By: Ebru MCCALLUM
Teaching is a very multi-faceted act with cognitive, emotional, social, ethical, intra and interpersonal components. For this reason, the question of what good teaching entails is a very complicated one. The answer, like the subject at hand, also has many dimensions to it. Danielson is among the educators who attempted to break teaching into its components with the intention of clarifying it for all the stakeholders of learning environments, that is mainly schools, how good teaching manifests itself in concrete, observable, and tangible ways. She divided the concept of good teaching into four domains: Planning& Preparation (Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy, Demonstrating Knowledge of Students, Setting Instructional Outcomes, Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources, Designing Coherent Instruction, and Designing Student Assessments), Classroom Environment (Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport, Establishing a Culture for Learning, Managing Classroom Procedures, Managing Student Behaviour, and Organizing Physical Space), Professional Responsibilities (Reflecting on Teaching, Maintaining Accurate Records, Communicating with Families, Participating in a Professional Community, Growing and Developing Professionally, and Showing Professionalism) and Instruction (Communicating with Students, Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques, Engaging Students in Learning, Using Assessment in Instruction, and Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness).
Danielson aimed to offer a guideline for multiple purposes through her framework: self-assessment, teacher preparation, recruitment& hiring, mentoring, peer coaching, supervision and evaluation. (Alvarez and Anderson-Ketchmark, 2011, p61)).Being able to make use of Danielson’s framework for all these purposes necessitates the collaboration of teachers and administrators for the common aim of improving instruction. Firstly, all people on board have to be convinced that ‘effective teachers are the greatest school-based contributors to improved student outcomes, and that teachers can be empowered and become more effective by receiving consistent feedback on classroom instruction. (Olivia, Mathers and Laine, 2009, p17) Once this notion becomes part of the general school culture, the framework can be used as a practical guide to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
I had the privilege of starting my teaching career at an institution with a strong commitment to provide all its teachers, especially the less experienced ones, with the opportunity to receive constant feedback on instruction and constant training in needed areas. This was achieved in multiple ways. The institution had a well-trained team of teacher trainers who would give work-shops and in-service training courses to teachers. These workshops offered both theoretical and practical input, keeping the teachers up to date about current research and practices in line with the findings of research on teaching and learning. The trainees were expected to plan at least one lesson but mostly a series of lessons that manifested their learning of the content. The trainers met the trainee before and after the actual teaching of that lesson and provided feedback and suggestions on how to improve the lesson in the former and on how to improve delivery of that lesson in the latter meeting. I, personally, found this an invaluable experience as it gave me great confidence to enter the classroom with lesson plans that were based on strong theory and years of practice. I felt safe that I would be able to benefit from the years long experience of the teacher trainer and be spared the burden of spending years trying to discover all that myself.
Another wonderful thing about the teacher training service was the opportunity to work with many trainers throughout the year but have one mentor who would oversee the progress and the needs during that time. Having multiple trainers would mean co-training, which meant constant training on evaluation and how to give feedback for the trainers, too.
The opportunity to receive feedback on instruction also included peer-observation, team-teaching (sharing lesson plans, practical tips, a professional article addressing a need, and mini-workshops taught by peers) and peer coaching. It was quite common to approach a more experienced teacher and ask to observe a lesson with a focus on an area you felt you needed improvement in. This focus could be as simple as blackboard or technology use, or methods of engaging the students in a reading activity. This observation would always be followed by a reflection meeting on what you have learned and what you would like to put into practice in your teaching. Depending on the time available to both parties, the more experienced teacher could also observe a lesson by the less experienced one focusing on the same area and provide feedback afterwards.
