Thursday, January 25, 2018

That Zany Madcap Danielson Rubric

People send me observation reports all the time. I get notes and scans via email, and I see them in my building. No one likes adverse ratings, of course. Sometimes I see behavior described that merits adverse ratings. Other times I shake my head at the wonder of it all. There are remedies to ridiculous observation reports, prime being an APPR complaint. You may also file a grievance, and a reasonable supervisor will pull an observation that's flawed.

I had that happen once. A supervisor stayed only 13 minutes and the member happened to check his watch and record it. He was about to retire and didn't care one way or another about the observation. But I leaned on him a little, we wrote a grievance, and the supervisor, to her credit, said, "You're right. I wasn't paying close enough attention." She then pulled the observation. In general, though, you could face disappointment if your policy is relying on the reasonable nature of supervisors.

Other times, supervisors tell members that their good observations were all flawed, and that the people who wrote them didn't know what they were doing. Then they present them with their own take on a proper observation report. Why? You have to read and observe. The most curious observation report I've seen lately contained the following language:

Your co-teacher told you to use a certain method, and you failed to do so.

While it's great when you can agree with your co-teacher, you are not subordinate to her. Ideally, you should negotiate and find common ground. Of course, when administrators utilize the traditional "eeny-meenie-miney-moe" methodology to pair co-teachers, it doesn't always work out. But even if, by some streak of luck, they achieved a perfect pairing, teachers are not subordinate to other teachers, not now, and not ever.

You used a method that you admitted wasn't 100% effective.

Call me guilty and lock me up. I use methods that are not 100% effective every day. I think about 80% of my students pass. I haven't actually calculated, but a former principal, who looked at this stuff, let me know that. This implies, I guess, that my methods are only 80% effective. However, if you removed the students who failed, I'm sure I could have hit 100. (Works for charters.)

The real problem with that statement is that no method I've ever heard of is 100% effective. If I knew of one, I'd put it in a can, sell it, and become fabulously wealthy. I'd buy a car that I didn't need to push to work. I'd change all my plumbing to hot, cold, and Bordeaux. I'd be like Danielson, I guess, making all kinds of money from my fabulous ideas. Perhaps, like Danielson, I'd get all holier than thou and criticize the method I took the money for.

You failed to have students hold up right hands when they understood and left when they didn't. Instead, you walked around and looked at the students' work.

This, to me, is a real head-scratcher. We hear a lot of talk about formative assessment. You can't just give them a test. You have to know what they know. (This doesn't apply to principals, of course. The whole progressive discipline thing doesn't apply to them, so they just put a letter in your file if you look at someone sideways.) But I was a 15-year-old boy once, and I distinctly recall the prime focus of my existence being 15-year-old girls. No way would I have raised my hand and admitted in front of those girls that I didn't understand geometry, biology, or indeed anything. I'm not sure when I realized the best thing to do when I made mistakes was to instantly admit it, but it wasn't when I was a teenager.

When you walk around and look at work, it isn't a binary true-false, yes-no process. You can see what each student is doing and cater advice to this particular student at this particular time. Not only that, but if you actually know the kids, you have an idea of how to speak with them effectively as individuals. You can tell them if they have problems with capitalization. You can ask them to explain an idea. You can tell them you can't read their handwriting, and that if they don't correct it they'll grow up to have terrible handwriting like me, their teacher. The number of things you can observe and comments you can offer is, in fact, infinite. It's absurd to compare a binary yes/ no process with one that observes, considers, and focuses on the here and now.

Here's the thing--I'm not at all sure whether or not statements like those, absurd though they are, are grounds for an APPR complaint. I once observed video of a lesson that disproved multiple areas of what the supervisor wrote. In the end, though, that observation was tossed because the rater failed to rate observable areas. Saying that two students raised their hands when the video showed 15 was not argued. Nor was claiming to have seen things that demonstrably did not occur.

If absurd assertions on the part of supervisors are not grievable, that's a flaw in our system. Maybe I'll address that in the 300-member negotiating committee. Fair warning, though--when 293 people vote me down I won't be able to tell you about it. Meetings are Top Secret.
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