In which I semi-begrudgingly expound on the benefits of OTES

Why semi-begrudgingly?  Because I don’t think the implementation of the model has been handled well.  For non-RTTT schools who were unable to get a contract in place by September 24, 2012, OTES has been rushed.  It is taking significant manpower to evaluate all teachers this way.  I am finding that evaluating one teacher in one round is taking a minimum of 4.5 hours: 1 hour pre-conference, 1 hour (-ish) observation and notes, at least 1.5 hours to organize evidence into the rubric, and minimum of 1 hour for post-conference.  For 24 people to observe this year, that amounts to 216 hours.  In a contract of 1642.5 hours, I will spend a minimum of 13% of my time doing observations.  That’s not counting all of the work from SLOs this summer and continuing into the beginning of the school year–but those are done for now, thank goodness.

Also, when I say I’m going to “expound the benefits,” I am only referring to the left side (performance rubric).  That right side is still an awful system that tears collaboration apart by pitting teachers against each other for the sake of a score.

I’m dividing this post into 3 parts:  1) How I’m running my OTES evaluations, 2) The positives, and 3) Areas for improvement.

1.  How I’m running OTES

If you’re evaluating teachers this year, you sat through the 3-day OTES training at some point and have become “certified.”  You’ve been well-versed in applying the rubric to videos of teachers, and you’ve viewed many sample pre- and post-conferences.  But I am finding that none of this prepared me for working with actual people–people I care about and want to see succeed.  No matter how trained we are to be consistent in applying the rubric to each lesson we see, I have found I have to customize my pre- and post-conferences to meet individual needs (wait–did I just say I have to individualize the assessment?  It’s such a novel idea!).  Here’s how I implement….

  1. Scheduling:  At the beginning of the school year (like, the first couple days), I sent emails to each person I would be evaluating to let them know.  Soon after, I sent emails to schedule pre-, observation, and post-conferences.  (Email templates available here)  NOTE:  I quickly realized that getting email requests to try and schedule all these dates was WAY too complicated.  In the future, I will aim to have people sign up via a google doc or paper in conference room!
  2. Communication:  Teachers are nervous, and communication over and over again seems to help allay this nervousness.  I have been open to doing multiple pre-conferences to help teachers feel comfortable with the rubric and how I define what I’m looking for.  The day before our pre-conference, I send a note (See email templates) to communicate my expectations.
  3. The Pre-Conference:  Our teachers all have copies of the pre-conference questions prescribed by OTES, but I prefer to engage in a conversation.  I ask that teachers have a copy of the lesson plan they are thinking about using during the observed lesson, but this is not required by the district.  Whether they do or not have one, we spend the pre-conference talking about what they do.  I ask the goal of the lesson and how they know at the end of class (or within the days following the lesson) that students got it.  I ask how they figure out what students know coming into the lesson.  I ask about formative assessments and what they do/think when students don’t do well.  I ask about data they’ve gathered (OAA scores, SRI scores, parent communication, communication with other teachers and teachers from previous years).  In having these conversations, we also go through this version of the rubric, which I annotated and highlighted to show teachers my understanding of expectations.  I talk a bit about my interpretation:  accomplished teachers see every individual student and they teach every individual student, skilled teachers see groups of students (advanced, developing, struggling) and teach to groups, developing teachers see entire classes of students and move the class as a whole.  I also tell them what will happen during the post-conference (which I describe below).
  4. Observation:  During the observation, I let teachers know they can either introduce me or not depending on what their students will think/do with a visitor in the room.  I am not looking for a dog-and-pony-show during the observed lesson; I understand teaching cannot always be like that, and these observations have to work around what is already happening in the classroom.  I take copious notes on my iPad–I basically script as much as I can get down using shorthand.  At the end of the period, I email the notes exactly as I have taken them to the teacher with some closing thoughts.
  5. Organizing Evidence:  I take all my scripted notes and I analyze them through two lenses.  The first lens is as an English language arts and curriculum person and my suggestions from this lens are separate from and tangential to OTES.  I am lucky enough to have the pleasure of evaluating some secondary English teachers this year, so I get the opportunity to be a common core resource and share strategies.  The second lens is through the OTES rubric.  I organize objective facts into the rubric where I think they fit, and I pre-plan questions for the post-conference that help me figure out if there is more evidence or not to move higher to the next category.  I also include comments with these questions such as “Does the teacher offer choice in assessment?  Looks like….differentiated text passages from which students can choose, various products to demonstrate learning…”
  6. The Post-Conference:  When I walk into a post-conference, I don’t go in thinking, “Well, you’re skilled during this first round, and here’s why…”  Instead, I use my pre-planned questions and organized evidence to have conversations.  I start post-conferences with a printed version of my organized thoughts on the rubric.  I tell teachers there is no “designation” from this first round, it is a holistic designation at the end of the year.  I also tell them their rubric goes back into their files and no one else sees it.  We go through the rubric row by row, and I read exactly what I wrote.  As we go, we discuss the questions and I handwrite notes on the printed rubric.  Teachers will say, “Ok, but what does ‘student-led’ instruction actually look like,” and I have the opportunity to explain my interpretation of what that looks like.  These conversations are an exchange–they are collaborative because both evaluator and evaluatee are coming to a common understanding of what the verbiage means.  Once we’ve gone through all the areas, I ask teachers what they would like to work on based on our conversations.  I also tell them that for any areas needing improvement, they can contact me when they are doing something specific to that area and I will come check in out (in addition to walkthroughs).  At the end of the post-conference, I have teachers sign that they received and went through the document.

