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Collaboration

The Road to Evaluation Begins With Collaboration

As educators approach the new landscape of collaboratively developing teacher and educator evaluations under the requirements of Senate Bill 290, many questions have surfaced about the “right” and “wrong” ways to approach the topic.

Ultimately, there is not an easy answer as many factors will play into what makes the decision “correct” for each local and school district. However, OEA does have some recommendations on the values of teacher evaluation and what positive outcomes are possible in a well-rounded system.

This last winter, NEA, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, held the first ever Labor-Management Collaboration Conference which started with the idea of putting student learning first and at the heart of every discussion. The conference participants convened under the expectations of their “New Compact for Student Success”:

• Shared responsibility for, and clear focus on, student success
• A culture of high academic expectations
• Rigorous curriculum that meets or exceeds state standards and international benchmarks
• A belief in education as a valued profession
• A culture of respect for education professionals
• An effective leader in every school
• An effective teacher in every classroom
• Professional development aimed at continuous improvement
• A collaborative culture of innovation
• Resources appropriate to local school needs
• Empowered local leadership with respect to those resources
• A safe, secure, and supportive professional environment
• Students taking responsibility for their own learning
• Parents engaged in their child's education
• Accessible, timely, and relevant information on school and student performance

This compact is an excellent consensus point and is hopefully the goal of all school districts and local education associations as they journey down the path toward meaningful teacher evaluation. OEA believes a robust and meaningful evaluation system co-created by teachers and administrators will benefit everyone, students especially. This system should stem from common understandings, such as ones listed above, as well as a universal and agreed upon definition of “effective teaching.” Once this is accomplished, it is a good idea to establish group norms to regulate the behavior of all parties involved.

These are important aspects of beginning any collaborative process. But for many school districts, the word “collaboration” has long been misrepresented as compromise, where each party comes to the conversation with an idea or motive, then watches as that concept gets depleted and/or added to until it no longer represents its genesis. Collaboration does not mean losing what is “yours,” but rather it is a process by which multiple partners come together and mutually craft and create a product that meets the needs of all involved. Researchers have shown that when high stakes decisions are being made, consensus-driven decision making and collaboration are effective ways to assure success, starting with the higher likelihood of constituency buy-in, to the reduced risk of people sabotaging the efforts.

Ultimately, whatever your school district’s current climate, the collaborative process of building an evaluation system will be underfoot for many districts and local associations soon. And as Charlotte Danielson stated in her speech to education advocates in Portland in October: “We can’t fire our way to Finland.” Namely, if we in Oregon would like to provide our students and communities with the high quality education system we know children deserve, we have to emulate a system of learning from the ground up that does not just create a safe environment for students to learn and develop, but also nurtures the professional development of all involved in those students’ lives. Feeling safe and supported to work on increasing professional assets and decreasing deficits as determined by both formative and summative evaluations provides school personnel with the opportunities requisite to grow and develop as effective educators.

And it all starts with collaboration, as stated in Establishing and Sustaining a Collaborative Culture: “Collaborative culture is the foundation for transforming schools and the school districts from traditional, hierarchical systems into learning organizations. This will best be achieved by engaging all stakeholder groups in important decisions that impact the system. Successful districts are implementing programs supported by research that also outlines basic practices necessary for becoming a learning organization. These districts establish an inclusive, risk-free collaborative culture within each school, the school district, and the community where dedicated and committed people are willing to share their knowledge, time, and effort.”

In Oregon, this is our opportunity to begin to plant this process where we have yet started, to continue to nurture this process where roots have set, and to actively groom and prune this process where the fruits of our labor have already bloomed.