Teacher Evaluations and Professional Development: A Necessary Link in Education Today

Fri, Sep 12, 2014

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

By Dr. Jose A. Rodriguez
Program Director, Educational Leadership Program at American Public University

Teacher evaluations and professional development are two of the most important duties district and school administrators must bring coherence to in order to increase and sustain student achievement. A leadership dashboard can provide a systems approach to sustain real-time organizational learning and targeted leadership action.


This time of year, school districts across the country send out mailers welcoming new and veteran teachers back to school for yet another academic year. During the first few days before school starts for students, often called staff development days or learning improvement days, systems-level leaders at each school and district plan various types of staff development for teachers. Topics include building logistics, pedagogy, curriculum, assessments, cross-cultural training, and others.

In preparing for these back-to-school activities, what data and information do administrative leaders really use to plan the staff development they provide to teachers? Are there ways in which teacher evaluations can help inform systems-level learning on the content and delivery of specific staff development throughout the year? Should teacher evaluations be used to identify professional development needs?

A national debate about the aforementioned scenario and subsequent questions is ongoing. What is the answer to addressing the problems plaguing student achievement in our public schools? Is putting Common Core at the center focus of the national debate really the answer? Are standards and test scores really the only solution? I believe the answer to our educational curriculum and instructional achievement gaps today is not the creation of more standards, but, rather, the addressing of a common problem of practice deeply rooted in school systems in the United States.

The common problem of practice is a systemic one and centers around classroom observations and professional development, two of the most important duties school organizations spend most of the time and resources on in raising and sustaining student achievement. Comprehensive information from teacher evaluations simply does not exist in real time when important decisions regarding resource allocation and targeted professional development are contemplated.

The current practice in most schools finds classroom observations and professional development operating completely independent of each other, with the former never informing the latter. Teachers often seek professional development on their own and many times spend their own time and money outside of work seeking these learning opportunities. They browse through the course catalog for professional development and sign up in interested areas such as in computer training, software for grading, Smartboard training, protocol for checking out books, taking attendance, developing discipline policies, and teaching strategies to name a few.

While these professional opportunities exist for teachers across the country, staff development that teachers sign up for—and staff development provided to teacher by administrators—may not be directly related to each other, to their teaching assignment or to the direct needs of the teacher. This incoherence in the profession between professional development and classroom observations is a missed opportunity to address the systemic problems in our educational organizations across the country.

Designing a leadership dashboard would identify the curriculum and instructional needs of each classroom in order to build and sustain much needed systems to finally link professional development to what actually goes on in the classroom. Why classroom observations? The answer is quite clear. Incorporating two existing practices currently used by districts across the nation—the use of the teacher evaluative criteria and the formative teacher observation process—have the potential to inform district/school systems on the specific needs of each classroom.

Currently, each district has its own teacher evaluative criteria. They either use state guidelines to draft their own or adopt the state’s criteria, with the latter being the standard practice. The teacher evaluative criteria provide teachers and administrators with external criteria for teachers and administrators to work together for the purpose of creating a learning environment conducive to student learning. The criteria provide both parties the opportunity to engage in the conversation of student learning by linking both teacher and administrator around an agreed set of standards and expectations. Standards that operate outside established and mutually agreed upon criteria found in teacher evaluations like Common Core are often not sustained. Providing the necessary link between teacher evaluations and professional development could very well be the missing link in education.

About the Author:

Jose A. Rodriguez, Ed.D. is currently Associate Professor and Program Director for the Educational Leadership Program with the American Public University. He received a B.A. in Political Science and History, with teacher certification, with the University of Texas-Pan American—Edinburg, a master’s degree in Political Science and Sociology with Texas State University—San Marcos, and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with the University of Washington—Seattle. Prior to academia, Dr. Rodriguez spent many years in public schools as teacher, writing curriculum as district curriculum developer and as school administrator.

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