Standards for Effective Teaching—Got Some?


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This was the outcome of a Twtpoll I posted (on Twitter, naturally) a couple of weeks back. I had been chatting with a colleague at another school on the topic of standards for effective teaching, and it occurred to me to ask my Tweeps, “Has your K12 school developed and published its standards for effective teaching?”

It seems like a reasonable question. After all, independent school thought leaders and accrediting bodies have been nagging at schools for twenty years or more to implement consistent, regular programs of teacher evaluation. This isn’t like giving every kid their own iPad or dropping AP courses or football—just a necessary evolution in the way we all need to be doing our work.

About ten or twelve years ago I was at one of the “Eloquent Mirrors” workshops offered by Steve Clem of the Association of Independent Schools of New England. Speaking of schools’ evaluation systems and teacher performance, Steve rather puckishly asked, “And you have all articulated your standards for effective teaching, haven’t you?” I guess he knew we’d all be looking at our shoes; we were.

I came home that day and started working with our academic program team to cook up a process for us to create these standards as a full faculty. The morning of one professional day, a full faculty meeting, and a couple of team and then department heads meetings later, we had something we rolled out of which we felt pretty proud: We had our standards, nine of ’em, each with a couple of subcategories. (You can find them on page 9 of our downloadable Teacher’s Guide to Life and Work.) They came out of a full-faculty brainstorm with a couple of rounds of full-faculty feedback on several drafts. The process was not only pretty painless but also inspired some great conversations about teaching and learning and what it means to be a teacher and a professional in our community.

So when I put my poll up I figured I would hear from quite a few people that they either had their standards or were working on them. Otherwise, how could anyone actually be evaluating teachers?

I know that not all of my Twitter followers are in schools, but quite a few are, but I was unprepared for the result. Eighty-two people had looked at the poll, and 81 of them didn’t even have an answer; perhaps a “no” or even a “not yet” might have felt too embarrassing even to put down. And by the way, that single (“yes”) answer was mine—I had thought I should prime the pump, so to speak.

Grant Wiggins and others have been telling us since the 1990s that we need to let kids know the categories in which their work is being evaluated and the standards by which we are measuring their performance. I know that doesn’t always happen, but most teachers know that information on all this offered beforehand not only guides kids toward doing better work, it also saves a lot of explanation and confusion later. It makes our lives, and our students’, simpler and better.

And I’ll admit that when we made our standards we didn’t actually drop them into our developing evaluation system for a couple of years—at least until people got used to the idea and indeed until members of the faculty recognized their positive value as offering some clarity to the feedback teachers would receive; they actually asked for them to be incorporated.

But it’s 2011, and I guess I might have thought we’d come farther along since I went to that workshop. Steve must be awfully tired of seeing people look at their shoes whenever he rolls out an “Eloquent Mirrors.”

I guess what is reflected in those mirrors might not have changed as much as I might have thought. But getting to those standards just wasn’t that hard, and now, more than ever, I think schools need to be having all the conversations about teaching, learning, and professionalism—what it means to be a 21st-century educator—that they can organize.


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