Looking back now at the teacher evaluation system used at that institution, I see many strengths. Firstly, even the initially skeptic would come to see the benefits of working with a more experienced and more knowledgeable teacher after the first experience. When one realizes that the burden that comes from limited experience and limited training is lessened thanks to this professional exchange, one becomes fully devoted to the process. Once consensus is reached on the necessity of the continuous cycle of training and evaluation, cooperation of all stakeholders is guaranteed. Sometimes this process would make you feel exposed and require you to take on extra course work or mean more observations and harder work, but the process definitely made your life in the classroom when alone with the students easier and in a much shorter time. In other words, that institution managed to create a culture of professional development and a strong belief along the following premise:
“If the education system cannot provide meaningful, ongoing and summative feedback to teachers, it relinquishes significant opportunities to influence teacher practice and student achievement. Given the overwhelming evidence that teachers have the greatest impact on student outcomes, supporting their ongoing growth and development should be a priority.” (Olivia, Mathers, and Liane, 2009, p20)
Based on that positive experience in my first work place and the research I have done on the possible ways of using Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, I strongly believe that administrators can and should play a crucial role in improving instruction in their institutions by creating a culture of dedication to professional development and working as a team. This cannot be done alone. The cooperation of teachers and their motivation must be ensured for this to be realized. As one school principal Kim Marshall came to realize one day, even if a great deal of a principal’s time is devoted to classroom observations, his evaluations were bound to be ‘based on grossly inadequate information’, therefore be superficial and often miss the target’ and be ‘paid little attention to’. After this realization, he spent a great deal of time on thinking this problem through. As a leadership coach now for new principals and a teacher of courses on leadership and the publisher of a weekly newsletter that summarizes theoretical and practical input from over 40 publications, he has invaluable ideas on how to empower teachers by evaluating their teaching in the most effective ways.
He is a strong believer of rubrics around clearly set domains of teaching. This, he believes, makes it clear for everyone what is meant by excellent teaching, good teaching and teaching that needs improvement. He also suggests introducing these domains or working on them one by one rather than all at once. A very important area of concern that he brings up is the danger of evaluating a teacher’s performance based on a few lesson plans. What he offers instead is to gather impressions of every teacher throughout the whole school year by being ‘in classrooms, corridors, and team meetings and at other school events on a daily basis.’ He suggests frequent and unannounced mini-observations and follow-up face-to-face conversations after them to offer feedback to the teacher in addition to announced full-lesson observations. One other important component of teacher-evaluation is self-assessment of the teacher. Getting the teacher to assess their own performance across the rubric is a good way to enable them to become more self-reliant and self-aware in terms of recognizing their weaknesses, strengths and areas that need improvement. Given that the principal can spend relatively much less time with the teacher, getting the teachers to become their own coaches is a logical idea. Marshall calls this process “installing a supervisory “voice” in teachers’ heads so they are always monitoring and improving their performance’’. In this way, evaluation and actions for improving instruction can be an ongoing process at all times.
The evaluation of the principal also has to have a practical application, in other words, it has to lead to a concrete course of action. I am strong believer in showing recognition to sustain motivation in individuals and in teams. If the principal’s evaluation of a teacher after a course of one academic year has been very positive, that teacher must receive some kind of recognition: a letter of congratulations, a small award, a promotion or a leadership role in teacher development. If a teacher has been identified to need further development in certain areas, the principal has to take on the role of a supervisor. Marshall points out the necessity of taking on this role as such:
“It is an important legal and ethical responsibility for principals to give struggling teachers a detailed diagnosis, specific recommendations, and a chance to improve.” (p11)
The teacher who has been evaluated has to know very clearly what areas need development and why based on the clearly stated rubric and also what action must be taken in a realistically set time frame. (Marshall, 2006, p 8-12) If this guidance is not provided, the evaluation process can not lead to a constructive end. It would be a soul destroying and de-motivating experience. This may mean a reluctance to take any steps for professional development, which would be a waste of that person’s potential. In other words, encouragement is the key to ensuring teacher development and improving instruction.
In addition to self-evaluation and evaluation by the principal, having multiple evaluators and engaging peers and teacher mentors in the process should also be tried. It is crucial that all evaluators be trained inn understanding of the rubric, the rationale behind the process, the keys to effective and constructive communication and meet the standards of good teaching themselves. (Olivia, Mathers, and Liane, 2009, p 18). The same point about using multiple evaluators is raised in the report of a project called ‘Enhancing Administrators’ Capacity for Leadership by Improving Evaluation Practices and Processes Project” in which the researchers recommend that school and district administrators rely on multiple evaluators ensure validity as well as objectivity and use a rubric with clear standards. The report also points out the need to continuously train evaluators on best teaching practices. Evaluation of peers, students and parents as well as teacher leaders competent in the content area and pedagogy is recommended to provide multiple perspectives. (Mathes, Mixon, and Trutzel Betts, 2009, pp106-110)
It is obvious that the role of administrators in improving the quality of education is immense. They are in the position to create a culture of continuous development and evaluation of practices. Their position of authority enables them to, and their responsibility requires them to establish effective means of doing so. For this, they may need to allocate funds to pay for training programs and factor training, observation and mentoring hours as part of a teacher’s workload.
