Making Teacher Evaluations Work For You

If your school district is anything like mine, it seems like new ideas and initiatives are rolled out on a whim with little to no explanation. That happened to me when we switched to a new evaluation model a few years ago. As the Danielson Evaluation Model made its trial run through the district, there was little discussion about what it was or why we were switching. For those who are unfamiliar, the Danielson Model focuses on four domains: Planning, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. Teachers are scored on components and elements found within each domain, from 1 (Needs Improvement) to 4 (Exceptional).
 
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I was initially skeptical of the idea and skeptical of a new evaluation model. I found, however, that I actually really like the Danielson Model and I think it lends itself well to what we do in the art room. It takes subjectivity out of the evaluation process and gives you quality feedback about your teaching; it has helped me reflect on and improve my own practices immensely. Today I’m sharing some advice about making the Danielson Model (or just about any observation process) work for you.
 
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1. Nail Your Pre-Observation

I don’t need to tell you that many administrators are not as in tune with the arts as we would like. If your evaluator is familiar with what happens in the art room, fantastic. If they are not, it is your responsibility to educate them. The pre-observation (or planning) conference is the best chance for this to happen–make sure you are part of the discussion. If your system doesn’t require a pre-observation meeting, ask for one! The more educated your evaluator is about your processes in the art room, the better. This meeting is your chance to explain your teaching philosophy including what you teach and why you teach it. You may also want to point out the similarities and differences between the art room and other rooms in the school.

For example, in my classroom, I use anticipatory sets, go over objectives, and lead students through direct instruction and guided practice. Then, students do independent work. We discuss, we reflect, we clean up, and we have closure. All of these things are also done by other colleagues throughout the building. The difference is that in the art room, we are offering an expressive, creative experience for our students. Pointing out these connections can help your evaluator embrace the slightly more chaotic nature of your classroom. Giving them this information up front will allow them to enter your classroom with the right mindset to view what is happening. 
 
 

2. Take the Pressure Off

Far too many teachers work themselves up and stress themselves out over evaluations. Sometimes, they feel like an administrator just won’t “get” what they are doing. Sometimes there is tension between art teachers and non-art administrators and evaluators. Sometimes it’s a scheduling issue. However, ideally these things should not matter. An effective evaluation system, like the Danielson Model, strives to take subjectivity out of the evaluation process. Let’s face it: good teaching is good teaching, and a successful evaluation model will reflect that no matter the circumstances. Your teaching can speak for itself, and that should reflect well in your scores and in your feedback.
 
 

3. Worry About the Feedback, Not About the Score

 
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Speaking of those scores, they really shouldn’t matter to you. I know that idea is easier said than done. However, if you’re interested in truly improving, the feedback should be your focus–no matter the evaluation model. In any situation, your evaluator should be documenting just about everything that happens during your teaching process. That documentation gives you the great opportunity to reflect on what you do and how you do it.

The Danielson Model is not about how well you score–it is about identifying the areas in which you can improve and defining and providing avenues for you to do so. If you are striving to score all 4s to get the best score possible, that is an admirable goal. But I think it is the wrong goal. Danielson said herself that “only angels” score all 4s. Instead of striving for perfection, spend time seeing how and where you can make your teaching better.
 

Art is a Natural Fit with the Danielson Model

If you look at the Classroom Environment Domain and the Instruction Domain, what jumps out to you?
 
Domains 2 and 3
 
To me, the model is looking for EXACTLY what is happening in an art classroom. We provide an active, interactive, collaborative environment with high levels of student engagement and participation. We ask great questions, we assess, we monitor, and we give feedback. We are flexible with our lessons, we are responsive to students, and we have high expectations. Our evaluations are looking specifically at the things we do naturally as art teachers every day.

Even something as simple as an active Artsonia account for your school can be a huge part of the professional responsibilities domain in the Danielson Framework. It shows student progress, it communicates with and involves families, and it is part of a larger professional community of art teachers. That is just one example, but so much of what we do fits seamlessly into the four domains in the framework for teaching.

In the end, your everyday teaching practices set you up for success with the Danielson Model. Make sure, however, that your success is defined by how you can improve your teaching–not how that teaching might be evaluated. You really just need to do what is best for you and best for your students, and your teaching likely already does that. Don’t try to chase those scores; simply do what you do best as a teacher, and the numbers on your evaluation will reflect your skill and ability in the classroom while providing you opportunities for improvement. Which is exactly how an evaluation model should be used.

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Does your school use the Danielson Model? How has it worked for you?

What advice would you give for dealing with the Danielson Model or other evaluation models?

 
 
 

Timothy Bogatz

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

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  • Ms. P

    My district uses this same evaluation model and I’m in love with it. Many many teachers in my district are still fighting tooth and nail not to to have this because it requires a lot of paperwork and reflection. But, for me, it’s something that makes me confident any administrator on my campus can walk into my room and adequately evaluate me on my teaching, NOT whether they know anything about art.

    I had my first 15 minute walk-through this past week at a brand new campus, with an administrator I had barely spoken to prior. She came back with glowing comments about how she can clearly see evidence in each domain of my capabilities as an educator. She gave me amazing suggestions to take what I was already doing well and move forward into something above and beyond what I had thought I could do. It’s so great.

    A+ for the Danielson Framework.

    • Tim Bogatz

      I agree! I totally understand the fight against the paperwork–most teachers are overwhelmed already. However, I would argue that reflection is one of the most important things we can do as a teacher, and any time spent there is absolutely worthwhile.

