1. Decide what you want to get out of it
Your teacher evaluation should be a good chance for you to hone your teaching craft. Ideally, they’re an accountability tool and also a magic eye. Sometimes someone else can see something in your classroom you couldn’t before.
My favorite evaluator would ask me in our pre-evaluation session what I wanted them to look for.
Even if your evaluator isn’t that helpful, you can certainly send them an email with things you’d like them to focus on. Even if you aren’t that close with them, it can still help. A friend or someone who likes you may not focus on things that aren’t going so well. A dispassionate observer may see things that could be improved on.
Even if you don’t have a specific thing you’re looking to know, in your own head decide what this evaluation is for. It’s ok if you just think of it as a formality to get over with. Before you go in, know what it means to you. Know what you think is going to be helpful and why you are participating in it.
2. Be clear on how it impacts you
Along the same lines, know how it could impact you.
What possible consequences could this have?
Some evaluations can be used to determine raises. They can help decide who gets different positions in your school. Some can lead to improvement plans or other forms of professional development.
Know exactly what different scores can actually do to you as a professional.
In some places, evaluations are just a formality that is required by the state. In these cases, getting worked up over your score is a waste of your time and energy. Other places have higher stakes and may be more worth your time to focus energy on.
No matter how important or insignificant, be clear on the impact of any outcome.
3. Do what you always do
If there are serious stakes to evaluations for you, you may be tempted to pull out all the stops. Admin’s been really pushing this new thing, I should try it for my evaluation – you think to yourself.
Don’t give in to that urge!
When you’re trying something for the first time, it shows. It may go very badly no matter how much you plan, and then you get to crash and burn in front of an audience – with a clipboard.
That’s a recipe for disaster. Whatever you’re doing in your classroom, it’s enough. We promise. It’s enough.
Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable doing for your evaluation. It doesn’t matter how much they’re pushing some new thing. If you have practiced it with your students enough it will show.
It’s totally ok for you to be open and honest with your evaluators. You can let them know that you haven’t yet found a way to implement the new thing with your class. It’s also ok to say that you’re struggling with some things and that you need help with them.
Ideally, that’s what evaluations should show over time, growth.
4. Have a plan
Your evaluation will be smoother for everyone if they know what to expect. Once you have your scheduled evaluation times, make a plan.
Even if you are not required to, it’s a good idea for you to give your lesson plan to your evaluator. Think of it like a program for a play. It gives them some context on what you’re going for and what they can expect.
If you don’t often write out your lesson plans, here’s a free EEI template to use. That should help you marshal your magic ways into words.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to print any materials that you will be using. That way you have a copy available for your evaluator. They can better follow along with what you are doing and see that you have an eye for quality materials.
Have a place in your class where your evaluator can watch and not disturb the flow of your class or lesson, ready to go.
The last part of your plan should be for your self-care. Have lunch or happy hour with a friend lined up to discuss your triumph or concerns. Being observed can be stressful! Take care of yourself for the best results.
5. Prepare your students
A visitor to your class can be upsetting, especially for special education students.
A principal coming to your class unannounced can cause anxiety in some of your students. If you’re a new teacher it’s likely you could have many announced drop-ins.
It’s a good idea to prepare your students for this happening. You shouldn’t say “I have an evaluation next Friday, so behave!” But you can say, “Teachers get graded too. Sometimes, adults may come into the room and watch me while I teach you. They’re not here to look at you. Don’t be worried”.
Being clear with your students about the purpose of the visit, without asking anything from them, is a good way to build trust.
6. Keep track of how awesome you are
Many times evaluations have bonus categories outside of what you do in the classroom. You may think that your evaluators know what you are doing to enhance your campus, but more often than not, they don’t.
They are supervising many other people and don’t keep track of every awesome thing you do.
You are extremely busy and sometimes forget to keep track of the awesome things you do too.
That may lead to you not getting credit on your evaluations and likewise in your personnel file for the big contributions you make to your school.
Don’t let that happen to you! Keep a running file with the things that you do, so when asked you can tell someone.
When I taught I had a drawer in a filing cabinet with the awards and shout-outs I received. I also kept a running log on my computer of times that I presented for colleagues. When I did something extra or served on a committee I would also log it here. Since it is electronic, it is easy to attach to an email and send ahead of your evaluation.
You deserve credit for your hard work! Don’t lose it because you forget to write something down and communicate it.
7. Advocate for yourself
An evaluation should be a tool that helps you to be the best educator that you can be. It can bring things to your attention that you may want to work on. It may help you see that you really are doing a great job.
No matter what, your evaluator is human. They see only what they see. They are looking at one or two hours of your class as a representation of what you complete in a given day.
You should absolutely let them know when they get it wrong.
Speak up for yourself and your work when you think that they are marking you lower than what you deserve. This might be a great time to use all of those things you were keeping track of in that last step.
Advocating for yourself can be as formal or informal as you see fit. Maybe it takes the form of an informal sit down with your evaluator. You can have them clarify why they marked you in certain ways on the evaluation.
It may take the form of a rebuttal in writing. You may email them the relevant documentation of work you did in a certain area.
Sometimes you may feel that the person is not listening to your feedback. It may seem they are willfully choosing to mark you lower than what you are worth. In many places, you may have a union or professional organization. They may have a formal process for handling disputes like this. They may be able to assign you a new evaluator or change the outcome of the previous evaluation.
No matter what the outcome, you deserve to be treated fairly. Your work deserves to be appreciated. As a professional, you deserve your evaluation to reflect the reality of your practice. Don’t settle for less because you don’t want to be a bother.
Don’t accept less than what you are owed, especially in something as silly as an evaluation.
8. Know this doesn’t define you
No matter what ultimately ends up being on that piece of paper, IT IS NOT YOU.
Let’s all say it again: YOUR. EVALUATION. DOESN’T. DEFINE. YOU.
Even if you are really struggling as a teacher right now, you can always improve. Not being great at your job doesn’t make you a bad person. It means you are trying to improve at something REALLY hard. That’s not bad, that’s brave.
Don’t hang your self-worth on what someone else thinks of you, good or bad. Being good at EEI or having a great rapport with families, are skills. You can improve a skill, you can also get worse at a skill over time. What they are not, are character traits.
What you need to remember about yourself is that you get up every day, early in the morning to do a tough job. You help young people do things they think are impossible half the time. You build meaning in the lives of others. You are the kind of person who wants to improve. That’s who you are.
Don’t let yourself be defined as some checkboxes on a few pieces of paper. We know you are infinitely more.