Here's a question that I got from a follower. In our culture of principal observations and teacher assessments, it's a pretty common scenario.
Teacher assessment woes
“Not a first year teacher here (been teaching since 2005), this is my 2nd year at my current school. There is a TON of pressure being put on us to make growth over what we did last year.
“Our Administration is not the most people-friendly and most of the staff feels like they are out to ‘get us' instead of help us achieve anything. I have been observed twice now and both times they have commented on my classroom management skills.
“Both times, my classes have been well behaved, and all students working (which is not their usual behavior on some days), so I consider both successful – they don't seem to agree.
“How do I respond to these observations in a constructive way? It is really difficult to not feel totally discouraged by this and makes me want to rethink my career.”
Managing your principal observations
This is so frustrating! It’s too bad when our new culture of assessment and observation is used to find fault rather than encourage professional growth.
We really do want those who are supposed to be looking out for us (admin) to have our best interests at heart. It shouldn’t take extra effort on our part to get them to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, when admin falls down on the job and begins to lose track of the purpose of observations, teachers have to step up and remind them about best practices for employee engagement.
In short, and as aggravating as it is, the best defense is a good offense.
So, here are some ideas. I hope some of these will help you put together a path forward, either by yourself or in conjunction with your fellow teachers.
Ask for a meeting
When you first receive a less-than-optimal observation assessment, you need to request a meeting if one has not been scheduled. The primary questions are:
“What are you looking for?”
“What are your expectations for classroom management?”
Just as we would never grade kids without a rubric, the same is true of teacher observations. Your admin needs to provide their rubric for what they’re looking for.
Now, I assume that you probably have seen their rubric, such as it is. The issue is how they are filling it out.
Therefore, the next step is very important. It’s not enough for admin to simply hand over a rubric and say “do this.” They need to provide actual examples of how “this” looks when it is being done correctly in their eyes.
Get examples of success
If they do not provide these examples then you are constantly shooting in the dark, hoping to please them. Worse, if they don’t provide examples, then they can always remain fluid in their assessment of you because there is no real standard – they simply mark you down if they feel like it.
So, a specific request can be stated to clarify what they want:
“Please provide books that explain your preferred classroom management objectives.”
“Please provide videos of teachers in classrooms accomplishing classroom management in the way you would like to see me do it.”
The attitude that you take to admin is not one of confrontation. No one likes confrontation. Rather, the attitude is:
“I am proactively trying to get better and you as my administrator must help me with my professional development because I’m open to listening.”
You can always request specific personal professional development, as in setting an appointment to sit down and talk over any questions you have. This shows that you are making a sincere effort.
Admin has a professional obligation
The point is, your administrative staff is not fulfilling all of their obligations to professionally develop their teachers. They’re just smacking them with poor assessments and saying “get better.”
This is not acceptable.
So instead of simply going up against that attitude and saying, “it’s not fair,” it’s much more effective to act as if a high standard of professional development should exist within the building and invite them to step up and do their part.
Now, I wish this weren’t the case, but it is:
I highly recommend that you document every single request or interaction.
Keep copies of emails, write down notes about verbal conversations. Follow up after verbal conversations with confirming emails. You get the picture. Store it all in an orderly manner and include handouts, etc. for any professional development that does occur.
You want this process to give you a feeling of power over your personal situation. That feeling of power will come from knowing that you have solid documentation that you have requested professional development in order to overcome any identified deficiencies if they move to discipline you in the future.
If they don’t step up and fulfill their part of the obligation and then try to discipline you, you simply sit down with human resources and/or your union rep and open your documentation folder. You’re essentially saying:
“I asked for help in very specific ways and it was never provided.”
It’s too bad that a building has to go to these extremes in order for the teachers to be treated fairly. But what you are experiencing is not all that uncommon, and it’s not just in the world of teaching.
In essence, administrators arrive with an agenda and a vision of how they think things should be. It may simply be the “flavor of the year,” but while they are in power they expect people to simply get in line and keep their mouths shut.
Whether it’s in education or the private sector, this is never an acceptable way for management to treat their employees.
Don't quit over this!
Oh, and about rethinking your career? Not for some pesky admin issues! Principals come and principals go, just like you get new challenges every year with a new group of students. Be consistent, engage constructively, be professional, and like a classroom management issue, you can outwait and outlast all of them.
⇨ Look at the comments below! I answer more real-life questions from teachers that may help you deal with your situation