In addition to value-added scores, Hillsborough County teachers’ evaluations include classroom observations based on a rubric modeled after Charlotte Danielson’s framework. Multiple times over the course of the year, each teacher is observed by a trained peer evaluator – another teacher from the district who works full-time in this role. The teacher and peer evaluator meet before and after each observation.
New teachers also have access to peer mentors, who guide their professional development and support them in their initial entry into the classroom.
Paul Goodland, ordinarily a high school chemistry teacher, will begin his second year as a peer evaluator in the fall. Curious about different perspectives on EET, we invited Goodland and middle school language arts teacher Rob Kriete to interview one another about Hillsborough County’s new evaluation system.
Goodland: How well do you know the new evaluation rubric?
Kriete: The first year, I felt overwhelmed by the EET rubric. Teachers could view an eight-hour online video course that explained each domain and highlighted the main components of each. But I needed to experience the rubric and see how it applied to what I was already doing to teach the students in my classroom.
The EET rubric is not only a new evaluation instrument: it also prompts a different, more student-centered approach in each classroom.
It was a little scary at first. In my previous years of teaching, evaluations only focused on what I was doing as the teacher. The EET targets only what the students are doing to achieve the lesson objective and how that objective will be measured.
After the trial-and-error of that first year, I better understood the nuances of the rubric and how it translated into a more student-centered learning environment. Two years into EET, I know the rubric very well.
Goodland: Tell me about your relationship with your peer evaluator this year.
Kriete: I respect my peer evaluator. When she was in the classroom, she taught the same subject and grade level as me, so she understood my challenges. She’d lived them too. In our conferences before each evaluation, we communicated honestly and freely about what I was trying to accomplish with each lesson and the challenges I expected.
However, some peer evaluators are working with teachers outside their area of expertise, and that has created some friction between peer evaluators and those teachers. Ideally, all evaluators should have taught the subject and grade level that they are evaluating.
Goodland: How do you prepare for the meeting before your observation?
Kriete: Teachers have never been coached on what to or what not to say at these conferences. I always bring the rubric with me to these meetings.
In the discussion with my peer evaluator, I highlight how I plan to address each part of the rubric during the observation, what I truly expect the students to be doing, why I am teaching a given skill, and how I will measure whether they have learned it.
Goodland: What about the conference after the evaluation?
Kriete: I want to consistently improve my classroom practice. It is always difficult to hear criticism of what I am doing — but it’s necessary.
In every postconference, I point out adjustments I made within the lesson and any modifications I would have made to the lesson to strengthen its effectiveness.
I make a plan of “next steps” to address any shortcomings. My peer evaluator offers some suggestions for improvement.
Goodland: How do you think this process compares with those outside the academic sector?
Kriete: As a career teacher, I am relatively ignorant to how the corporate world evaluates their workers but it seems logical that they would. What I do know is that quality teaching is much more difficult to quantify than sales, service, or customer satisfaction. I believe there are so many variables in every class, school, course, and in every student, that evaluating effective teaching is much more difficult than evaluating corporate performance.
What we know as educators, though, is that when the students are doing things and thinking, they are learning. Our EET instrument keys in on this.
Goodland: How has EET influenced your teaching?
Kriete: As I have understood the rubric more clearly, I have reinvented my classroom environment to be more student-centered. Students work daily with other students, helping and teaching each other based on their individual strengths. They ask questions and seek answers from each other. More than ever before, I consider my role to be that of a facilitator of learning.
Students have responded enthusiastically to this style, and I have tracked significant learning gains. I am constantly looking for more ways to immerse the students in thought-provoking, collaborative activities.
Goodland: Do you and your colleagues support each other in any way, when it comes to the new evaluation system?
Kriete: I have had countless informal discussions about the EET with my professional learning community (PLC). We have collaborated on ways to make our department’s instruction more interactive. Next fall, we plan to begin an optional EET evaluation PLC. Teachers will “unpack” each of the EET domains and brainstorm some ways to increase teaching effectiveness in that area.
Goodland: What are some of the challenges of adjusting to the EET?
Kriete: It seems to me that the newer teachers are not having as difficult a time because they are offered more support through a county-assigned mentor. Also, they have never been evaluated using the older, more teacher-centric rubric. Some more experienced teachers are having trouble adjusting to the new system.
I believe that the EET evaluation system has met with some resistance not because it is a new way to evaluate teachers, but because the EET rubric values a different way of teaching. Many teachers were not prepared for this shift in teaching methodology, which has caused some friction between teachers and evaluators.
