Editor’s Note: The Danielson method of evaluating teachers won praise Thursday from School Chancellor Dennis Walcott and, below, a principal shares her first-hand experience with the assessment developed by economist Charlotte Danielson, interviewed by SchoolBook earlier this year. Also, take a look at SchoolBook’s report on a Brighton beach school that’s test driving the Danielson method.
Headlines this week have featured the teachers union’s strike in Chicago where the disagreement between the union and the city is focused on how to evaluate teachers fairly, among other issues.
It feels light years away from my school, the Young Scholars’ Academy for Discovery and Exploration in Brooklyn, where teachers and administrators are working closely together on an evaluation system that is showing real results.
My teachers are leading engaging lessons peppered with questions and activities designed to build students’ critical thinking skills. They come to administrators seeking more professional development, rather than us forcing professional development on them. We have even developed our own vernacular, filled with talk about “domains” and “the framework.”
While we might be speaking our own language, we are speaking the same language — that of highly effective, evidence-based instruction. These developments are due to our participation in a New York City pilot program that is testing new teacher development and evaluation systems in more than 200 schools. We joined the program last year and we are back again this year because we believe the pilot provides our entire school community with the kind of purposeful, common-sense support that teachers want and deserve.
What we appreciate most about the program is how it emphasizes transparency and adopts a targeted approach. It is not about “gotcha” moments. Instead, the entire process is clearly laid out.
Administrators and teachers were all trained on the Framework for Teaching, a research-based rubric developed by education expert Charlotte Danielson that profiles particular aspects of instruction proven to be key factors in determining effectiveness. Through these “domains,” we have developed a common understanding and language of what effective teaching looks like and sounds like.
Every day, I visit teachers’ classrooms for one to two hours to observe and provide formative feedback based on the rubric. While I used to only pop in to a teacher’s classroom for a five-minute snapshot between meetings, I now spend at least 20 minutes with a class. And teachers are invited to join me — these are communal walkthroughs. In addition to planning lessons together, the classroom visits give teachers the opportunity to see the lessons in action.
As well as being transparent, this system is also targeted. If two different administrators visit the same classroom, they’re more likely to come away with the same opinion because they’re using a common, strategic feedback system. In turn, teachers are more likely to know which aspect of their craft they need to further develop.
Instead of being told to generally improve student engagement, for example, our teachers are now encouraged to focus on the particular part of the rubric that covers “Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques.” As we work to align our instruction with the more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards, these types of shifts in teaching will be critical.
I’m not going to pretend this work is easy or that it was immediately and unanimously embraced by our school community. But now that we have seen all of our teachers — regardless of where they started – strengthen their practice, and our students become more active participants in their learning, we deeply believe there is no going back.
We have found a common-sense solution that has pushed our school community toward higher expectations and addressed our teachers’ desire for meaningful feedback and support. And our students are the better for it.