Last week our district hosted a TPEP training for which they brought in an official national Danielson trainer. For anyone not familiar this is one of three frameworks districts can choose from for our new Teacher Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP). I actually didn’t know that these kind of trainers existed. I sort of figured there was Charlotte Danielson and she was the god of all these rubrics, end of story. It was really nice to have someone who knew her and was around for the creation of the framework and not someone who was also trying to wade through it like the rest of us. My district has been really intentional with the training we have received and offered so far. I actually went to this particular session because I am one of the people who does the training and support for other staff. This was an important event because we could all get some official guidance as far as the framework. It was good that in the same room there was someone representing Danielson so that what she says is definitive and not up for interpretation, as well as teachers who are being evaluated, trainers and support staff like me, building administrators who are doing the evaluations, and district personnel all the way up to the Superintendent. I looked around and felt a sense of confidence and relief that the message would be constant and the guidance far reaching.
If you are unfamiliar with the Danielson Framework it breaks the evaluation into four domains, planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. This particular session focussed on domains two and three, classroom environment and instruction because these two are the most observable. We will have another one next month on the other two. It was pretty much a review for me as far as what is in the framework and what evaluators are looking for. There was one activity and take away however that I hope permeated the minds and practice of everyone in the room. The trainer had us brainstorm what we would look for in a classroom that would tell us that we were in the presence of greatness. She asked us to write one thing per sticky note that would tell us that the teacher was really good and would make us want to have our own kids in that classroom. Once those sticky notes were made we worked in groups to sort the into like statements. From there we sorted them into the four domains. Her prediction was that they would all fit somewhere in one of the four categories and she was right. Her point, that was well made, was that as professionals who see teaching all the time and know what good teaching looks like, came up with the same things that were in the framework. She showed us a video f of Charlotte Danielson talking about the framework and at the end she said it was common sense. I think this activity showed us this, the framework was common sense. A group of random teachers almost twenty years after the birth of the framework brainstormed the same list of strengths as the Danielson group did, I think this proves its common sense. She then followed up by asking us to think about this when we were in our evaluation process and working with principals. If it doesn’t make common sense then you are doing it wrong. She told us to always use common sense when interpreting the framework and going through the process. This was an important point for me. For sure the biggest takeaway from the night. I have been through and seen evaluations in this system that did not make common sense. I am hoping that this simple idea can guide us as we proceed. I do feel like TPEP can be exhausting. I do feel that doing comprehensive TPEP can become cumbersome and take away from much needed time spent doing other more integral teacher duties. I do however know that I have learned some very valuable things about myself and my practice. I have grown, been more reflective, and changed quite a few things in my practice due to the framework. Those things came from using common sense and the evaluation framework together. I am really hoping that this idea and one guiding thought can help us all to feel less bogged down by the system and more free to use it to our advantage using our own professionalism and common sense.