Judging the Dog and Pony Show
I have had the ill luck to be involved more than once with committees charged with writing a mission statement for their respective organizations. Writing anything by committee is frustrating enough, but writing a mission statement is a particularly dreadful way to spend an afternoon. The problem is that people often want to include in the statement grandiose ideas modified by strings of complex clauses covering every aspect of the organization. A school group I worked with once came up with a mission statement that looked something like this:
The mission of Grand High School is to ensure that all of our students will graduate with competence in every subject and will be model citizens who will improve the world with their insights, concern for others, hard work, and energy which will result in world peace, a cure for hunger, and a World Series win for the Cleveland Indians.
OK, I made up that last part about the Indians. But here’s the thing: The simpler, the better when it comes to mission statements: Our mission is to graduate 95-100% of our students and they will be able to read, write, use mathematics, reason and understand the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy. The end. My favorite mission statement ever was that of Jefferson Community College in Watertown, NY: Teaching and learning. That’s it. That’s our mission.
I suspect that the most important part of developing a mission statement is the process itself, forcing participants to actually think about their work. And I’m beginning to wonder whether the same will hold true of what Mike Schmoker describes as “those complex, bloated, evaluation templates that are now being dumped on teachers and administrators – templates with multiple sections and subsections written in what is almost a second language.
Schmoker points out that before evaluation takes place, we need to be sure that a solid curriculum is in place. After that, we want to be sure that teachers are actually implementing it. Then, in a random visit to the classroom, we can determine if
a) Kids are engaged.
b) The purpose of the lesson is clear and kids know what it is.
c) Instruction is presented in various ways in short segments.
d) Students have the opportunity to practice what was taught while the teacher monitors progress.
I would add to these criteria that feedback has to be specific and immediate, a conversation between the teacher and the observer. And most important, supervision must be ongoing, not a planned dog and pony show once a year or maybe even less frequent.
I think that Schmoker is right – that these evaluation systems are too unwieldy to be useful. In addition, we may have to admit that supervisors may lack the skill, the knowledge, and the commitment to the process necessary for the systems to work.
So it will be interesting to see what happens to these plans within the next five years. Will they be essentially compromised as they are implemented? Will they be revised and simplified? Or will they, like countless mission statements, become meaningless within a few years?