I was fortunate enough, yes I do mean fortunate, to go through TPEP my first time as a comprehensive pilot. This meant that when I was completing my rigorous evaluation it was with a “get out of jail free card” in my back pocket. Because the small group of teachers who were asked to pilot knew we were signing up to be the guinea pigs and do our comprehensive evaluation before many, or really any, of the kinks had been worked out the district tried a few ways to entice us. One of the perks we were offered was the knowledge that if we passed our evaluation it would be our permanent and first score in the new system. If we didn’t pass then nothing went on our permanent reports. We simply, got out of jail free and got to try again and our evaluator would fill out the old Professional Growth Plan form for our official report for the pilot year saying we were satisfactory.
The tricky part about this was that I passed the comprehensive eval in a pilot year and this resulted in my becoming an unplanned focussed pilot. No one had done the focussed version before in our building at this point either. I was actually quite excited to use my comprehensive data to inform my growth and my own next steps. My evaluator and I sat down, looked over my scores from my comprehensive evaluation the year before and chose my focus. In my mind there was no option but to choose one of the elements of the framework in which I was performing at a basic level. Why would I choose to focus on something I was already proficient and or distinguished? I figured this was the entire point of the focussed evaluation. To focus on something you know you need to work on and then to get better at it. In my mind this was the best thing about the focussed plan and it had never occurred to me to do it any other way.
It was brought to my attention lately that many teachers don’t do this. At first I was just sort of confused. I felt like there was a rule written or unwritten that this was the intention of the focussed plan. How could people just go and pick a growth area that didn’t really require growth? After I got over the initial shock and gut reaction I began to think about what might motivate a teacher to make this choice. I tried to put myself in the place of a teacher who has just finished a comprehensive evaluation who wants to feel secure in keeping my position and I am not sure how to tackle some of the toughest things about it, I might make this choice as well. My opportunity to focus on my needs for growth in a non-threatening way opened the door for me to be more explorative with my learning. It also allowed me to choose something that might be tough and not be worried about the outcome, just focussed on the learning. On top of this I had an evaluator who approached the process as a partnership for my growth and not from a standpoint of judgment.
These attitudes and conditions allowed me to get really good at something I had always struggled with in the past. It made me sad to think that others were missing out on their own professional growth and the opportunity to get something meaningful out of the process. I think this post is just really a dare. I am hopefully daring every teacher to choose a focussed goal truly based on the outcome of their comprehensive evaluations. This is where the meaningful part of this process really begins to make sense.
There are things that I am sure we all think are cumbersome about our TPEP evaluations, however choosing a goal and focus that is something you need to work on is not. This is where we start to impact student learning for sure. When the stress and busyness of the comprehensive process clears out and you can see clearly you also have more time to devote to your one area of focus for the year.
Please please take my dare and advice and make your evalution meaningful. I know that for me this was when I could stop being weighed down by my evaluation and start really feeling like I was a lifelong learner with room to grow. I could then focus on that with my evaluator and celebrate that growth. In the two years I have completed focussed evaluations and have purposefully and meaningfully selected them from my areas of greatest weakness based on my previous evaluation I have made more growth than ever before. This practice also transformed these weaknesses into strengths. My hope is for everyone to be able to approach their focused evaluations from a perspective of growth and not from fear because this is when it becomes meaningful and we really do get better at our practice.