The formats for focusing observation about an educator’s efficacy and effectiveness in the classroom used in my own school board district in Southern Ontario is restricted to the comprehensive framework outlined by the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession through the implementation of the Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) system (OCT, n.d.; OME, 2011a). The Ontario Ministry of Education develops the policies, guidelines, and other resources to assist the implementation of the TPA in boards and schools throughout Ontario. However, learner/student work and learner/student provincial assessments provided to grade 3, 6, and 9 students through the Education Quality and Assessment Office (EQAO) were in recent years, since 2008, beginning to be utilized to guide the collaborative formation of a school’s School Success Plan that must be developed annually. The criteria used to develop the School Success Plan, since 2008, became aligned with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s goals that include numeracy, literacy, pathways to learning, climate for learning, and collaborative teaching K through 12 (OME, 2011b).
The focus for an observation in my own school board district was determined entirely by the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession (OCT, n.d.). According to the Ontario Ministry of Education (2011a), the Ontario Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) system was established in 2002 and revised in 2007 when the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP), a means to appraise new teachers, was developed. In short, according to the Ontario Ministry of Education (OME, 2011a) the TPA and NTIP, for new and experienced teachers, respectively, were developed to:
- Enhance student learning by promoting teacher development;
- provide meaningful appraisals of teachers’ performance that encourage professional learning and growth;
- identify opportunities for additional support where required; and
- provide a measure of accountability to the public.
Teachers who have successfully “completed the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP)”, or “24 months have elapsed since the date on which they first began to teach in a board”, or those who have held permanent positions in Ontario’s publicly-funded schools prior to the NTIP’s implementation in September 2006, as well as temporary teachers (those teaching on a Letter of Permission) are appraised as experienced teachers” (OME, 2011a). The NTIP teacher appraisal focuses on eight of the 16 competencies outlined in the OCT standards. The eight competencies exist in the domains of Commitment to Pupils and Pupil Learning; Professional Knowledge; and Professional Practice, all of which are similar in content to the framework outlined by Danielson (2007). The remaining eight competencies, totaling 16 on which experienced teachers are appraised, occur within the domains of Learning in Learning Communities and Ongoing Professional Learning (OCT, n.d.). Unfortunately, the original robust and explicit competency ratings of unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good, and exemplary were removed and replaced by only two ratings: satisfactory or unsatisfactory as per the TPA document dated September 2010 (OME, 2011).
A pre-observation conference meeting is setup between the teacher and the school’s administrator to review the OCT standards by which they will be assessed. Generally, the teacher appraisal, which is performed by the school administrator, looks at aspects of a teacher’s behaviors that include teacher-student interactions and an actual teaching demonstration. According to J. Robertson (personal communication, January 19, 2011), the principal at a public secondary school in my local school district, novice teachers are appraised twice during their first year of their practice throughout the school district and are matched with an experienced senior teacher who acts as a mentor-coach. Whereas, experienced teachers who have taught full-time for five years are assessed once every five years. Furthermore, J. Robertson (personal communication, January 19, 2011) stated that the appraisal form is laid out like an observational checklist with examples of what to look for as indicators of each element of each domain or OCT standard. The ratings available for experienced teachers is then either a satisfactory or unsatisfactory, with remediation and supports put into place for teachers who are ranked as unsatisfactory. If a teacher’s ranking continues to be unsatisfactory by the next appraisal, which is set at the discretion of the school administrator, the procedure to terminate them as a teacher from the school board is commenced. Once at the school board head office, the request to terminate a teacher must be voted unanimously by the district trustees upon review of documented evidence provided by the school’s administrator (OME, 2001a). In contrast, new teachers’ performance may be rated as unsatisfactory, development needed, or satisfactory (OME, 2011a). If a new teacher receives an unsatisfactory or development needed rating, an enrichment plan tailored to the teacher’s individual professional development needs is created with that teacher’s input.
Furthermore, according to the Meeting of the Board of Trustees Highlights of the October 8, 2002 minutes, my area’s school board “adopted a staged implementation to the teacher performance appraisal process, and requested modifications to the TPA and NTIP as follows:
- The frequency of teacher performance appraisals, due to the significant growth in Peel region over the next few years, would be every five years;
- For experienced teachers in their evaluation year, only one performance appraisal would be required, instead of two;
- The parent/student survey would not be implemented in the 2002-03 school year. During this school year, the survey could be developed but not implemented, due to administrative time constraints;
- The teacher rating reported would be either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” for the 2002-03 school year” (PDSB, 2011).
The above modifications were requested in 1992, and rather than implementing the OME’s vision of the TPA, Ontario’s Teachers Union and School Boards were able to renegotiate the rating system used by the OME such that only “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” ratings would be used to describe teacher instructional performance. Imagine if students’ learning were assessed using just two ratings, a past or fail. If high expectations are the key to student achievement, then high expectations must also be expected of the educators who are responsible for teaching students otherwise life-long learning is simply rhetoric. Therefore, it is prudent that Ontario school boards go to full implementation of the original OME’s Teacher Performance Appraisal Program as outlined explicitly in the 2007 edition of the TPA manual, particularly as per the framework explicitly outlined in the Appendix G and H sections, Observation Guide and Rubric to Describe the Levels of Performance, respectively. Perhaps the teacher union leaders and members are concerned about teacher ratings as a stepping stone towards merit pay.