      I’m glad that your observation went so well, and I think your story illustrates something else about the Danielson Model that I like: it keeps administrators from just going through the motions. Because of that, you were able to get some valuable feedback and suggestions that can help your teaching–exactly what an evaluation should do.

  • Tery

    My district in NJ has been using Danielson for the past 2 yrs( this is the third) I actually do like the model now that i understand it. Our scores do matter a great deal in NJ because our summative score at the end of the year determines whether we are ineffective, partially effective, effective or highly effective, which determines if we have to go into a corrective action program or possibly lose our tenure in our new state wide teacher evaluation system. Like you said though, good teaching is good teaching and if you look at the rubric for Danielson you should already be doing those 3’s. Using the new model has helped me to reflect and grow as a teacher these last couple of years. There is a lot of paperwork for us in NJ with it though(at least in my district, seems to be that the requirements across the state vary from district to district…hmmmm…) I have three short observations each year, 2 unannounced and one announced( bunch of paperwork for this one) around April we, the teachers, are responsible for compiling all the evidence for Domains 1 and 4, summaries( along with your evidence) for each section of the two domains and submitting them for our annual evaluation. It’s a lot but if you know what you have to save all year and keep it organized it’s easier. I’m very happy with my 3’s and occasional 4’s! I like that i can upload everything and anything for the lesson observed to show evidence of the different sections of the domains! This way if something is not actually seen in the lesson I can show an example of student work (finished artwork, student self-reflections, teacher made materials, etc.. for the lesson)

    • Tim Bogatz

      The Danielson Model can be a lot of work, for sure. I’m glad you’ve been able to make it work for you, and you should be happy with a lot of 3s and a few 4s here and there! I know the evaluation system being tied to tenure and things like that is scary for a lot of teachers, but if you’re doing things right it should absolutely work to your advantage.

  • Mr. Post

    Any system that adds paperwork to my workload is one that I look unfavorably upon.

    I have my own system of professional development. I go to lunch once a week with another art teacher who is a professional watercolor artist. We talk about art, teaching art and studio practices. I also go work with professional potters at a weeklong workshop on a farm in Wisconsin each June. These things recharge and invigorate my art process more than any observation of my teaching style by a non-art making administrator. These activities get me to think about my process as an artist and how I can translate that process into my classroom. …and sitting down and talking art face to face with other artists is way more interesting than talking art with administrators.

    Danielson is the new flavor. I will be shocked if schools are still using this cumbersome evaluation model in 5 years. It’s most likely it will fall to the wayside because it takes way too much time to do well and because that’s how initiatives in education work – there’s always some new model with rubrics, lists and boxes for teachers to check off. If you’ve taught for a while, think of how many new things your school has trumpeted as being the solution to student achievement. Then think of how many of these things have fallen apart under their own weight and just disappeared?

    • Karen

      There are MANY new initiatives, but this is one that focuses on teacher achievement, not student.
      Last year was my first year using it, and I liked the amount of input I had in my review. It was not one sided from just the point of the administrator.

      • Mr. Post

        Administrators will be the ones who push to drop this system. They just don’t have the time in their schedules for as many observations and meetings that the Danielson system requires. I have seen this happening already. Administrators rubber stamping teachers as effective or highly effective without doing the required classroom visits. I have seen administrators doing evaluations from their office during the last month of school just trying to check off another to-do on their list. I get it that the Danielson system is well intentioned, but like all things in education, something new will pop up that demands attention and so the spotlight won’t be shining on Danielson when that happens. My district is already starting to shine its spotlight on cultural differences and understanding as well as online student assessment tools. When these two things start taking up space on the desk, something else will fall off or get pushed to the corner. It’s just how the machine rolls along.

        • Tim Bogatz

          I won’t disagree, John, but I will back up what Karen said: When used correctly, the Danielson Model is beneficial for teachers and administrators alike. I feel the same way you do about paperwork and the demands placed on our time, but this is a model that has improved my teaching. That’s never a bad thing.

    • Diana

      Wow……..Mr.Post. It’s great to hear this viewpoint on the Danielson evaluation system. I’ve been around a while too…..22 years as art teacher elementary level. And so many things the district has implemented and then dropped for sure. But boy oh boy …….things really got harder 2 years ago in NJ when they adopted Danielson and SGOs….whew. These new changes make my first 20 years look EASY BREEZY compared to now. Not to mention our new unit planning for specialists using a specific lesson PLAN template making my 4 week unit practically a dissertation at 25 pages total for all units k-5. And now just this year …….new grading system comprised of 5% homework, 10% quizzes, 50% class work/participation, 35% projects/tests. For 450 students I teach ???????? I don’t think so!!! LMAO ….well Mr. Post I really like your posts and look forward to reading more!

  • J Bernstein

    Tim,
    I would like to know more about how you use Artsonia at your school. How much time do you invest processing the artwork?
    Thanks for the information on the teacher evaluation process we all seem to be inching towards…

  • mel

    My district has a similar program, that has been in place for a number of years. I appreciate the fact it gets administration into my Art room, to see what the students are accomplishing. Art isn’t tested, so it’s not important in the eyes of most administrators. With our evaluations the principal is in my classroom for four 40 minute chunks during the year.. plus we do formal meetings to discuss the results and to look over my binder of documentation. It’s an excellent opportunity for me to advocate the arts and show the data to back it up.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Absolutely, Mel! Anytime I can fight for my program and make what we do look good, I am on board. Kudos to you for advocating for your kids and your program!

  • Erica Carlson

    This is the only model of eval I am familiar with after 10 years of teaching. I guess I didn’t realize it wasn’t an option. So IMHO, I don’t see it going anywhere.