Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bees, rubrics and teacher evaluation

My hives this morning
The new teacher evaluation (TEVAL) system is the source of tons of anxiety, conflict, and even anger among teachers here in CT. I've seen excellent veteran teachers crying at staff meetings when discussing the new system of formal observations, rubrics and ratings. Obviously, something's wrong with the system, or is it? What if it's all in the way we look at it?

I've been through the new TEVAL process twice as a teacher, but as a new administrator this year, I've been experiencing the system for the first time from the other side. As I've been conducting formal observations of my teachers and writing them up, I watched myself go through a shift in thinking.

I can be a bit overly critical, and in my own life I am always trying to push myself harder to improve (though I know I've got plenty of blind spots), and I'm afraid this was coming through in my write-ups and conversations with my staff about the process. In fact, I was worried about tensions and conflicts developing.

Then I realized the problem: I've been looking at this all wrong. I am not the driver of this process--I am just part of a structure.

I firmly believe that with the right structure in place, everything else falls into place. That's why we're working on building a structure at the Depot that will allow every student to thrive. That's why last year, I spent tons of time building a framework that would allow my biology students to thrive. As humans, we need the right structure of societal rules, relationships, health, and other systems if we are going to flourish. But the right structure is not about authority and hierarchies. That's not how humans work. That's not how anything works.

Bees are a great example. A lot of people think bees are ruled by the queen--that she somehow directs the activities of the hive, but that's not true at all. The whole colony is guided by a complex system of hormones and rules built into their tiny brains that determine how they interact with each other and the environment. The seemingly intelligent behaviour of the hive just emerges naturally from this set of rules.

Nature uses structures like that, not hierarchies. Humans don't function best in authority structures, but in collaborative communities.

That's how I'm seeing my new role within the TEVAL system. I'm not at the top at all. I'm just part of the structure--a structure designed to improve our schools. We're all interacting with it--its rules, rubrics and reviews of practice. We're also interacting with the rules that govern human behavior in general--rules about relationships and what makes humans thrive.

It's not about, "Here's how you need to improve." It's about, "How can we use this structure to improve together?"

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