Teacher Evaluation and the Whole Child
We measure what we value. This is true in how we spend our time, where we focus our efforts, and how we evaluate our teachers. Believing that educators must embrace the whole child—we must be sure that a child is healthy, safe, supported, engaged, and challenged—then how should that affect our approach to teacher evaluation? Don't misunderstand me: academic skills are terribly important, and teachers, principals, and schools are judged on how children perform on multiple-choice tests. We can mourn that (and I do), but it is a reality. But it can't be the whole reality. As we prepare students to succeed in the real world, not just to do better on their tests next year than they did this year, we must bring a whole child approach to how we view our students.
If we want our students to be healthy and safe, we need to be sure that this is a priority for teachers. Regardless of the subject matter that they are teaching, do all teachers talk about healthy lifestyles and nutrition? These issues are too important to be solely the province of the health or physical education teachers. Do all teachers ensure that put-downs and bullying are not part of the school culture? Being safe, after all, is more than being physically safe, although it is that; being safe also includes not being subject to sarcasm, ridicule, or cruel comments.
Supporting students begins with an appreciation for differentiation, recognizing that each child is a unique learner, and then working to support how studetns learn. Differentiation goes beyond the pace at which children learn; it incorporates their interests, multiple intelligences, and learning styles. Differentiation begins with teachers knowing each child and respecting the ways in which that child learns.
But supporting learners also includes supporting the risk taking and offering an understanding ear or two when a student needs to talk. It's recognizing the student as a whole child. All teachers need to work to create an engaging climate in their classrooms in which students can foray out of their comfort zones and take risks. Tenacity and grit aren't learned without errors and failures. All teachers need to support students learning how to learn. And all teachers need to challenge their students. That doesn't mean challenging only those at the top of the class, however the hierarchy is defined; it means challenging all children to do their best and encouraging them to try still harder.
We would all agree that good teachers do these things. Routinely they ensure that their students are healthy, safe, supported, engaged, and challenged. But do we reflect this in our teacher evaluations? Whether it's when we are giving a teacher feedback from an observation or when it is when we are writing the teacher's annual evaluation, do we refer to these behaviors? Do we make a point of praising teachers who support the whole child through their actions, and do we prod and encourage the teachers who need to give more emphasis to this? The messages that principals send are powerful, and we show what is important, what we value, by what we note.
Principals, reread the write-ups from your last three formal observations, and then randomly pick three annual evaluations from last year. As you read the text, what messages are you giving to the teachers by not only what is there, but also by what you are positively reinforcing? In what areas should the teacher be focusing efforts? What are you saying by what isn't being said? If we truly want our teachers to value the whole child, we must show this by what we value. Rhetoric is nice, but teachers respond, appropriately, to what is noted in their observations and evaluations.
Finally, schools are social and political organizations, and an important aspect of effectiveness is being consistent. Just as we cannot have different rules for different students, we should have the same approach to growth for everyone in the building. We talk about the "whole child," but what about the "whole teacher?" Do we work to ensure that our teachers are healthy, safe, supported, engaged, and challenged? It's virtually impossible for teachers to show appreciation and support to students if they don't feel appreciated and supported. What are you doing to support your teachers, to let them know that they are valued as people and as teachers?
My school has been providing fruits and vegetables in the teachers' lounge, for example. We were able to afford this with a savings from our health insurance because we're promoting healthy lifestyles. We support teachers in many different ways, too, from giving each teacher a school credit card for educational purchases to offering teacher sabbaticals to encouraging teachers to use their and their students' multiple intelligences to bring creativity to the classroom. Teaching to the whole child begins with being a whole teacher, and, yes, a whole principal!
Thomas R. Hoerr has been the head of New City School in St. Louis, Mo., since 1981. Prior to that he was a principal in the School District of University City, Mo., and a teacher in two other school districts. Hoerr founded, directed, and taught in the Washington University Nonprofit Management Program. He has taught graduate classes in leadership and given presentations at many conferences.
Hoerr is the author of The Art of School Leadership and numerous articles, including writing the monthly "Principal Connection" column in Educational Leadership. His writing often centers on multiple intelligences implementation, school leadership, and faculty collegiality. He is also the facilitator of ASCD's Multiple Intelligences Professional Interest Community. Contact Hoerr by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.