Personalized Professional Development
Using Student Input to Guide Self-Assessment
As a teacher, being evaluated can be a very frustrating and unnerving experience. While we all go through a slightly different process when being observed by a supervisor, the basics stay the same: We meticulously create lesson plans to share with our administrators before they come to our classrooms. They take notes as we teach and attempt to quantify the success of the lesson. They are forced to do so with the assumption that this is how things are in our classes everyday. However, as we all know, one or two observations is not enough to get a complete picture of what a particular classroom environment is really like. In order to know that, additional input is needed from those who are there everyday. The best way to maximize the value of an evaluation, therefore, is to self-assess by gathering additional data from both yourself and your students.
What is Self-Assessment?
Self-Assessment, also known as “reflective practice,” is the creation of opportunities to see your teaching through the eyes of others. In my opinion, it is the most effective professional development tool that exists. The goal is to see yourself as your administrators, community members, and most importantly, your students see you. You then take the information you collect and use it to set goals. You compare your current teacher-self to who you’d like to be in the future, and determine how you are going to get there.
Here is the real beauty of self-assessment: this is completely personalized professional development. Your teaching is the suit and you are the tailor. You can adjust every detail of how you teach until everything works the way you want it to.
Why I Started Using Self-Assessment
During the transition from being a student teacher to being a professional teacher, I went from being observed literally all the time to being observed only three times a year. I was used to receiving constant feedback from experts in my field, and I became concerned about what would happen to my teaching without that guidance. I was afraid of the bad habits I could develop if things were left unchecked. I was also no longer being observed by music teachers, which was an adjustment for me. I was receiving and applying helpful feedback from my supervisors, but it did not involve anything about the musical aspects of my teaching. The thought of ignoring that side of my teaching was not acceptable, but I was the only music teacher in the building at the time. There was no one to observe me. I was the only expert observer available, so as far as I was concerned, self-assessment was the only solution.
Why I Prioritized Student Input
There are several different strategies that I have used to try to maximize improvements in my teaching. I started by applying the practical advice I got from the administrators who observed me and sought resources to make improvements according to their suggestions. Then, in order to keep the musical and conducting aspects in check, I made video and audio recordings of rehearsals whenever I could. I took detailed notes, and applied whatever changes I could when I got the opportunity. While those things were very helpful at first, eventually it became clear that I would need more. The data just felt incomplete without the student’s perspective. Ultimately, it is the quality of their education that is being assessed. What they think matters! It was not that I wanted to know that my students liked me. What I needed to find out whether or not they respected me, trusted me, and valued their experiences in my class.
The Joy of Surveys: How to solicit constructive student input
Trying to see your teacher-self the way your students see you is a critical aspect of self-assessment. I felt that the best way to get this information was to give them an evaluation survey. This was something that we always did for our TA’s in my undergraduate classes, so I decided to try it with my high school band students starting at the end of my first quarter of teaching. There are several things to consider if you choose to take the leap:
1. Do not use teacher terminology or buzz words.
If you ask a student to “rate the effectiveness” of your teaching, they will have no idea what you really mean. You have to define and breakdown what an effective teacher is on your survey by asking guided questions about what you believe to be the characteristics of an outstanding teacher. For example, asking a vague question like this…
Is Ms. McGovern an effective teacher? No Maybe Yes
…would result in very scattered answers, leaving you with inconsistent data. However, if you use questions like these…
Ms. McGovern is knowledgeable. No Somewhat Yes Ms. McGovern is organized. No Some of the time Most of the time Yes Ms. McGovern communicates well. No Some of the time Most of the time Yes Ms. McGovern treats her students with respect. No Some of the time Most of the time Yes
…students will be able to better conceptualize what you are saying. Their responses will tell you exactly what your goals should be based on your own values for good teaching.
2. Teach your students about constructive criticism.
Like all people, kids (especially teenagers) love an opportunity to rant. If you are going to give them a chance to have input in your development as a teacher, teach them that a complaint without a suggestion for improvement is not very helpful. I insist that they provide constructive feedback, and because I review it with them every time I give a survey, they usually are able to do that.
3. Teach your students about honesty.
Many of them might have some constructive feedback to give, but they will withhold those opinions because they are afraid to hurt your feelings. They mean well, but this totally skews your data, and makes it difficult for you to get a clear picture of what it is like to be your student. While you explain constructive criticism, you should also explain that it is okay to be honest, and explain how important it is. This has helped me get more detailed, truthful yet gentle responses.
4. Vary the type of questions.
I like to ask both multiple choice and free response questions on my surveys. This allows the kids to share what they are thinking in a variety of formats, and provides more opportunity for honesty. 5. If you only ask one question, ask this one:
Complete these statements… Ms. McGovern always…. Ms. McGovern never….
Here are some examples of responses I have received from three of my 9th grade band students: Ms. McGovern always…
Student 1: “is kind, caring and encouraging when it comes to band/music.” Student 2: “has good music and time for others.” Student 3: “is in a good mood when we come in and is willing to help us.”
Ms. McGovern never…
Student 1:“is disorganized.” Student 2:“is mean to us.” Student 3: “yells at the band.”
When students answer thoughtfully, these questions paint a clear picture of how they feel about your teaching and the classroom environment. As a teacher, this is something that you need to know. If students are uncomfortable or unhappy, they will not learn, so it is important to make this a priority.
How Have I Benefitted?
I have been able to set specific goals for myself that are tailored to my weaknesses and strengths. When combined with taking my supervisors advice and watching or listening to recordings of myself teaching, collecting data from student surveys pointed to exactly what I needed to work on. I continue to use these strategies to set new goals as I gain more teaching experience. My classroom environment changed for the better, which I believe correlates to the higher enrollment in all my classes. I strongly suspect that if I had not started giving out student surveys, there are some things that I never would have realized or accepted that I needed to change. My self-assessment has guided my decisions about what formal professional development to pursue. All in all, my experiences with Self-Assessment through student surveys have been extremely beneficial. Because I listened to what my students had to say (and took the suggestions seriously), I was able to improve specific areas of my teaching very quickly. Giving my students direct input on my professional development is one of the best decisions I have made as a teacher. I encourage you to swallow your pride, take a risk and try it for yourself!
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