Most teachers have stood before a hiring committee with a portfolio of their "bests" awkwardly balanced between a table and hip while trying to make eye contact, ignore their own creaking dress shoes, and, of course, breathe. This "dog and pony" show, as some have called it, seemed like a once (if you were lucky) in a career checkpoint: get past this and you are home free.
That may have been the truth for many teachers, but those days are over. We are living in a "selfie" world and need to approach teacher evaluation with the same shameless "here I am" and "look at me" attitude as we do the documentation of the rest of our lives.
Wait, you say. I am not on Facebook. I don't enjoy shameless self-promotion. I don't need to toot my own horn. I don't need to be the hero. Yes. You. Do.
As APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) moves front and center in larger political debates, take charge of an area that is in your realm of influence: how you present yourself and your profession. That realm is documenting your achievements using artifacts that are already probably within arm's reach right now.
Some would grumble "selfie" and remind us all that we should be doing what is best for children, not for us. In this case, what is best for us is what is best for children. Not only should we be promoting ourselves to administrators as experts, but to parents and students as well.
Consider this: if you are a science teacher, has it occurred to your students that you are a scientist? You might be surprised that it has never crossed their minds, but that is up to you. How could it hurt to talk about oneself in a descriptive way that elevates the work we do as teachers to an appropriate and professional level?
I am an English teacher. I am also a writer. I am also a public speaker. I am also a trainer. I am a blogger. I am a consultant. Students and parents knowing these things about me underscores what teachers already know: teaching is a profession, not a job. An administrator knowing these things about me has the same result: I am seen as a professional.
Using the four domains in Danielson's Framework for Teaching to demonstrate this "selfie" idea serves as an object lesson, although current rubrics essentially require the same level of metacognition from teachers. As professionals, we are attempting to achieve at the highest level, and it is impossible to do so without artifacts; this is not a matter of opinion, but rather a "state of the union," so to speak.
Domain One: Planning and Preparation
Documenting in this domain seems obvious, but anecdotally, the question seems to hang in the air: "What did she/he expect? It was all there." This is where artifacts come into play.
For example, to receive a Highly Effective score for Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy, the "extensive knowledge" connects to "other disciplines" and "a wide range of effective pedagogical approaches."
Right now, look around your desk. Do you see an education magazine? An article clipped from the newspaper? A social studies colleague's lesson on Redding, Connecticut, and Rebels because you are teaching My Brother Sam Is Dead? Include these artifacts with a simple sticky note making that connection for your administrator.
Perhaps the most important reason to include artifacts is the emphasis, (rightly so) on knowledge of students. It is impossible to demonstrate in a lesson what is required for a Highly Effective score under Demonstrating Knowledge of Students: "Teacher actively seeks knowledge of students' levels of development and their backgrounds, cultures, skills, language proficiency, interests, and special needs from a variety of sources. This information is acquired for individual students."
Once again, look around your desk. Who among us doesn't do some sort of "get to know you" activity at the beginning of the year? Whose students have not tangentially moved the class discussion to include personal information? Who doesn't have data? Who doesn't include this common information in their "plans" for an observation?
To achieve Highly Effective in Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources, teachers must document that they understand what resources are available "through the school or district, in the community, through professional organizations and universities, and on the Internet."
Again, it is impossible to demonstrate this proficiency through a lesson that is being observed, but it can be demonstrated through artifacts. Remember that "selfie?" Think about the totality of your experiences and how they improve your teaching. Artifacts can include pictures and articles. Make it clear that you bring the world to your classroom.
Domain Two: The Classroom Environment
Homemade curtains, inspirational posters, and cool lighting contribute to the classroom environment, but unless we make the intangible obvious, Highly Effective is out of reach.
In our efforts at "Establishing a Culture for Learning" we must "insist on hard work" where "making revisions, adding detail, and/or helping peers" is evident. Teachers who are Highly Effective have no problem providing examples of "connections with students as individuals," but many don't include artifacts demonstrating a relationship with students. Those artifacts are likely nearby, so grab what you have: student folders, e-mails from parents or students, peer review sheets, and pictures of students performing.
These artifacts are so common to teachers that many do not consider them. However, when asked to demonstrate professionalism, a level of "out of body" thinking needs to come into play. Too much is at stake to think "you can't quantify that." We all try to quantify memories, love, friendships, and monumental life changes with "selfies" and scrapbooking, and Instagram, and Facebook. You might not be able to quantify something, but you can surely document it.
Domain Three: Using Assessment in Instruction
This may be more aptly named "Using Assessment WHILE Instructing," at least as far as the expectations are concerned. You aren't asked to hand in your tests, but you are required to demonstrate "extensive use of formative assessment." Additionally, "students appear to be aware of, and there is some evidence they have contributed to the assessment criteria."
Of course we use formative assessments, but again, we don't necessarily include them in our artifacts. However, the use of data is so crucial that it should absolutely be front and center. Print out the class summary of grades, highlight, reflect, predict. Teach. Repeat. Responsive teaching is natural for most of us, and as professionals we must demonstrate it.
Domain Four: Reflecting on Teaching
The beauty of this domain is that if you actively collect artifacts and continually take those metaphorical "selfies," you have already mastered Reflective Teaching. Domain Four is so evident that in many districts, copies of professional development activities, parent communication, and notes provide what is required to achieve a score of Highly Effective.
The real work of Domain Four is done as you are deep into the first three domains, deep in the teaching, and thinking, and adjusting, and planning, and connecting with students—deep in the day-to-day work of being
What's Your Status?
Perhaps teachers are resistant to this "selfie" state of affairs because it is another layer of work, oftentimes underappreciated. Maybe we see documenting the mundane in the same light that we see "those" status updates: "Heading to the grocery store. My family may starve if I don't. LOL"
Or, maybe we see documenting our spectacular moments like "those" other status updates: "Just got back from Cancun to find that Hubby got a raise! I want to go back—that relaxation diet was good to me. I lost five pounds! Oh—kids got straight A's again. Loving life."
For most of us, the "selfie" doesn't include crisis (starvation) nor does it include grandeur (raises!), but it does include the professional, beautiful work we do as teachers every day.
Today, my status just might be "Great lesson. John wanted to talk baseball, but I used it to teach proper nouns. Again."
Amber Chandler is ELA teacher and ELA department chair at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, New York.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, November 2015.