I am wary of high stakes, anxiety-producing, number-heavy, hoop-jumping evaluation systems.
Imagine my delight and surprise to learn that as a new principal in Bellingham, I could use a collaborative, online video platform for all teacher evaluations. The platform would be private, efficient, and teacher-driven; both parties would be able to view, code, and upload videos. I jumped at the opportunity to use Teaching Channel Teams in lieu of scripting into a state-sponsored platform.
How does it work?
Teachers can opt out of the online-video pilot if they prefer one of the other state-developed platforms. ("I love state-developed platforms," said no one ever.) And they can also opt out of Teaching Channel Teams mid-year, if they feel it doesn't accurately capture their teaching and learning.
I am about 70 videos into the school year, and no one has opted out yet. Moreover, teachers have uploaded 126 videos to their private groups via the Tch Recorder App (insert huge celebration here).
This is where I like to use the word innovative. Imagine an evaluation system that is low stakes, low anxiety, qualitative, and meaningful. This is what Teaching Channel hands us on a silver platter.
I can capture video clips during my scheduled observation rounds, or during impromptu walk-throughs. Teachers can capture video clips of spontaneous student debates, skits, balancing experiments, and white board diagrams. Add these up over a year, and it's a montage that can help teachers see their strengths and reflect on their areas of improvement.
One of our teachers even took the liberty of using Teaching Channel to videotape all student oral assessments for their Spanish I course. This will allow both the students and the teacher to assess their progress during the course, with multiple videos. (¡Qué guay!)
What is my impact?
In a post NCLB-era, we must recognize that a great deal of trauma has wrought havoc on our public education system. I am proud to call myself a contrarian by nature. When a system tells us to "just follow the grain," we need leaders to ask, "Is the grain going the right way?" Some people may describe me as oppositional. I like to think of myself as a critical thinker. Teaching Channel allows us to ask, "What if the grain goes this way?"
At the root of my philosophy, I'm not sure we can know what someone else knows (the way they know it). Therefore, I'm not sure we can really know what someone else has learned. What I do know is this: we can witness someone reflecting on their own learning. We can behold the moment when a child, a teenager, or an adult has recognized their newfound cleverness. This is my desired impact -- that teachers use video and other artifacts from their teaching to set their goals, gauge their progress, and claim ownership of their learning.
What will this look like as we wrap up the year?
As we move into Spring, we will be wrapping up an evaluation cycle by viewing clips and discussing how teacher practices aligned with their goals. My hope as a leader is that I can take a state-mandated evaluation and carry it out as a natural, supportive, soul-soothing process that affirms teacher's abilities and clarifies their next steps as learners. This is not just the best way to learn; it is the only way.
Meagan Dawson is a middle school principal in Bellingham, Washington. She completed her doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Washington in 2015. Her dissertation explained the theory and practice of Leadership for Equitable Systems using the Quilts of Gees Bend as a metaphor. She is a fan of Frida Kahlo, Curtis Acosta, Jesse Hagopian, and Sixto Rodriguez. In June 2013, she stopped by Wendell Berry’s house in Port Royal, Kentucky to ask him how to de-industrialize public education. He advised her to start small and stay local, so she did.