The British Columbia Principal and Vice-Principal’s Association (BCPVPA) is the support network for school leaders in the province. To assist with the work done by school leaders, the BCPVPA publishes an important, and essential, document called the Leadership Standards for Principals and Vice-Principals.
The Standards are not intended to “be prescriptive in nature”, but rather “[t]he Leadership Standards are aspirations for which a principal or vice-principal may strive” to improve their own capacity, and thereby, positively affect both teacher and student learning.
One of the four leadership standards of the framework is Instructional Leadership.
There remains little, if any, doubt that the ‘lead’ learner in any school is the school leader. Through both modelling what professional learning looks like and why teacher growth is elemental, an effective school leader supports teachers. And professional learning (development) is an essential part of my journey as an educator. Whether it is having two or three pedagogy-related books on the nightstand, attending conferences and workshops, joining PSA executives, connecting with peers via social media, or collaborating with colleagues at the school and district levels, professional learning is an essential part of what it means to be ‘an educator’.
I now happily add ‘teacher evaluation process’ to the list of professional learning opportunities that have contributed to my professional growth. Indeed, the past three weeks have been a powerful learning opportunity for me…
I knew it was coming.
It is a part of the gig; a this is what you signed up for moment: my principal assigned me my three teacher evaluation candidates for the year.
Immediately, I began to sweat a little; my heart rate soared, and blood left my extremities as the sympathetic nervous system took control. Although my first thoughts focused ‘how’ of the process, I was overcome with immediate dread over my worthiness of such a privilege. My inside voice screamed, “Who am I to judge another teacher on their capabilities in the classroom?” I’m also secure in sharing the fact that I was never a master teacher. Sure, I had my strengths, but there were no delusions that I also had many places for improvement. Added to the fact that I had never received a formal evaluation myself you can well image the quagmire of doubt that filled my frontal cortex!
And while I did engage in the process of annual self-assessments based on the work of Charlotte Danielson and her Framework for Professional Practice in both my enrolling and non-enrolling responsibilities, the idea of a formal evaluation (even as the evaluator!) made for several restless nights. And yes, like many teachers, I do hold specific personal values and beliefs around what masterful teaching looks like. But to have critique another professional in this endeavour? Yikes.
The first meeting with Hazel* was to draw up an evaluation timeline. The twenty minute conference was wrought with nervousness, trepidation, and sweaty palms (for both of us!). We were both virgins in this part of professional learning; it was our first evaluation process in our respective roles. Awkwardness, would be an understatement.
But something very powerful developed as Hazel and I worked through the process. From the several pre- and post- observation meetings, classroom observations, and healthy side-channel discussions over email it became apparent: a shared professional learning experience. As we worked through the process the purpose was a shared one: improving instructional practice so that our students benefit the most from her teaching (and my support of her) efforts in the classroom. While be both hit the ‘aha’ moment at different points along the journey we both became more relaxed in our roles in the process. Any sort of ‘me versus she’ or similar kinds of adversarial constructs fell to the wayside.
We have nearly completed our journey together with the final evaluation report nearly finished. I also shared with my principal that “I’m really enjoying the process, and have gained immense confidence and insight towards being a school leader.” I found the process a very “humbling, enlightening, reaffirming, and transformative” one. I already feel as though I’m a better leader, teacher, and colleague as a result. To be able to develop trust, show vulnerability, and offer support to another professional with a share interest has been a very gratifying experience. The teacher evaluation process offered the opportunity to take risks and model professional learning.
Still many questions linger as preparation for another teacher evaluation process is underway. Opened questions with answers that require evolution…
Was it a perfect process?
No. Nor will it ever be, I think.
Are there some things that I need change and adapt?
Absolutely. I’ve got a list for another post.
Will I continue to make mistakes?
You bet ‘cha. But learning from them will help me to further my ongoing journey of leadership development.
Is this one of the most powerful contributions that school leaders can make towards improving student success in their school?
Without a shadow of doubt.
In retrospect, the process offered a unique opportunity to develop a truly professional relationship with a teacher in the school. We shared both personal and professional stories of taking risk, failing, and learning from them. When we pass in the hallways during the busy morning rush to prepare for the day ahead our conversations are supportive, trusting, and build for a shared growth.
I would like to thank Hazel–my colleague–for allowing me this opportunity to grow, develop, learn, evolve, and wonder.
And in the end, I wonder if I was the one who benefited the most from this experience…
* pseudonym of teacher evaluation candidate