8 Ways to Build an Evaluation System That Supports Professional Growth

By Shelly Landgraf – October 31, 2016 (originally published in ASCD)

Evaluating educator effectiveness is crucial to improving the quality of education for students — and educators, too.

In 2011, when Colorado established new educator evaluation requirements, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) decided to completely revamp its system for teacher and principal evaluations. However, we didn’t do it alone. To build the high level of respect and trust needed to successfully support educator growth, our district partnered with the teachers’ association, the Boulder Valley Education Association (BVEA).

Here are 8 steps we’ve taken to collaboratively build an equitable evaluation system that enhances both student learning and educator learning.

  1. Build a team: To build an effective evaluation system from the get-go, one of the first things we did was to establish an Educator Effectiveness Committee. The committee consisted of more than 20 members, including BVEA members from the elementary, middle, and high school levels; BVEA leaders; education specialists; and representatives from central administration, the District Accountability Committee, and BVSD Board of Education. In addition, the superintendent and BVEA president regularly attended meetings to stay up-to-date on the committee’s progress
  2. Listen first: The Educator Effectiveness Committee began with three daylong sessions to begin to identify what we did and didn’t want in our evaluation system. During these sessions, which were led by an outside facilitator, we all agreed that we wanted to build an evaluation system that would create pathways for each educator’s personalized professional learning and growth, rather than a “gotcha” system focused only on what educators were doing wrong.
  3. Identify and focus on core beliefs: Before embarking on a search for the right evaluation model, the committee first decided to develop a core set of beliefs and values. The resulting “Boulder Valley School District Belief Statement for Principal and Teacher Effectiveness” guided us in our work as we examined a variety of state and national evaluation models. Within each model, we selected pieces that aligned with our belief statement and incorporated them into the standards, elements, and professional practices of our new Educator Effectiveness Evaluation System.
  4. Provide training and support: To prepare for the roll-out of the new evaluation system, we provided an orientation for principals, assistant principals, and central administration instructional leadership. The training focused on the state requirements; the evolution of our new evaluation system; its standards, elements, and professional practices; expectations for the rollout; and what support the district would provide. We then delivered additional training to principals and teacher-leaders to help them become familiar with the BVSD Effective Teacher Standards and provide training materials they could use to conduct monthly professional development sessions with their teachers. In addition, the district provided training and support for instructional coaches, curriculum councils, and specialized service professionals including counselors, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.
  5. Listen often: After launching the new evaluation system, we followed up with focus groups and a district-wide survey to gather information about educators’ perceptions of the system, their experiences being evaluated, and the overall effectiveness of the various rubrics. We incorporated their feedback as we continued to refine the system.
  6. Allow time for practice: In all, it took two years for the Educator Effectiveness Committee to create the new evaluation system, but our work didn’t stop there. We then gave teachers and principals a full year to dig in and practice. This “hold harmless” year allowed them to become familiar with the new evaluation system without worrying about consequences. In addition, a task force of teachers, administrators, and BVEA members continued to edit elements of the system, based on ongoing feedback.
  7. Let educators establish what to aim for: Thanks to our collaborative process, teachers now have greater clarity on what to aim for in the classroom because they helped establish the goals. In addition, more than 200 of our teachers and directors decided to take this a step further by creating “Content Connections” for specific courses and grade levels. These Content Connections are not evaluation criteria; rather, they are concrete examples of what “effective” looks like in the classroom for each standard.
  8. Link evaluations to personalized professional learning: To make it easier to immediately connect educator evaluations to professional development, we turned to technology. We partnered with Performance Matters to launch a system we call “MyPassport.” With this system, which includes integrated, online solutions for evaluation and professional development, every BVSD employee can now access their evaluations and an online catalog professional learning opportunities using one set of login credentials.

By linking our evaluations to professional development, every employee now has access to quality professional learning experiences aligned with their specific needs, as well as our district’s targeted goals and effectiveness standards.

Thanks to the partnership between BVSD and BVEA, we’ve developed a collaborative, equitable evaluation process that’s based upon mutual trust and respect. As a result, we now have an effective evaluation system to enhance educators’ professional practice, support high quality instruction in every classroom, and promote continuous improvement and growth district-wide. 

Shelly Landgraf is the assistant superintendent of human resources for Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colo.