Thursday, September 04, 2014

Can more data points inform "Who Am I Being" as a teacher?

The Day 3 prompt for the  Te@ch Thought's 30 day blogging challenge  "Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation."  coincided with a tweet that came across my twitter stream.

As I followed the link and read an article about the startup company, Panaroma launching an open source design for a survey that measured how teachers connect with students, I found myself feeling rather annoyed about the need to measure how teachers connect with students in a “scientifically-designed survey.”  I was even more annoyed when I heard that this start up company was created by two 23 year olds - thinking “What could they possibly know about teaching” and how did they get in the business of designing products that could be used to evaluate teachers?  But then I remembered that these two young computer savvy students had recently been students in our K-12 educational system and might have a unique perspective.

I'm not sure whether Panaroma will be successful in monetizing this tool aimed at measuring the quality of teacher/student relationship or how the data  collected by their tool will be used, but as I read on,  my initial reaction softened when I reached this statement further in the Manjoo's New York Times article

"Today, schools assess the effectiveness of teachers primarily through standardized test scores and observations by administrators, but both measures have been criticized as too narrow, unable to shed light on the complex interplay between teachers and students on a day-to-day basis." 
and reflected on whether I agreed with Harvard professor of education, Thomas J. Kane's premise that “Student surveys are the most obvious place to add some other measures that aren’t based solely on test scores.”

Soon my reflection moved away from whether the world needs a sophisticated data collection tool to measure student/teacher relationship to how IMPORTANT relationships are in teaching and learning and what we do as professional to improve those relationships thus contributing to improved student learning.

At the end of each semester,  I frequently surveyed my students and used the data I collected to improve my practice and redesign my classes. It may not have been a scientifically designed survey, but I found it very effective in helping me improve my practice.

Did I need a survey to tell me to tell me which students I was connecting with?  Maybe not,  but relationships are pretty complex and sometimes the the impact of our connection with students is not always obvious.   I still remember one parent teacher conference when “Melinda”’s mother started to tell me how much of an influence I had on her daughter and how often I was quoted during dinner conversations.  “Ms. deLaBruere said this… or Ms. deLaBruere thinks that …”.
“Melinda?”  I questioned.   
Privately I wondered "Is this the  same Melinda that sighs and rolls her eyes every time I open my mouth to give the class directions? Is this the same Melinda that I frequently wonder about and seek new ways to reach her, because it seems I'm not reaching her? "

Following the advice of Ben Zander, I often asked myself "Whom am I being that my children's eyes are not shining" on days when the connections just weren't happening?"  But tonight I reflect on who could I be if I had more data points about how I connected (and/or didn't connect)  with children?   How would this change my practice?

I am remembering the hidden biases that were revealed when my colleagues and I were trained in  using classroom observation tools as part of Dolores Grayson's GESA (Generating Expectations for Student Achievement)    The program aimed at helping teachers "identify and reduce disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class and teacher expectations to improve academic and interpersonal achievement."

So as I think back about the Day 3 prompt asking us to identify " one observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation."  it would be to dig deeper into what data can reveal about me as a teacher and how I can use what I discover to reflect on my practice, instead of worry about how others might use that data in teacher evaluation.  

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