Maintain Professional Authority & Responsibility

IcarusI’m currently reading The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin in preparation for an Icarus Session to which I’ve been invited this week (more on that later).  During our Family Reading Time today, I highlighted this quote:

“[I]f you rely on external motivation to be your best self, then you will have ceded responsibility and authority to someone else.”  ~ Seth Godin The Icarus Deception p. 110

This then made a connection in my brain with the attitude of many teachers as our district works to implement a new form of Teacher Evaluation, and as I work to implement technology-related professional development.  Why do so many teachers fear the new evaluation instrument?  Why do so many teachers fear edtech?

For those who already know me, you’ve realized by now that I operate under a couple assumptions which I feel can prevent ceding responsibility and authority over what I do to someone else:

ASSUMPTION #1:  Always start with trust.

ASSUMPTION #2:  There is a Helper Gene buried in our DNA, and all educators have it and express it (and if you are someone without the HG phenotype, then you need to find a new career).

Seth Godin’s quote can be restated thus:  If you rely on the results of your Teacher’s Evaluation to be the best teacher you can be for your students, then you have effectively given your principal (or whomever evaluates you) the responsibility  and authority over you and your teaching.  You are being judged on how well your principal motivates you, not on you as the teacher responsible for your students’ learning.  If you are the type of teacher who needs constant reassurance or repeated check-ins by the principal in order to keep your eye on the goal you wrote for this next year (you know, the one you penned only because you had to fill in that box on your evaluation form?), then you must not have a strong helper gene, and perhaps you should find another career.

Wouldn’t you rather be judged on who YOU are as an individual? As a teacher? If you can look inside yourself and say with certainty that you have done everything in your power for the good of your students and your school, then an overall sense of pride, self-worth, and job satisfaction should be the primary result.  As a corollary, a positive evaluation should naturally follow from your supervisor.  When you are responsible for your own motivation, the summative conference conversations can be focused on ‘what can I add to my A-game?’ rather than ‘You tell me what I need to do to have an A-game.’

In my mind, an effective teacher always works toward a personal vision of helping kids become successful.  The purpose of the evaluation instrument is to help guide and expand this personal vision to coincide with that of the school and of education-at-large.

I am sure there are some out there, but I have never met, talked with, or heard stories about a vindictive evaluator.  Usually, the evaluators have past experience in the positions they critique, and have strong helper genes that want to help people improve their A-game.  A good place to start in your relationship with the person who writes your teacher evaluation is one of trust.  Between that initial trust and the desire to help people, you can draw on your intrinsic motivation to maintain authority over your own future as a teacher.


Professional Conversations = Progress

As the due date for teacher evaluations to be turned in to the superintendent approaches, two things happen:  one good, and one bad  not-as-good .  The less favorable of the two is that I have a lot of careful writing to do, making sure that all points are substantiated, quantifiable observations, with constructive criticism as warranted.  The good part of the evaluation process is the opportunity to have real, meaningful conversations with my teachers.   I usually spend an entire class period with each of them, allowing us to cover many topics – from classroom issues to school issues, on up to state and national topics, and trends in education.

I am continually impressed by the willingness of my teachers to discuss and reflect on what goes on in their classrooms and to remain open to new ideas.

I firmly believe that every evaluation conference should be a two-way discussion and not a top-down lecture.  My father, a retired principal, used to preach the sandwich philosophy of critiquing (perhaps from the book I’m OK, You’re OK) where you start with a compliment, add the expectation, and end with another compliment.  It is my hope that my staff sees these conferences as a time for a good discussion, an opportunity to make plans for improvement, and as time where I can share my visions for the next year, and where they can fit in.  Often, the goals they share for themselves match the ones I have for them, indicating for me that they have reflected on their experiences over the last year, and have, in some way, searched to find their place in the whole of our school.

Just this week, I can sit back and celebrate that two teachers now have classrooms on Twitter as they make their way through their first works of Shakespeare (@Pearson_Fulton and @Davisclasses).  Three teachers expressed interest in contributing to our new series of tech training videos made specifically for our staff.  One teacher is currently working out the bugs of how to put that all together.  Yet another teacher has come forward with ideas on how to replace our now extinct drug awareness DARE program with a life skills/anti-bully/conflict resolution curriculum, and the social worker has set her teeth into scheduling anti-bullying programs for this year and next.

So for now, as I reflect back on this crazy week, I’m going to conclude that the good conversations outweighed the difficult ones, and even those necessary hard conversations will eventually bring about positive change.

I just hope your week was as good as mine!