The teacher’s role in all this is complementary. The teacher has to be convinced of the need to collaborate in this process in order to be more fulfilled professionally and to operate at a much more informed, competent and effective level in time. This is related to Danielson’s domain of Professional Responsibilities which includes Participating in a Professional Community and Growing and Developing Professionally. Commitment to these two principles should give one the motivation to work on one’s professional development. What would sustain this, I think, would be a belief that, by doing so, one would become more proficient in one’s job and experience great moments of satisfaction, joy and bliss. This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow: “state of effortless concentration and enjoyment” and total absorption in what one is doing and is a stronger supporter of one’s quality of life than even happiness or being devoid of serious problems. Acts that require creativity and the use of skills which can develop over a long period of time -if carried out with clear aims and a clear time frame - help to experience this uplifting feeling.
Another necessary feature is this: the feedback on one’s performance has to be immediate and the task has to be challenging enough to make it interesting and engaging and not challenging enough to make it frustrating.
Most of these conditions are present in the act of teaching and all can be present in carefully designed teacher training or mentoring programs. Teacher trainers can help the teacher set realistic goals in increasing complexity, for example. Feedback from students is immediate, it is right there in the air. More formal forms of feedback can be collected at the end of a lesson from the students and the teacher trainers can schedule meetings as soon as possible after the actual teaching.
Teaching is one such profession that is inherently conducive to experiencing this state of flow. If one can find such moments of flow on a daily basis through one’s job, it should be considered a privilege because most employment today is not more than a means to put bread on the table. Consumerism and capitalism have resulted in a strong alienation from what one is doing and often the individual has very little say about the nature of that job.
The fact that teaching has many dimensions to it, as Danielson clearly lays out, means there is always room to acquire better skills and deeper insights in any one of the domains and in any one of its components. The creative and intelligent use of these skills in a well-orchestrated manner itself can produce flow, and help the teacher feel “flashes of intense living against the dull background of everyday life.” (Csikszenmihalyi)
There is one other item on Danielson’s framework that I find to be extremely and equally crucial: engaging students in learning. This is the component that can create flow on the part of the learners and thus feed into the teacher’s experience of flow and increase the teacher’s motivation to improve instruction.
One of my colleagues - a very effective, engaging, encouraging, caring, and conscientious teacher- is an excellent example to making sure everyone experiences flow in the lesson. She has her own blog (http://the proproom.blogspot.com) in which she shares her ideas about teaching and the materials she has developed. She stays current and prepares new materials all the time. The planning and implementation of lessons, to her, is a joy. She also makes sure it is as engaging and interesting for the students. This is her advice to increase student motivation and engage them in the learning process:
1. Alvarez, Michelle E. and Anderson-Ketchmark, Corrine. Danielson’s Framework for Teaching. Children&Schools. January 2011. Volume 3, Number 1
2. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Finding Flow. Psychology Today. 1997. Last reviewed on June 14, 2012 http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199707/finding-flow
3. Hekimgil, Feride. An Elusive Quality: Motivation. Humanizing Language Teaching. August 2012
4. Marshall, Kim. The Why’s and How’s of Teacher Evaluation Rubrics. Edge. 2006
5. Mathes, Staci M, Mixon , Sharon Andrea, Trutzel Betts, Tricia T. Enhancing Administrators’ Capacity for Leadership by Improving Evaluation Practices and Processes Project. Proquest Dissertations and Theses. 2009. Proquest Education Journals
6. Olivia, Michelle, Mathers, Carrie and Laine, Sabrina. Effective Evaluation. Principal Leadership. March 2009: Proquest Education Journals, p16