While assessment of student learning provides us with useful information about the amount of learning that takes place on a day-to-day basis, assessing teachers and their effectiveness as instructors remain a challenge. Often, it is taken for granted that student achievement level itself is a sufficient indicator of how well a teacher does his or her job. However, this is a misconception because students’ academic achievement level may be the result of various other factors in addition to the effectiveness of a teacher.
A widespread practice employed to tackle this issue is the use of performance review (usually a year-end exercise) where an administrator evaluates a teacher on a set of pre-determined criteria. This is often a one-time task. But how does one judge the quality of teaching from a single performance measure?
The year-end, one-time performance review may work well in a factory setting, where superiors could rely on production rate, attendance, and other concrete data to decide on the effectiveness of a worker. However, it does not apply well to teachers who do more than production. Teachers build, empower, engage, stimulate, motivate and inspire students to learn and to reflect on living a good life. Teachers also constantly connect with students through positive and warm relationships. Thus, assessing the quality of teaching demands a more formative, on-going authentic measurement of teacher performances.
Teachers experience high levels of anxiety during inspection and evaluation by an administrator. They feel unfairly judged on a single observation and on standards that they themselves are not fully aware of. Many argue that anxiety, nervousness, bad luck, and a variety of other factors ruin the lesson that is being observed. Some teachers say, “He (the supervisor) should have come when I was doing this other lesson earlier in the month; it went so well; today, I blew it all up! I am definitely going to get a bad performance review (sigh).”
Another outcome of a limited observation of a teacher’s teaching capability is the “observer effect” where the teacher and students become unnatural in their behavioral responses on the account of the novelty of being observed by a third person, especially an authoritative figure. Hence, true teaching and learning are rarely observed and evaluated. In the end, the whole process becomes another ritual and requirement to complete paper work and get on with other routines.
Usually, an administrator or a supervisor observing a teacher does it by assuming a non-participatory, completely-detached observer role (e.g. sitting in a corner with an evaluation sheet). What this means is that the supervisor does not take into consideration and/or understand the overall context or processes, relational dynamics, classroom history, socio-cultural experiences of the people, environment, and events being observed. Because of all these and many other flaws, performance reviews fail to accomplish what they were meant to do. At the end of the day, the question of whether or not a teacher is truly effective still remains unanswered.
Having identified the weaknesses of performance reviews, it only makes sense for us to think of and utilize a more creative and constructive approach to teacher evaluation. This could be done by employing “clinical supervision.” Clinical supervision is an approach that began in the medical and health fields and is now being widely used in counseling and business sectors to allow for a more genuine and supportive evaluation of personnel.
Unlike the “snoopervision” approach taken in a one-time performance review, clinical supervision requires extensive conferencing between a supervisor (observer) and the personnel being evaluated. Conferencing implies that the observation and evaluation is done over a period of time, with opportunities for both the parties to talk about and listen to each other’s perceptions about the evaluation process and its eventual outcomes.
Stage 1: Pre-conference – informal interview of the teacher; exploration of his/her educational philosophy, classroom management styles, use of teaching methods, use of assessment, etc.; identification of strengths, weaknesses; discussion about a particular lesson that would be observed by the supervisor; discussion about different ways to teach the lesson; supervisor and teacher collaboratively work on a lesson plan.
Stage 2: Observation – once the date and time are set, the supervisor observes the lesson (prepared in stage 1) with minimal or no interruption. Instead of using a rubric to evaluate the teacher, the supervisor takes an anecdotal record of all that goes on in the class during the period of observation – lending to the collection of a qualitative/narrative data, which is more authentic.
Stage 3: Post-conference – after the observation, the teacher and supervisor sit down to talk about the lesson and how it was delivered. The supervisor leads the teacher through a series of self-reflection questions about the teaching experience and presents his feedback in the direction of improving instruction in the classroom.