When Will Richardson visited Finland he saw something that surprised him:
“… the most surprising thing I heard in talking to teachers there is that they do not get evaluated. As in never. As in, no personal improvement goals, no alignment to test scores, no unannounced “visits” to monitor what’s happening in the classroom.”
If you come from the corporate world this must sound like some particularly wild shade of crazy. After all, employees need to be measured regularly against some kind of benchmarks, right? Held accountable to standards of performance? And doesn’t evaluation lead to rewards, and aren’t employees motivated by rewards? Surely evaluation makes people better at their jobs, so how would any organization move forward if it’s people aren’t being evaluated?
Let’s take a moment…
First of all, let’s admit that nobody likes to be evaluated or judged. Just as we do not like high stakes testing, timed exams, or being on the receiving end of decisions about us that are out of our own control. This is not an aversion specific to the teaching profession. I very much doubt that any mid-level executive out there wakes up with a spring in her step shouting “Woo-hoo, today is my performance evaluation – and I am going to find out my worth!”.
We know from Daniel Pink’s work that any work that requires even a modicum of cognitive effort is neither motivated by extrinsic reward, nor improved in quality by fear. Richardson notes that improvement or progress in Finland “is not motivated by a fear of poor evaluations. It’s motivated by a deep concern for what’s best for kids, and an emphasis on quality and, importantly, equality”. What motivates us (to take Pink’s words) are a desire for mastery, a feeling of autonomy, and a compelling sense of purpose.
In keeping with this, and what we should talking about in schools, is feedback. Learning focused feedback. Not evaluation, not judgment, but feedback. In schools where teachers are trusted (and I am so amazingly fortunate to work in such a school), teachers actually love feedback. They are constantly seeking out ways to achieve mastery, to get better at what they do. Not because they will flunk an evaluation if they don’t but because they are intrinsically driven to improve what we love doing. They are motivated to pursue mastery of their craft not by fear of someone who is judging them, but by the compelling purpose of helping young people learn and grow. And they are at their very best when they feel trusted and have the autonomy to make professional choices about how they grow, where and in what direction they will grow, as well as how they will seek feedback to help them achieve their goals.
Now, (like Will Richardson) I’ve been around long enough to know that here are occasions when traditional evaluations have a place. But they can no longer be the bedrock of the professional culture in our schools. If we truly want our schools to be places where teachers are empowered, motivated, trusted and constantly deepening their practice, then let’s stop with the judgmental language and evaluative practices. Let’s embrace feedback.
Please feel free to drop me a line if you would like to learn more about our learning focused feedback process. It isn’t perfect, but we think it is a step in the right direction.