Hacking Teacher Evaluations: Let’s Make them Meaningful

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observation-wordle“OK, everyone, you have five minutes to clean up what you’re working on. If you’re still working on the project, stack the materials neatly in your cubby. Get all the scraps cleaned up and get ready to line up.”

Just as I finished those words and 27 third graders scurried to get the classroom restored to some semblance of normal, my principal walked in, laptop under his arm, and sat at an empty table near the back of the room. He flipped open the computer’s lid, adjusted his glasses, and did a sweep of the room with piercing cold eyes. It was time for my annual unannounced formal observation.

After a momentary panic, and answering questions from kids who didn’t know what to do with their projects that wouldn’t fit in their cubbies, couldn’t find their pencils, or wanted to know why we were packing up before math class was normally over, I worked my way around to where my principal was sitting. He glanced up from his laptop screen and gave me his best Leroy Jethro Gibbs stare.

“Um. Before you get too settled there, you should know we’re just about to leave to the auditorium to practice the third grade play.”

“That’s OK, I’ll get what I need.”

So we lined up and walked out of the room. My “observation” had lasted less than five minutes. And I didn’t see the principal in my room again for the rest of the year. June 18 came around and my end of year evaluation was in my mailbox. Lots of numbers in blanks and checkmarks in boxes and a brief description of a lesson that was generic enough it could have been the one I did the day he was there. Nothing useful for me, though, other than another satisfactory rating.

Now that I am an administrator, the last thing I want my observations to be is a formality and a mechanical filling of forms and boxes just to comply with a policy.

In his latest book, Assessment 3.0, Mark Barnes proposes that teachers eliminate grades and replace them with meaningful feedback. His system, called SE2R, is a template for teachers to shift the focus from punitive and manipulative numbers and letters towards a dialogue about growth and learning.

What if we hack the SE2R framework and adapt it for teacher evaluations? What would it look like? How would it work?

It would allow me to provide powerful feedback to teachers for any interaction, from a casual walkthrough to a formal observation. And it would take the evaluative sting out of my communications and let me focus on professional growth and learning. Here’s what SE2R might look like in a note to a teacher after a classroom visit.


Thank you for the opportunity to visit your classroom this morning. I saw an engaging and interesting lesson about ordering fractions on a number line. The lesson flowed naturally from a hands-on activity to a pencil-and-paper application with plenty of discussion and reflection.


Nearly all of the students I observed were deeply engaged in solving the challenge you presented them with at the start of the lesson. I spoke to seven students, and five of them were able to clearly explain the learning target and what the goal of the problem was. During the hands-on portion of the lesson, you spent almost ten minutes with one table helping two students who appeared to be struggling. You were with the other tables less than a minute each. The transition to the paper-and-pencil activity was very smooth, and you made the connection to the earlier problem explicit.


Go back and review the student work from today for each table group and see if you notice any difference in evidence of learning for the group you spent more time with and those you spent little time with. Also, refer back to the handout from last fall’s workshop on academic argument and review how to integrate more student-led debate into your daily math instruction.


I will stop by at least once in the next few weeks and look forward to seeing how you are using formative assessment and student-led debate. I also encourage you to share other successes with me when I’m not there to see them.

As a teacher, how would you respond to this kind of feedback from a principal? What else would you want to get from it? How would this change the way you teach? Would teacher evaluations done this way change the professional relationship you have with your administrator? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more on Hack Learning, visit HackLearningSeries.com.

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Gerald Aungst

Supervisor of Gifted and Elementary Math at School District of Cheltenham Township
Gerald Aungst has more than 20 years experience as a professional educator, specializing in digital technology, mathematics, and gifted education. In his various roles as a classroom teacher, gifted support specialist, administrator, curriculum designer, and professional developer, he has worked to create a rich and vibrant learning culture. He is also passionate about improving learning opportunities for all students. Gerald is a founder of AllAboutExplorers.com and ConnectedTeachers.org.

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