For the last fifteen years of my career, I’ve fought an almost constant battle with school leaders over one simple practice: Posting my daily objective on the board of my classroom — a practice that is almost always required by my bosses and that I NEVER do.
The result: I almost always get dinged on my evaluation for skipping this required practice each time that someone in a position of authority observes me for the first time. “Posting your objective is a best practice, Bill,” they’ll say. “Research shows that when students are aware of what you are expecting them to learn, they achieve at higher rates.”
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Can you spot the problem in that statement, y’all?
Posting your objective on the board ISN’T a best practice.
Making students aware of what they are expected to learn IS a best practice.
Those AREN’T the same thing.
Take my classroom for example: I use Unit Overview Sheets to communicate expected outcomes to my students. These sheets include student friendly descriptions of each of the standards covered in a unit, all of the required vocabulary for a unit, and “doing tasks” for each outcome that can be used by students as demonstrations of mastery. They also include spaces for students to track their own progress towards mastering each outcome and to record scores earned on assignments tied to each outcome.
These sheets come out in my room two or three times a week. Students review the outcomes that we are about to study OR that we have just finished studying. Then, they record ideas in “proof boxes” on their Unit Overview Sheets as evidence of things that they have mastered and reflect on both where they are going and how they are doing.
Isn’t that a helluva’ lot better than just posting my objective on the board each day?
Not only am I meeting my administration’s expectation that teachers will communicate their essential outcomes to students, I’m providing students with chances to assess their own progress towards mastery — another research based practice that has a significant impact on student learning. I’m also giving every student — including kids who struggle to make As and Bs — multiple chances to see that they ARE making progress as learners.
Heck — the way I see it, I should be getting bonus points on my evaluation for going BEYOND expectations. Instead, I get dinged because my bosses don’t see my objective written on the board in my classroom.
So why does this stuff happen?
Here’s why: Principals — like durn near everyone in education — are overworked.
In addition to keeping the building running and handling student discipline issues, they are tasked with supervising dozens and dozens of employees each year. To make this work more manageable, they turn teacher evaluation into a series of simple, observable steps that I like to think of as “checklist leadership.”
Does the teacher have high enough test scores?
Does the teacher post their objective on the board?
Does the teacher use technology in their lessons?
Does the teacher use a complex text in their lesson?
But here’s the thing: Those behaviors might be easy to observe, but none of them matter if they aren’t paired with a clear understanding of — and commitment to — the purpose behind the practice.
Here’s an example: Years ago, one of my administrators called me into her office and told me that she wanted me to go and visit one of my colleagues for advice. “Bill, I want you to go talk to Peggy. She posts her objective on the board every day. She can tell you how important it is.”
So I stopped by Peggy’s room. Her objective read, “The students will be able to self-select grade level reading materials to use during silent reading with 80 percent accuracy.”
Think about that for a minute, would you?
It doesn’t make any sense as written, does it? Taken at face value, it means that a student will successfully choose a book to use during silent reading four days of the week — but on the fifth, they might pick up a stapler or a calculator instead.
When I asked Peggy about her objective, she said, “Oh that’s been up there for months. I just have it up in case I get observed. Nobody asks about it anyway. They just want to see something written on the board.”
THAT’s what happens when you slip into checklist leadership, y’all.
Teachers stop thinking about the reasons behind your requests and start finding ways to follow your rules. And unless you start asking probing questions, you might just end up convinced that a teacher is doing all the right things when in reality, they are doing the bare minimum because they know that your observation consists of nothing more than looking for — instead of encouraging the development of — core practices.
How do you avoid all of this?
Start asking lots of questions of your teachers.
“Your objective wasn’t on the board,” can become, “How do you make students aware of what they are supposed to be learning during your lessons?”
“You weren’t using technology,” can become, “How do you personalize learning in your lessons?”
“Your test scores aren’t as high as the scores of your peers,” can become, “What outcomes do you think you are really effective at helping students to master? Which do you struggle to help students master?”
Long story short: Questions asked in formal and informal conversations — instead of simple checklists used during mandatory evaluations — are the only way to really see what your teachers know and can do.
Related Radical Reads:
Using Unit Overview Sheets to Help EVERY Student See Progress.
Leadership Lesson from Band of Brothers
More on Classroom Walkthroughs and Teacher Evaluation