Karen and Charles (our teacher and principal from the Prologue) are trapped in a meaningless ritual of activity called “evaluation.” They go through the motions of conducting conferences and observations, discussing teaching, and evaluating performance. They know, on some level, that the process they are using does not satisfy either of the essential purposes of evaluation—ensuring quality in teaching and promoting professional learning.
As we have demonstrated in this book, however, it is possible to employ evaluation procedures that engage both teachers and administrators in a professional dialogue about students, their learning, and teaching. This can be accomplished without radically restructuring the entire school district, spending huge amounts of money, or engaging in other kinds of efforts often demanded by transforming ideas. Instead, the educators involved simply must think differently about an activity—teacher evaluation—in which they are already engaged and which is required by law.
Using such an approach, for example, Karen could have conducted a self-assessment; she could have identified areas in which she wanted to concentrate (such as the English-language learners in her classroom, or the new math or writing programs). She and Charles could have developed a plan to address those issues, and Karen could have worked with colleagues in pursuing her plan. Karen and Charles's conversations could have been about genuine instructional matters, and both would have grown professionally through the experience.
This approach would involve Karen in an active role, through self-assessment, assembling items for a portfolio, and professional conversation. Even if Charles makes the final judgment, Karen is more actively engaged in the process, offering interpretations for classroom events, providing rationales for instructional decisions, and offering evidence of nonclassroom aspects of her responsibilities (such as samples of letters sent to parents of her non-English speaking students). Further, Karen would have been invited to question Charles's judgments, offer additional evidence of her skill, or provide alternate interpretations of the same information. This would not constitute insubordination—Charles, after all, is making the final judgment—but it would provide a forum for genuine professional conversation. And as a by-product of the conversation, Charles would be likely to learn as well.