Journey into Educator Growth (Assessment and Evaluation)
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” With those words, the servant who doubled his talents was greeted by the master of the household. Don’t we all long to hear those words said about us? We may not admit it, but encouragement for a job well done feels really good. We may be shy or embarrassed when we receive kind words, but when they are given genuinely, such words give us the energy and goodwill to do our work and do it well.
Last week, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion at the spring OCSAA meeting in Uxbridge on the topic of teacher assessment and evaluation. Each of the participants on the panel made their case about how teacher assessment and evaluation played a role in a school’s overall learning culture. I was particularly impressed by the comments made by my colleague Christy Bloemendal, a VP at Hamilton District Christian High. She talked about investment in teachers, both in time and resources, and the importance of teacher voice in the ongoing shaping of any school’s teacher assessment and evaluation processes. All the panelists agreed that teacher assessment and evaluation was important for growth but what it looks like needs to be re-imagined and re-articulated. For me, the most important take away was the belief that teachers’ success and thriving must be the goal of any system. Filling out the paperwork may be somewhat important, but it pales in importance to developing a trust relationship and encouraging the good work of teachers so that they serve their students well.
In a healthy workplace, it is important to know where you stand, what your school’s mission is, and that you are a valued member of the community. Using an assessment and evaluation tool to “weed out” struggling teachers is less than productive. It is damaging to the overall culture of the school. Being intentional about teacher assessment and evaluation is key. Schools need to develop a system that is manageable for the leader and people-focused rather than paper-focused. I think we serve our staff best when focusing our time and energy on a formative assessment and not simply a summative report.
As we learn together how to give feedback (I like, I wonder, I suggest) through various means, protocols and voices, I do wonder if we need to continue talking about how to inspire educators to move forward, take risks, and continue to learn in really healthy ways. I also wonder if mentoring, sharing work with colleagues through PLCs, investing in professional learning, and cultivating teacher leadership would be the way forward.
Let’s begin a new conversation about this practice and approach it with creativity and teacher voice to blow up structures that are less helpful and find something that works for our unique sets of staff/individuals. Let’s imagine something that is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Empowering teacher voice could be seen by leaders as healthy risk-taking. It could also create a system where failure is re-envisioned as a path toward learning.
Just my first thoughts…
Hospitality as VISION
“The hallmark of a healthy society has always been measured by how it cares for the disadvantaged.”
— Joni Eareckson Tada
One of the dilemmas that we face in Christian schools is how to create communities of learning that are hospitable and welcoming to all types of families and students. Issues arise in terms of affordability and accessibility, as well as the type of students we serve and whether families must fit into a particular type of criteria.
I sometimes wonder if the early Christian community faced some of the same issues. Who is in and who is out? It seems to me that the “viewpoints” debated by Peter and Paul had something to do with whom the church would include or exclude.
Now, for those who know me, you won’t be surprised that I land on the side of openness, opening up the doors of our Christian schools to diversity as a way to share the gospel but also as a way to ensure that we don’t insulate ourselves from this good world that God has created. We have so much to learn from our neighbours, whether they profess Christ’s name or not.
One of the other dilemmas we face is how to serve families who have children with disabilities. How can we create communities (church, school and otherwise) where everyone belongs and where everyone is valued? Being intentional about inclusivity may just be the measure of not only a healthy society, as Joni Eareckson Tada suggests, but also of being a Christian community.
I am not saying that as a movement we haven’t made amazing strides. Many schools have dedicated resource departments. Many educators have certification in special education and continue to learn and upgrade their abilities to serve children with exceptional needs. The question is how to do more. Two of my heroes are Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen. Both worked in unique environments where they challenged each of us to actually see “the other” as beautiful and blessed creations of God. I would encourage us to continue to think, dream and vision how to make our Christian schools places of flourishing for all—children of different races, creeds, abilities and backgrounds.
Can our Christian schools and communities actually continue to become places of healing and shalom, of hospitality and blessing, so that we shine and model true love, justice and compassion? Our society yearns for these places. Let us invite them in, asking, “What can we do for you?” and “How can we mutually be a blessing to each other?”
P.S. Edifide is pleased to be able to announce that we will be working with both Christian Horizons and the Disability Concerns Committee of the CRC and RCA, complementing their kickoff conference called “Life to the Full: Ability. Belonging. Community.” This conference follows the fall Edifide conference, October 28-30, 2016. More details to follow.
Years ago, I wrote a paper on the amazing educator Maria Montessori. She was a woman who established schools in the midst of Italian ghettos where she discovered that young children love to do the same kinds of work as adults. She taught them to clean, to prepare food, to take care of themselves through washing and dressing and to generally contribute to the community. We would say today that she encouraged student agency and student voice.
My mother’s mother was a vibrant, fun-loving, song-singing Oma. When we went to visit her on the family farm, she was always cooking, baking, gardening or cleaning. She was not a woman who sat down much. As her grandchildren, we loved to be with her, and so she always gave us a job. Whether it was weeding, cleaning beans, washing dishes or helping her carry things, she made us feel that we were indispensable to the important work of preparing the meal or helping her with her chores. She embodied Christ by wanting children to be with her and not sending us away because we couldn’t do things the way she wanted them done.
As I near that age of beginning to imagine life without a regular job and as I talk with many who are retired or retiring, one of the things I notice is that we all still share that drive to do something meaningful with our lives.
Children, young people and adults all seem to have built into our very DNA the need to be needed. Research (not to mention common sense) suggests that we need communities and people to help us become who we truly need to be. As children, we need to have people in our lives, like Maria Montessori or my grandmother, who show us that we can contribute in significant ways to our families, our schools and our communities. As young people, we want to have our ideas and voices heard by those around us, and we want to contribute in significant ways. As adults, our work—whether at home or in the workplace—needs to contribute to the meaning of the family, organization or institution. Answering the question “WHY are we doing this?” is ultimately important. All of us need to know that the things that we are doing have value and meaning. Often, we need to feel that our work serves our neighbour. Giving of ourselves with no expectation or exchange of goods or service develops in us caring, servant hearts. Children have to learn caring for others at an early age; young people need to see that the world is bigger than themselves; adults need to know that their careers, vocation and work contributes to the good in the world; finally, seniors need to find other meaning in their lives, outside of vocation (and I don’t include playing golf or sitting on a beach-though both are fun).
As educators, we develop learning experiences that help students discover, grow, and contribute to the larger community. As parents, we give our children the opportunity to do real work that contributes to the family. As young people, we seek our roles and vocation and try out many different ways forward. As adults, we seek the bigger picture of meaningful work and want to be part of an organization or institution that fulfills our deepest need to be culture-makers. And finally, as people who are no longer in the regular workforce, we seek opportunities to also create meaning for ourselves and others.
As you work with students, colleagues and community members, you are really working yourselves out of a job. Your job is to empower your students so that they don’t need to learn from you again. Just as parents show their children how to take care of themselves, cook for themselves, handle themselves out in the big world, we work to show students that they are true agents themselves—culture-makers. Through our
examples and connections with them, they will in turn grow to help others become who they are meant to be. Sharing our wisdom; giving young people agency to do things for themselves; helping them to contribute to their communities, families, schools and churches—Maria Montessori did it; my grandmother did it. Can you?