As teachers are better prepared and supported to foster student-centered learning environments, I think there will be less resistance about the EET instrument.
Goodland: Do you think this program will come and go like [others before it]?
Kriete: A lot of teachers believe this. Historically, in public education, things do come and go. I recall the words of one of my undergraduate education professors: “The historical landscape of public education is littered with abandoned bandwagons.” And in my eighteen years as an educator I’ve seen this happen.
But I believe that the new teacher evaluation system will transcend this trend. Here’s why: the older “checklist” system of teacher evaluations focused on what teachers were doing, and the new evaluation focuses on what students are doing to learn. Also, by and large, most teachers truly want a clearer way to measure their effectiveness.
And now Kriete takes on the interviewer role...
Kriete: How are peer evaluators selected?
Goodland: The position was offered to all teachers, but certain factors boosted a candidate’s qualifications. For example, National Board Certified Teachers had already gained experience in using a similar rubric, and that was an advantage, as was scoring well on previous observations. And there was a panel-type interview; the questions were designed to gauge the applicants’ educational philosophies and general abilities to relate to others.
Kriete: What kind of training do peer evaluators receive?
Goodland: We initially learned about the rubric in workshop-style classes. We dissected the rubric, and applied it to videos of teaching as well as live teaching.
At the beginning of the year, we spent three weeks working with experienced peers in volunteer-teacher classrooms, practicing the art of scripting and discussing observation scoring. Then a district screener assessed a set of our observations for accuracy. And later, we were also assessed by an outside company who specializes in rubric-based observations.
There’s also ongoing professional development for peer evaluators. We need to keep learning and growing, too. For example, we need to know how to write about our observations of teaching in a neutral, professional way. And I think all peer evaluators need to expand our repertoire of next steps for teachers.
Kriete: Do you feel that teachers are prepared for their evaluations?
Goodland: It varies widely.
Some are well-prepared. Others don’t realize the true purpose of the conferences and tend to say too little or too much that is irrelevant and/or not in their best interest.
All district employees should receive high-quality, paid training in their evaluation rubric before using it. I think the district recognizes that providing the Danielson information and videos to be looked at on teacher’s own time was a major mistake. There are still teachers who do not know and/or understand the basics of the rubric.
But the district is working on this—and they’ve created a virtual learning community, an online space where teachers can ask questions about the EET.
Kriete: What is the most difficult part of the process for you as an evaluator?
Goodland: Conducting formal observations and following up can be very demanding. It is such an important part of the process. We analyze our data and observations, select the most important areas to focus on, and suggest appropriate and impactful next steps.
The volume of observations and time needed to complete this work is challenging. Fortunately, our caseloads were reduced this year through the hiring of additional peer evaluators.
Kriete: Are there domains, or parts of the rubric, that are easier or more difficult to score?
Goodland: Not really. If we don’t get much information from teachers before the observation, certain domains can be more challenging.
I think that from the teacher’s perspective, “Respect and Rapport” and “Environment for Learning” are the most personal. That leads me to spend more time choosing my words to address these domains, especially when an observation didn’t go well.
Kriete: What piece of advice would you give to Hillsborough teachers, if you could only give one?
Goodland: I would emphasize that many teachers need to change the way they think about assessment. Honestly, assessment should be happening continuously—multiple times in a single class period. We should be assessing whether students are following directions, whether they understand the notes they’re taking, whether they can complete a problem or two as they go.
Some teachers think assessment simply follows instruction, instead of being embedded in it—and that mindset affects their performance on every domain of the rubric.
Kriete: How are your evaluation scores measured against other evaluators’ scores?
Goodland: We receive updates throughout the year on how we are rating relative to all peers and those in our subject area. Of course, we don’t all have the same teacher mix, so it is normal to be somewhat different from others. However, this does lead us to reflect on our evaluation scores and look more closely at any rubric components that we tend to score very differently than others.
Kriete: How will your own teaching change when you return to the classroom?
Goodland: So far I have compiled two things based on this experience. One is a list of the “big rocks”: things teachers do (or don’t do) that impact learning the most. Most are quick fixes or changes in habit that are pretty straightforward. One of the simplest is to “chunk and check” — to divide content into manageable “chunks” and “check” students’ understanding as you go. I’m planning to share a list of these items with district teachers prior to the start of this school year.
I also have been “stealing” great ideas to use when I get back into the classroom. For example, as a chemistry teacher, one of the more difficult things I teach is dimensional analysis: the use of factors and units to solve complex chemistry problems. One teacher I observed had her students master this in the second month of school year — it was amazing to see, and I plan to try her approach myself.