Teacher inquiry is a viable way for educators to improve their practice. It can lead individuals toward collaborative, supportive relationships with peers and meaningful change in practice. It is professional learning with an internal locus of control that is focused on an individual and their context. It begins with a question. The question, or wondering, becomes the focus and goal.
Ties to the evaluation process To make professional learning both meaningful and relevant for educators, it seems wise to connect goals and growth to the evaluative process that exists for everyone. With the educator creating their own goals, energy and effort can be focused with intent; progress is almost guaranteed.
Indeed, the new teacher evaluations have caused much grief to more than a few educators. The word “evaluation”, alone, infers many uncomfortable things. The deficiencies of the traditional view of teacher evaluation includes:
- Outmoded evaluative criteria, usually in the form of checklists.
- Simplistic evaluative comments, such as “needs improvement,” “satisfactory,” and “outstanding” without any consistency as to what those words mean. Many teachers end up being rated at the highest level on every item, with no guidance as to where they might focus their improvement efforts.
- The same procedures for both novice teachers and career professionals— no differentiation that reflects veteran teachers’ experience and expertise.
- Lack of consistency among evaluators; a teacher might be rated at the highest level by one administrator and much lower by another. This makes it much easier to attain tenure in some schools than in others, a violation of a fundamental principle of equity.
- One-way, top-down communication. Evaluation is a process that’s “done to” teachers, and it often feels punitive, like a “gotcha.”
The purpose of evaluation often gets lost in the series of observations and checklists, causing much fear and general harm to the teaching profession. The real purpose needs to be made visible: Evaluations should be about helping teachers learn. “Evaluations” should be inextricably tied to the educator’s personal professional learning plan.
Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment and aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.
The State of Michigan and the Michigan Council for Teacher Effectiveness has approved several tools to assist administrators in supporting the growth of the teachers. The Danielson Framework is frequently used. It is characterized by Four Domains:
- Planning and preparation
- Classroom Environment
- Professional Responsibilities
Connecting passion and growth to the evaluative process
A continuum of professional learning that provides surface learning in the eight passions along with opportunities to engage in deep, collaborative inquiry with other educators would seem to be the most meaningful way to help educators learn and grow.
In this evaluative age, collaborative inquiry is an empowering way for educator’s to own their own learning. Focusing on one of the eight areas of passion, their growth can easily be tied to the evaluative process. The benefit, though, is the sense of empowerment that comes from inquiry. Teachers lead their learning; direct their “evaluation”. No fear.