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How to Improve Performance

Tingley-021 color-1I admit that I sometimes refer to college players drafted by the NFL as Future Thugs of America, so I was surprised to see Andrew J. Rotherham’s article entitled, “Super Bowl School:  What the NFL Can Teach Teachers.”

It turns out that the point of the article is that reliance on data and performance evaluations is a key factor in success for NFL teams.  That’s what schools could borrow from the NFL (whew).  Even Randi Weingarten, talking about giving feedback to teachers, notes that “Football teams do this all the time.  They look at the tape after the game.  Sometimes they’ll do it during the game.”  Well, Randi, maybe some look at tapes during the game, but only if they want to risk an NFL rules violation.

But Weingarten’s point is a good one:  We need to help teachers continually evaluate their game by providing them with feedback and the means to corrective action.  Rotherham interviewed Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, and his brother Brendan Daly, a former teacher who coaches the defensive line for the St. Louis Rams.  Brendan says, “We evaluate everything… We grade on technique and we grade on production … Players have each other’s grades in front of them as we go through this.”

Says brother Tim, “In schools it’s almost the opposite … There are not many conversations in general between administrators and teachers about what’s happening in the classroom and how to adjust quickly.”  Tim Daly NFLalso notes that when teachers are evaluated once or twice a year or maybe not at all, it’s impossible to make strategic adjustments to classroom technique.  “In the worst situations in education,” he says, “there is very little feedback and very little support.  You can go years without anyone telling you you’re not doing well.”

Receiving feedback that is consistent, candid, competent, and frequent is essential for teachers to improve their game.  One of the concerns I have about the current wave of enthusiasm for including test scores in a teacher’s evaluation is how this change will affect classroom supervision and feedback.  Now that everything has to be quantifiable, what will feedback look like?  Will principals sit down with teachers and talk about a lesson, provide candid feedback, and suggest ways to improve?  Or will every classroom performance be reduced to a number?  On a scale of 1-5, Classroom Interaction is a 3.  Student discipline is a 2.  Appropriateness of materials is a 4.  Your average score as a teacher is 3.  And your test scores, which will appear sometime next fall, will count as 40-60% of your evaluation.  The performance sheet will be in your mailbox.  Just sign it.

I do believe that test data should be included in a teacher’s yearly evaluation if it’s reasonably accessible, but test data is one measurement.  Test data, after all, is summative, not formative.  It doesn’t tell teachers how to improve, just that they may need to.  Regular classroom observation with frequent feedback is like viewing the tapes.  Of course, in the NFL there are monetary incentives for all players to improve.  Maybe that’s another lesson we could take from the NFL.   Kind of boggles the mind.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.