Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Danielson Model, oy vay

One of the evaluative systems approved for use by the State is called the Danielson Model. To understand why Teach-NJ is problematic one need only take a cursory look at the structure of this Model.

As I mentioned in a recent post, one of the greatest problems with Teach-NJ is the lack of ownership felt by teachers in the formulation of the legislation. Teachers simply aren’t going to be enthusiastic about something that has such significant consequences for their careers if they feel the policy has been imposed on them “from the top-down.” That is just the reality of it. Well, adding to the lack of ownership in the legislation is the lack of participation in the models and metrics that will impact their livelihood. Looking at the Danielson Model, we see 4 domains: Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. This is all well and good, but within those 4 domains there are what are called 22 Components, and within these 22 Components are 76, that’s 76, elements. Yes, the Danielson Model has completely dissected “what it is that defines a teacher” and holds teachers accountable to demonstrate competent or exemplary performance in 76 ways and maybe more if the Components have to be addressed as a whole.

I’m thinking back to my years as a teacher and am trying to think about 76 different facets to my job. If you assume, as it is fair to do, that teachers must write the equivalent of an essay at the very least for each element then you have created a system that is so cumbersome and time consuming that it must negatively impact their ability to do the already time consuming planning, creative, and critical thinking that goes with teaching a course. I certainly hope that teachers at the middle and elementary schools, most of whom teach multiple subjects, don’t have to write on each subject.

Even worse than all of this work being dumped on the teachers is the assumption that administrators must read and score all of this information, all the while doing the existing responsibilities that come with their job AND the self-evaluations they are also required to complete. No wonder teachers are already being told there will be delays in getting their work back to them. I simply don’t see how administrators are actually going to do all this, which in turn makes a mockery of the system in the eyes of teachers.

I was also told by several teachers that they will be subject to (3) classroom observations. Now on the face of it there is nothing wrong with that, but two of those observations are "unannounced." If the objective of Teach-NJ is to improve teacher performance, unannounced observations are not the way to go since there won't be a pre-conference, an essential element of an effective clinical observation. I was also told that in one of the other models their will instead be (7) 10-20 minute observations. So these administrators won’t even be sitting through an entire instructional period. Another joke. If true, that is unfair to the teachers and, frankly, to the students who are supposed to be the true beneficiaries of this system of accountability.

The more I hear about Teach-NJ, the more objectionable I find it. It is not that I don’t believe we should be holding teachers accountable, but that this method is beyond tedious and, in the pursuit for accountability, has completely discounted what I believe is the more immediate need for improved teacher performance. Teach-NJ is too passive in its approach to improved performance, making it a tangential rather than primary focus of the Act.

I’ve always believed that if you are going to complain about something you should have some alternative of your own to offer, so I will.

I believe that teachers should view themselves as entrepreneurs, and as such I also believe that they should be evaluated, and mentored, through the lenses of an entrepreneur. I spent many hours researching the “success stories” of dozens of entrepreneurs and found 5 lenses that I would look through, those lenses being the metrics I would use in place of the Danielson Model.  Most importantly, I would NOT have teachers demonstrate skill in 76 areas.

A successful entrepreneur, and hence a successful teacher must demonstrate 5 things and be able to demonstrate how they have instilled those 5 things in their students as well: Passion, Knowledge, Organization, Empowerment, and Resourcefulness. I realize these aren’t the most pedagogical of terms, and my more specific metrics might not be filled with the convoluted and often meaningless terms used in education, but frankly I believe that these metrics are more “teacher friendly” and much easier for a teacher to demonstrate as measures of their skill as an educator. Aren’t these the qualities that we want in our teachers? I would have each teacher build a portfolio of their work based on a few rubrics, and then supplement the portfolio with summaries and an end of year interview.

I have seen too many trashcans filled with the work of teachers; teachers who were told how important and essential this work was to complete. And I have seen too many administrators overlook excellent work and instead make decisions based on their personal biases and assumptions. This could obviously happen in any system, even mine, but when I think of all this work being done by teachers and then imagine it gathering dust in a file cabinet I can’t help but think there has to be a better, less time consuming way.

I hope that our legislators and the Department of Education will soon announce that they will review Teach-NJ to see how it can be improved, and that they bring in a cross-section of teachers to participate in that review, because as I see it now, Teach-NJ is amounting to a lot of work by educators that feel adrift in a system that will affect their lives. That is not a good thing.

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