There’s my process. Once I’ve made it through my entire first round with all 24 teachers, I intend to send out a survey to ask teachers how I made them feel about and during the process.  I’m looking for feedback to help myself improve as an evaluator; after all, this is new to me, too.

2.  The positives

I am finding some great things about this process…

  • Teachers whose efforts haven’t been acknowledged in a long time due to not having been evaluated are being recognized.
  • I am provided with a structure to get into classrooms and work more effectively with teachers.
  • I get to see all these awesome things happening in our schools every day.
  • I feel excited when I see awesome teaching taking place.
  • I love being in the buildings.
  • Instructionally, it allows me to be a resource for teachers.  I can provide resources to support specific teacher needs as we work together to figure out what those are.  (For example, I have now been asked several times to provide video examples of teachers doing “accomplished” work–that is a definite on my agenda of things to do!!)
  • Curricularly, I can see how our curriculum is working and if it is moving toward the intent of the standards.  I can figure out what resources and PD we need to move forward.
  • The OTES rubric (in most areas) reflects my own vision about student-centered instruction that meets the needs of every single student, so I can have really authentic conversations with teachers about issues I genuinely care about.
  • It allows for coaching, co-teaching, modeling, etc.

3.  Things to improve…

  • This is a hugely laborious task to evaluate so many people so many times.  I am the first to admit it is exhausting, and as valuable as it is, I feel like it is taking all of my time.  Maybe every two years for skilled and accomplished would make it easier.  Or maybe just one evaluation per year?
  • Some areas of the rubric are still unclear.  It will take a lot of evaluator conversations to define what things look like at the local level.
  • The expectation that “only __% of teachers will be accomplished” is totally bogus. When I taught English, I whole-heartedly believed that a student could do as well as s/he wanted on a paper because I would conference with him/her over and over again until s/he improved (i.e. learned) as much as s/he wanted.  Isn’t that the goal of formative assessment?  To keep assessing, meeting students where they are, using individualized instruction, and pulling them up to a standard?  My argument, then, is that I will work with a teacher in the same way.  If s/he wants to be accomplished, we can discuss, coach, co-teach as much as s/he wants to get where s/he wants to go.  Yes, this will take all the time away from my “other” job in curriculum, but isn’t this coaching at the heart of instructional leadership?  If I can move one teacher from skilled to accomplished (to that vision I have of what instruction should be), then that is absolutely valuable time spent.  Basically, accomplished teachers are clearly accomplished, but there is no reason to think a developing or skilled teacher can’t move into accomplished.
  • INEFFECTIVE IS AN AWFUL TERM.  It is demoralizing and defeatist.  We would never call a student ineffective (though I’m sure there are some parents we’d like to deem as such).  What about changing that to “beginning,” which implies room for growth rather than “ineffective,” which implies a robotic stamp of “damaged goods.”

Happy OTES-ing!

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4 thoughts on “In which I semi-begrudgingly expound on the benefits of OTES

  1. I am so glad to read another principal’s perspective about teacher evaluations. My coworkers and I have been told more than once this year that it is highly unlikely we will be highly effective teachers. How would he like it if I told my students that everyday? Of coarse he wouldn’t. This new process is hard for everyone! But together we could accomplish much! I’ll never accept that I am an ineffective teacher. I’m not geared that way and all the negativity that this process has brought to my school has only pushed me more to strive to do better.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. I am doing some work around school leaders and productivity and was wondering about the impact of OTES on their daily work. Since I don’t work in a school any more it is difficult to get information like this.

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  3. Thank you, Christina, for sharing your thoughts. I’m facing my first OTES observation next week, and it helps to see your perspective. It doesn’t lesson my fears, but makes me aware that you care very much. And for this, I am very grateful.

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