The ways to focus on any one teacher’s instruction and professional learning during observation listed by Glickman (2002) that are not used in the school district as of early 2011 include open-ended questionnaires, learner work, and learner provincial assessment scores. Furthermore, though teachers are appraised using the OCT standards, there are limited levels of proficiency. Thus, teachers appraised as satisfactory are lumped together whether they are at a basic, proficient, or distinguished level as described by Danielson (2007) in her Framework for Teaching. This provides no higher goal to which teachers may strive and improve their practice; rather, allowing for only the attainment of a satisfactory level eludes to a build-in complacency factor. Imagine if students only had to attain a satisfactory level of learning in any subject. There would be no way to access the effectiveness of student learning and reflect on how to take steps to improve it. The same is true of the Teacher Appraisal Program in Ontario. There must be greater depth and robustness to the criteria that comprises effective teaching (Danielson, 2007).
Another focus on classroom teaching and professional learning that exists in my district includes the fact that experienced teachers are required to provide a record of their professional development activities at the time of the teacher appraisal. In addition, after the appraisal, and following a post-observation conference meeting with the school administrator, teachers must complete an annual learning plan in which they describe the recommended professional growth goals and strategies based on the summative performance appraisal report by the school administrator. In addition, the annual learning plan is required of teachers during the four years between appraisals. However, there is certainly room to include open-ended questionnaires such as those that are presented in the OME’s TPA manual appendix G and H, which are similar in content to the Interview Protocol for a Pre-Observation (Planning) Conference and the Interview Protocol for a Post-Observation (Reflection) Conference in Danielson (2007, p. 171 – 173). Such questionnaires are valuable tools to make the best use of an educator’s opportunity for reflection and self-assessment regarding their teaching practice; a process research has clearly demonstrated improves the practice of teaching (Glickman, 2002; Danielson, 2007).
Glickman (2002) and Danielson (2007) attest to the fact that a specific focus is necessary in a formal observation of teachers’ performance in the classroom. For example, Glickman (2002, p. 35) states, “If the leader and the teacher don’t know what is being looked at together, then discussions predictably will move away from issues of teaching and learning to issues outside the classroom (such as individual misbehavior of students, parent needs, school politics, personal issues, and so on).” Similarly, Danielson (2007, p. 2) identifies the need of having specific “well-established definitions of expertise and procedures” that serve as “the public’s guarantee that the members of a profession [such as teachers] hold themselves and their colleagues to high standards of practice”. However, specific focus may not always be necessary, for example, in the case of a more casual, drop-in, unscheduled type of observation to provide useful feedback for an instructor. This casual type of observation can provide useful data regarding what works and what does not across a school or district.
The 2+2 peer observation system or structure can be used in combination with the focus examples above by providing educators with the opportunity to join into small focus groups of their choosing where they would unanimously select a focus of the OCT standards on which they would focus to more fully implement in their own teaching practice. Thus, educators would “participate with other professionals in intense, intellectual discussions over the nature of content and performance standards” the goal of which is to improve student achievement through the improvement of teaching practices (Glickman, 2002, p. 30 – 31). In addition, the 2+2 peer observation format could also be developed to invite student feedback about classroom routines, climate, instruction, and assessments.
In conclusion, the work of examining educator instructional practice by developing a professional growth plan based on an agreed upon set of evaluative criteria is crucial to the improvement of instruction and hence student achievement. Furthermore, focus on evaluative criteria is essential to have substantial professional dialogue that derives helpful feedback that can be implemented by educators. This process can encourage educators to be more observant of their own practice, collect data on their work, observe the best practices of their colleagues, and analyze learner work and achievement data collaboratively. Thus, collaborative reflection on instructional practices that increase student learning outcomes can strengthen educators’ focus on improving their instructional practice collectively in a continuous cycle of observation and discovery.
Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing Professional Practice. A Framework for Teaching (2nd Edition). Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Glickman, C.D. (2002). Leadership for Learning. How to Help Teachers Succeed. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
OCT (n.d.). The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession. Ontario College of Teachers. Retrieved on January 10, 2011 from http://ctc.ca.gov/educator-prep/CSTP/Ontario-Teaching-Standards.pdf
OME (2011). Teacher Performance Appraisal. Questions and Answers. The Ontario Ministry of Education. Retrieved on January 20, 2011 from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teacher/faq.pdf
OME (2011). The Teaching Profession. The Ontario Ministry of Education. Retrieved on January 10, 2011 from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teacher/employ.html
PDSB (2011). Meeting of the Board of Trustees Highlights of the October 8, 2002. The
Peel District School Board. Retrieved on January 20, 2011 from http://www.peelschools.org/trustee/high/b021008.htm