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The thing about evaluation is that it seeks to judge. The thinking, practice, and work of those under review are often reduced to labels or numbers. Evaluators distinguish those who are proficient from those who are not. So much context is lost. Many other important things are as well.
When evaluation and the results that emerge from it begin dominating conversations, fear is sure to follow, and learning can’t happen in fear-driven cultures.
Assessment is very different, and this is why we must always distinguish it from evaluation. Assessment seeks to understand. Those under review engage in deep reflection, and they invite others into the process in order to gain perspective. When we assess learning and progress, the questions we ask require us to consider the influence of context on the evidence we gather. We have no need for labels or numbers because we strive to make learning, not performance, visible. Much is gained as a result, including expertise and trust and hope.
Evaluation is about judgment. Assessment is about seeking understanding.
Like Donald Graves, I believe that the teacher is the chief learner in the classroom. I also believe that positioning ourselves as learners sustains our passion for our work. When we make a study of our teaching, we discover things we would not have otherwise. Lights flicker. We’re continually inspired.
What would happen if you became a learner and embraced the idea students assessing teachers? This has nothing to do with mandating the use of student feedback for teacher evaluation purposes. This kind of assessment is off the record. It’s a gift that your students give you, and one that you might use in service to them.
Students assessing teachers: pose questions like these
1. As a teacher, what do I do that meets your needs?
2. What could I do a bit differently, in order to help you?
3. Describe a moment when you felt proud of yourself this semester.
4. Do you feel as though you matter to our learning? If so, how? If not, how would you like to be recognized?
5. How do my lessons help you learn? Tell me what I can do to make them better.
6. How do my assessments serve you well? How could I improve them?
7. If you could design our curriculum, how would it look?
8. Whose gifts are being overlooked in our class?
9. What are you looking forward to learning during the rest of the year?
10. What would you like to teach the rest of us?
Learners might reflect on these questions in a single moment or over time. You might meet with them to discuss their responses, or they could simply write to you. If you’re concerned about the quality of feedback that students could provide, it might make sense to coach their understanding of warm and cool feedback. Warm feedback isn’t a compliment. Learners should consider the question posed and use evidence from their experiences to speak to your strengths. Cool feedback isn’t criticism. Here, learners frame questions that can help you consider entry points for improvement. Take a peek at this post to learn more about feedback protocols and what to do to make them work when it seems like the process is going off of the rails.
When I was still in the classroom, several colleagues and I worked together to support the practice of students assessing teachers. We asked learners to assess us regularly, using questions like those above. This was never comfortable, but it was always rewarding, and students were never disrespectful. In fact, by inviting students to assess my teaching, my relationship with them seemed to improve. They recognized how much I valued their feedback. More importantly, they recognized how much I valued them.
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.