One of the best examples of effective teacher evaluation over time, from both the perspective of the faculty and the Administration, exists at the Haverford School in Philadelphia. The model is the outgrowth of the invitation of the Headmaster to Littleford & Associates about nine years ago.
During these intervening years, the underlying concepts responsible for its acceptance and success have been reviewed on an ongoing basis and applied consistently. Continued buy-in on the part of the faculty has been assured by periodically “taking their temperature” on this topic and being open to feedback. Unlike so many school attempts at evaluation that end in failure, disuse, inconsistency and/or cynicism, the Haverford Model IS working and has attracted the attention of NAIS and other schools. The reasons are multiple but appear to be related to these factors: leadership, culture, attitude and training.
Many school heads, upon arrival in their new assignment, take on the challenge of reviewing and changing an existing teacher evaluation process or launching one. Most independent school faculties view evaluation with skepticism at best. Over 50,000 of the teachers whom this consultant has interviewed over the years have conveyed that even systems that exist on paper do not work in practice. Most teachers feel that each new head tends to initiate a brand new approach or modification to an existing one, but as other initiatives seem to be more pressing, a consistent commitment to and focus upon evaluation is lost.
Teachers note that when division heads turn over frequently, and if the next is not as committed as the prior one to teacher evaluation, then the process loses ground and/or credibility. One cannot blame teachers completely. Most division heads and the vast majority of department heads and grade level coordinators were hired to be teachers, NOT evaluators (in a substantive way), and thus they are not comfortable entirely with the role.
Consistent leadership therefore is critical to the success of an ongoing successful and accepted teacher evaluation process. At Haverford, that process began with Head of School who determined that he would pay among the most competitive teacher salaries in the nation for independent schools with the following key assumptions: the School would define carefully the components of a full time job and would hold teachers accountable to a high standard of performance. He launched the process by making it clear that effective and accountable teacher evaluation would go hand in hand with the highest salaries possible within the School’s budget and by reinforcing his commitment to both.
In turn, Haverford would create a more predictable but flexible and performance based salary system similar to a band or ladder model. (See Littleford & Associates’ articles on this topic.)
What has contributed to the success of the Haverford system is the leadership of the Division Heads and the appointment of and follow through of the Dean of Faculty and his Department Heads. The Head of School conveys to new administrators that one of their top priorities is faculty evaluation, and they are hired with the expectation that they will support fully and enforce the evaluation criteria and process. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of internal teacher evaluation advocates with a constant and consistent “voice” over time.
The evaluation process uses one set of published, researched based and respected school-specific criteria wide for K-12 teachers. The cycle is either every one, two or three years depending on longevity and status. The team of evaluators is made up of three to four individuals including the Division Head, Department Head and one or two teachers, chosen by the Division Head and sometimes with input from the teacher being evaluated.
Almost every teacher at Haverford is involved in being a part of a real “team” of evaluators and has received the prerequisite training. Almost everyone who is evaluated is also on the team of another teacher. (Note: In order to insure as much neutrality as much as possible, we do not recommend that teachers serve on each other’s teams.) The process and its components are applied consistently over grade levels, subjects and times.
While the Head, all Administrators and Department Heads are committed to this evaluation process, there is also an overall internal “shop steward”, i.e., the Dean of Faculty. He and his team have created and maintain a database of each teacher’s evaluation timetable. A teacher is able to see a record and details about the steps of the process, at what point he or she is on the timeline presently and when and how he or she is to be evaluated next. The system is up to date, user friendly and helps to allay any teacher concerns.
Upon a recent visit to the School in late August, this consultant interviewed a cross section of teachers and administrators as part of an annual invitation to assess how the evaluation, salary system and benefits package are working. This consultant found only one young teacher who was overlooked, and who wanted additional mentoring. Haverford is striving constantly to achieve consistency and uniformity across Divisions.
Another part of the leadership team supporting this process is the Human Resources person or in some schools, the CFO who ensures that the faculty receive accurate, up to date information and counsel in lay person’s terms about the School’s benefits package. Teachers need to see clearly how the career ladder, benefits package including professional development and evaluation are all linked.
School and faculty cultures are a product of head turnover, teacher turnover, long term teachers who carry “institutional memory”, history, past incidents (positive and negative) and the faculty sense of whether or not there is trust in the culture.
Faculty culture has an enormous bearing on the success or failure of teacher evaluation. Where little trust exists, teachers perceive that evaluation is a tool to hurt them, “move them out” and certainly not to assist them in their professional growth.
Most teacher evaluation is viewed as having been tried in the past many times and having failed due to a lack of consistent leadership, a fair and objective process, honest feedback, as well as verbal and written closure. Thus faculty cynicism about evaluation is rampant in independent and international schools.
Most teachers the world over criticize evaluation as either too “soft”, lacking substance, and yet still taking up valuable teacher time. The other key criticism is that it is unfair and based on evaluation by one adult supervisor, usually with no objective criteria, and resulting from one short class visit (if that) every few years. The Haverford system was designed to avoid both of these core and legitimate criticisms.
On the other hand, there are certainly those teachers who are more comfortable with a “soft” approach, such as simply assembling and submitting a portfolio, which has no ties at all to either compensation or professional growth dollars and the content of which they control.
At Haverford in the past there had been frequent head turnover, a powerful senior faculty accustomed to the status quo in the classroom, boards that were unsure of their roles vis-à-vis the head, and little trusted or consistent teacher evaluation. Thus, initially under the new Head, the atmosphere towards a new evaluation process was also suspect. It took a sustained and persistent effort on all fronts to improve the school culture.
The culture at Haverford today is very positive, the ability to express praise or criticism seems quite open, and at least to this consultant, teachers appreciate their School, their leaders, their compensation, the salary structure AND the evaluation process that underlies it all. There is an atmosphere of a collegial dialogue surrounding the teaching process. Many attributed their openness and the focused dialogue about students to the real exchange of opinion and shared knowledge that comes from their evaluation process.
When this consultant visited Haverford in August 2006, the attitude toward teacher evaluation was positive, very different from nine years ago. The credit for this goes to the school leadership and Department Heads for continually reinforcing the message that evaluation is key to school success and the foundation of improvement.
Evaluation at Haverford is done by a team of administrators and peers, working together. It leads to the expenditure of professional development dollars. There is a generous budget for that. (This consultant recommends a minimum of $1000 per teacher annually.) Thus evaluation and professional growth are linked inextricably and are not artificially separated as in most public schools after tenure is achieved.
At many independent schools it is often perceived that administrative evaluation is punitive (out to “weed out” the weak teachers or the “dead wood”) while professional development is positive as it is focused on self driven goal setting and not connected to accountability to the Administration. At Haverford, this is all one and the same. There is no artificial separation. Teachers perceive evaluation as non-threatening. While teachers tend not to be risk-takers and generally do not relish change, this faculty does not perceive improvement and growth linked to evaluation as “risky” or a process to be feared. This attitude did not develop overnight. It required a concerted effort.
Evaluator Training Culture
Most teachers and administrators in independent and international schools have not been trained to undertake substantive evaluation. The entire Faculty and Administration at Haverford were trained by Littleford & Associates in the first two years of the program. Training of new teachers and administrators is now handled internally.
Evaluator training is key to the success of any effective teacher evaluation process. The rules of the game must be known and understood by all.
On a return visit to Haverford in late August 2006, this consultant spoke to over 120 teachers in assembly. We asked this question: “How many of you have been involved in serving on a team of evaluators of teachers and administrators for another teacher in their School, and how many of you have served on such a team within the past two or three years? Every hand in the room flew up.