How Might We Evaluate Remote Professional Performance?

Devin Vodicka

This was originally posted to on May 24, 2020.

Last week I participated in an interesting series of conversations with school leaders around the difficulties in completing professional evaluations during this period of “emergency remote instruction” where we are physically separated from one another.  How does a principal evaluate a teacher when their past practice was to conduct whole-class observations of direct instruction?  Should the principal be popping into zoom lessons and taking notes? How does a superintendent evaluate a principal when their past practice was to walk through the campus? If school climate was an important factor in principal evaluations, how can one tell now what the tone of the “school” might be? If a student is not logging in remotely, who should be held accountable? 

To me, the fundamental question here is what we are trying to achieve.  Many of the systems that have been in place have emphasized process.  In the rare cases where outcomes have been the focus of our evaluation systems they are most commonly focused on standardized test scores.  Now we are in a time where known procedures do not fit with the current needs and where standardized tests are being eliminated.  So what should we do?
I would argue that now we have an opportunity for us to make urgent shifts as an educational ecosystem to a student-centered model that is oriented around learning.  As I have previously shared, we can imagine a new form of learner-centered progress reporting that includes timely, specific, growth-oriented, mastery-based, self-reflective, standards-referenced, and peer-referenced feedback.  In this proposed model, learning outcomes would include knowledge, habits, and skills that are identified as priorities by local communities.  In other words, the first step in designing and creating better models of professional evaluation begin with clearly identifying the holistic learning outcomes we want for our students and implementing a holistic assessment system that drives ongoing improvements.  
Once we are clear about what we want for our students, we can use a similar process for professionals.  We can identify the knowledge, habits, and skills that we believe are critical.  We can implement a system that includes timely, specific, growth-oriented, mastery-based, self-reflective, standards-referenced, and peer-referenced feedback.  This is an ongoing process that ideally includes broad representation in the co-design, co-construction, and implementation of new systems.  Summer is a good time to start this re-imagination of evaluation systems if you have not already been moving in this direction. 
Just as most student grading systems have been reconfigured to provide options for improvement and also safety nets to ensure that unfair penalties are not applied due to circumstances that may be beyond the control of the student, the same logic should apply here for professionals.  In addition, my experience is that the vast majority of educational professionals are committed, hard-working, collaborators and therefore I have tried to focus my efforts around evaluation on a process of growth. 
In the absence of entirely new systems and in recognition of the fact that these are unprecedented times, small changes can be made now to focus on growth and learning.  For example, consider the following:

  • Ask the professional to create their own performance rubric and self-assess, attach evidence, and reflect.
  • Ask the professional to create a five-minute presentation that will be shared with colleagues reflecting on what worked and what they would change.  Consider using a protocol such as the After-Action Review if you want to provide a template.  Set up a learning exhibition for the team after the last day of school. 
  • Ask the professional to provide a one-page written reflection on how they have grown this year.
  • Ask the professional to seek input on their performance from a small number of students and colleagues and to then summarize what they learned through the process of soliciting feedback.

If we fail to create the space for professional reflection and growth, our ability to adapt and improve will be reduced.  Now is the time for us to model what it means to be learners by finding ways to promote reflection, sharing of lessons learned in a safe space, and by individually and collectively committing to make positive adjustments as a result of our insights.  

Continue the conversation by following me on twitter or LinkedIn and by using #LCLeadership

For more, please check out my book Learner-Centered Leadership

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