Evaluations and Communication in Digital Education

Overview

The end of the school year often meets me with mixed emotions.  As hard as it to say goodbye to students, it is exciting to imagine what their futures will bring.  While I thirst for the summer off, I dread the lack of routine and separation from the school environment. Other educators may have differing end-of-year emotions, but one commonality is that, for all of us, it is a time for reflection, goal setting, and final evaluations.

In my first years of teaching, my reflections were varying forms of “do everything differently next year, get better”.  My goal was to get at least average scores in my evaluations to eliminate any proof of my shortcomings as an educator.  I do not say this to mean that I felt like a failure as a teacher, but rather that there was so much more I should, and could, be doing.  While these thoughts and feelings have not gone away–nor would I necessarily want them to–I no longer feel as if I am totally swimming in the deep end.  So, for the end of this year, and for my exploration for Module 3 of my Digital Ed. Leadership program, I decided to look a bit more deeply into the evaluation process and communication practices in my district.  My intention is to gain a better understanding for myself, so I can more effectively reflect and set growth goals, and to share what I have learned to gain input from others.

Evaluating a “Digitally Distinguished” Educator

On the ISTE site, contributor Helen Crompton offers an in-depth explanation into ISTE standard for teachers three, relating to modeling digital age work and learning.  She explains that, “Students need to learn how to effectively and appropriately use digital tools, and it is the teacher’s job to model what that looks like” (2014).  I understand that the increase in available digital tools and devices has happened so quickly, majorly redefining teaching, and I’m sure that it has been difficult to stay updated on the best practices for evaluating teachers. However, if indeed it is the “teacher’s job” to model responsible and appropriate use of technology, than surely this is an area they are being evaluated on.

My search to understand how teachers in my district are evaluated on technology use started with our evaluation rubric, based on the Danielson Framework.  After scouring the rubric for any keywords relating to “digital” or “technology” I found only a few vague statements.  The first mention, under the “designing coherent instruction” section, seems to tag technology on as an afterthought–it is not consistently mentioned throughout, but only mentioned, in parenthesis, in the “distinguished category”. The second two mentions, both under the “Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment” section, are more consistent with the expectations but both have basically the same verbiage regarding “effective technology use”. The first expectation seems to revolve around the actual use of technology–are teachers using the tools available to them? The second expectation seems to have more to do with how technology is used–are teachers using the tools wisely? The concern for me is that there are so many areas to assess within “effective technology use”, which are more clearly outlined in the ISTE student and teacher standards.  Is our evaluation rubric in need of an overhaul?  Or at least a supplement so it is reflective of current teacher expectations.

In looking for a more comprehensive teacher evaluation relating to technology, I came across this rubric, created by a media and technology coordinator from Minnesota, that uses the Danielson framework (maybe mixed with ISTE or other standards??) to create a more specific technology evaluation for classroom teachers. While this may not be a perfect fit for my district, it makes it clear that there are many more, specific areas, we should be evaluating teachers in regards to technology competency and use.

Communication Practices in a Digital World

My district has been a Google school for several years and, at this point, most teachers and administrators are effective users of Gmail, the Drive, and Google Calendar.  These tools offer effective ways to communicate, share documents and resources, and stay informed on important dates and scheduled meetings.  I am truly impressed with the competencies of my district as a whole in using these tools.  With that said, other Google tools, such as Google+ and Hangouts are used by very few, and I would like to see them utilized.  For example, Google+ communities could create great place for staff and students to share resources–right now one of the few communities, frequently used though, is made up of technology mentors.  I also think that Hangouts could be a great way to organize meetings between staff and with parents and students.

The middle, mid high, and high schools in my district also all maintain Twitter and Facebook pages, which is a great way to reach out to parents and students, and the community. A lot of cool information is shared on these sites too, including sports victories, academic successes, upcoming events, etc.  The setback to these sites is that many students are convinced that the schools are trying to “spy” on their social media, and therefore refuse to “friend” the sites.  Additionally, there has been some issue with parents and community members inappropriately vocalizing complaints through our social media platforms. While the sites are ultimately beneficial, making sure they are used effectively can be a challenging struggle.

It is easy to locate and dissect the shortcomings within any educational system when looking for them through the lens of a critic.  It is even easier to notice potential deficiencies when the focus is on educational technology, an area that is not only constantly changing, but rather doing backflips and cartwheels.  With that said, I maintain an appreciation for my district–while there are indeed areas in need of improvement, we definitely have a lot of forward momentum and dedicated educators willing to do what’s best for students and our community.

Further Questions

  1. It seems like the evaluation process has gotten a lot more time-consuming since we started using the Danielson framework for assessing teachers. How much more of a time commitment would be necessary to effectively assess teachers in this area?
  2. How can we keep the evaluation process simple, while still looking for specific areas of technology proficiency?
  3. We have studied the ISTE teacher standards–how are these actually applied to the classroom? Are they more of a suggestion for technology savvy teachers to consider, or do some districts use the standards to assess teachers?

References

Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards•T 3: Model digital age learning. Retrieved May 13, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=109

Johnson, D., & N. M. (n.d.). Rubric for Effective Teacher Technology Use. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el201303_johnson_rubric.pdf