool, she said, noting that while specifics may change, the concepts will not.
Washington County educators have been looking at what they already have in place that can help them give input on teacher or principal effectiveness, Boyles said.
“Knowing some of those categories, knowing the way in which we’ll be measured, it opens the conversation for now,” she said. “We’re all in a place where we just have to pull together and think about what are current practices and what types of changes might we want to make.”
Gooding said she knows some districts are nervous about what the new system will bring. But she said she assures educators that the system is being built with their best interest at heart.
“It’s been built by teachers,” she said.
Combs suggests that other districts investigate the new system and be open-minded.
“I believe this is going to be good for our field, for our profession, that it’s going to be able to address the needs that we need to address to help teachers and to equip teachers with all the tools that they need to be able to do the very best job that they can,” he said.
Teacher and Leader Professional Growth and Effectiveness System
Michael Dailey, email@example.com, (502) 564-1479