Since this summer, my day job has changed. Not in any formal way, but a number of projects have come my way and I’ve been doing some learning throughout the work on these projects. As every school division in Virginia is now adopting new evaluation habits for teachers based on student growth, the process is new to me. I’d been on regional meetings about it, but it was never something I really had to pay much attention to. Others in my Division were charged with modifying our procedures and forms, and making sure all our supervisors were trained on what needed to change. I knew we were in good shape, since our current system had been adopted under the guidance of Dr. James Stronge, some 6-7 years ago (he has been a major proponent of our current changes).
One of the projects I’m proud of bringing to our principals and leadership team is a new evaluation instrument that’s totally electronic. I joined our evaluation committee just 6 weeks ago and began soaking-in the changes. New forms were being considered, and I took those and made them digital.
I wrote about this process already on my work blog, but I’m already changing it to accommodate more features (ones I want, in particular, not those that have been asked for). For the geeks in the audience, here’s what I did:
First, I created a FileMaker Pro database to record classroom observations, student performance goals, and summative evaluations. FileMaker Pro is a database system for small- to medium-sized applications. We run the database on a server (FileMaker Server) so that the same database can be accessed by multiple users (in this case, central office administrators and principals). A principal can therefore use this system on their computer, or via the FileMaker Go application on the iPad.
Each administrator signs-into the database with their own credential. Principals can only see records of teachers in their school building.
The forms for teachers are linked first by a school grouping, then from that page, via a list of the school’s teachers. On each teacher page, you can create new observations, new performance goals, or start this year’s summative evaluation.
For the observations, the FileMaker Go application allows us to sign the forms with our finger, and also to take a snapshot of the classroom using the iPad’s camera during an observation. Observations started on the iPad can be completed later on the laptop. A convenient button makes sending a PDF version of the form to teachers a breeze.
The Summative Evaluation forms of course have some math involved this year. We take the values from each domain and calculate the teacher’s overall “score” for their evaluation. The database does all the math for us. Again, everything typed can be reviewed with the teacher on the iPad, from which they can sign the form before receiving their digital copy.
The new piece I am working on now is record keeping for professional development. For technology workshops, I’ve used FileMaker for years to generate certificates for re-certification points for teachers. Now, what I want is a listing of all professional development opportunities (from after-school workshops, conferences, etc.) listed for each teacher on the same page as their SPGs, observations, and summative reports.
I’m also working with our acting superintendent and assistant superintendent of instruction on how we might take measure of student engagement. This has the potential of working its way into this system, too, one day.
While we know off-the-shelf systems already exist for conducting observations, doing it yourself and customizing it to your neck of the woods is empowering. Several weeks ago when I “unveiled” this product to our leadership team, I heard them clapping as I was manipulating an interactive white board. As I turned around, I saw them all standing up, clapping. They gave me a standing ovation. That was the first time I’d ever been recognized like that by my colleagues, and it felt good to be appreciated for something new that had come my way.
My take away from this experience isn’t some profound thought on teacher evaluation. But instead: Figure out what little projects make you persist for solutions… and tickle your passion. Not only should you share this with our learners, but our job is to help students find what they too have a passion for, and can be successful with, given the application of persistence!