By Cass Daubenspeck
Lots of people are waiting on policymakers to reach decisions about teacher evaluation. But some teachers aren’t waiting. They’re working on tackling the issue themselves.
Last month, the teachers and administrators at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse charter school in Detroit, Michigan, used materials from Everyone at the Table to hold a professional development session around the issue of teacher evaluation reform. This team pioneered a staff-wide discussion around what a great evaluation system would look like—including who should have a say in a teacher’s development and what percentage of the evaluation should consist of test scores and other factors—-all using free Everyone at the Table downloads.
“It was one of the most meaningful conversations we’ve had for a long time,” said a middle school ELA teacher on staff. “Everyone who came to the table really enjoyed having that discussion.”
When we spoke with the teachers, they said that the materials had helped them realize both what they agreed on and what they didn’t when it came to meaningful and productive evaluation. Largely, they shared similar views and values on how a teacher should be evaluated. None were in favor of the outside observer option present in some teacher evaluation conversations across the nation.
“We’re such a close community here, that we find outside observers might not understand who we are or what we’re doing. None of us liked the idea of that,” said one of the teachers who participated in the discussion.
Another teacher added that an informal training session, which they’d had with an Everyone at the Table team leader before their own professional development meeting, had introduced them to the Everyone at the Table materials and helped them facilitate the discussion on their own more easily. But, as one teacher who had missed that training noted, the materials were clear and straightforward enough that she was able to join right into the conversation without trouble.
Often, when weighing the value of a conversation around teacher evaluation, teachers have questions such as, “What is the intended outcome for this? Will my opinion even count?” or “Why should I take the time to have this conversation if my ideas might not make a difference?”
Plenty of educators, myself included, have felt unacknowledged even after taking the time to voice thoughtful opinions about improving how current and traditional systems work in our schools. It is common for teachers to avoid policy conversations because there is already so little time for us to do the other things our demanding jobs require.
We asked the staff what they could get out of a discussion like this, even if for some reason their principal or district administrators rejected their ideas. They told us, “It’s nice if everyone is heard, even if you aren’t able to get what you want. And then when decisions are made, you know everybody talked about it and agreed on it, not just one person making the decision.”
The takeaways of having this discussion, as shown to us by this pioneering group from a single school in Michigan, are too great to be overlooked. The outcome of sitting down to have a conversation about how teachers are evaluated is one of the small but critical steps needed to help broaden the scope of this conversation and help other teachers see how important it is that we—teachers— have a voice in what’s going on. The conversations that include teacher voice have to happen. That’s what this is about.
We’re excited and hopeful that as the teacher evaluation debate continues to heat up, we will see more teachers using the resources at Everyone at the Table to hash out their own ideas with their colleagues and administrators and have their voices heard. We look forward to hearing more results from those who do, and we encourage the continuation of positive, thoughtful conversations by teachers around issues that affect teachers most.
Support teacher voice, and bring the conversation into your school next. You can find all the materials you need, including an instructional video, handouts, and moderator’s guide at www.everyoneatthetable.org. For more information, or for assistance, contact Allison at email@example.com.