One of the least favorite jobs of every educational administrator I know is personnel evaluations. They are time-consuming and ambiguous. They do not motivate high performers and hardly ever change low performers. Here are three ideas to make this task more useful.
First, provide feedback throughout the year, not just at the end of the year. In many school systems, the last 30 days of the year are consumed with the creation of documents for the evaluation file. What would you think of a teacher who only gave feedback to students in the last few weeks of a term? You would probably judge them to have committed educational malpractice, and that is precisely how teachers and administrators feel when they receive evaluations that are too late to use for meaningful improvement.
Second, distinguish feedback from evaluation. Evaluation is often adversarial, and many teacher and administrator evaluation forms are so ambiguous that the distinction among levels is subjective. Effective feedback, by contrast, is designed not to render a verdict, but to promote improvement. Therefore, effective feedback is specific, providing a clear roadmap for improvement. The best in-class feedback forms for teachers are the rubrics created by Kim Marshall and available as free downloads. Kim has successfully helped many districts to replace their ineffective evaluation systems with these clear, specific, and helpful rubrics. They save time for administrators and give teachers far better feedback than most systems.
Third, stop the rescue impulse. Initial help for a struggling colleague may be justified if that help is used to improvement performance. But I have seen school districts spend years attempting to save a failing administrator or teacher, investing time and resources into these efforts while year after year children and colleagues suffer. In any large organization, there are probably some people who are just not in the right career field, and it is not kind or saintly to defer the necessary decision to help them find a new place to work. Every time I have interviewed senior leaders about a termination that they finally made — including the termination of tenured employees — I ask what lessons they learned. The uniform response: I wish I had done it sooner. The time of a leader is a zero-sum game. Every hour spent begging, pleading, threatening, and worrying about a person who should not be in our profession is an hour that leaders did not spend nurturing, encouraging, and appreciating their best performing colleagues.
In their terrific book, Time, Talent, Energy, Mankins and Garton make the point that the best employee benefit for our A+ players is the opportunity to work with other A+ players, and the most demoralizing factor for high-performing employees is when leaders tolerate mediocrity and ineffective performance. Evaluations are not fun, but we can make them better and, most importantly, make the decision to identify and promote wonderful colleagues and counsel out those who are not good for students and colleagues.