New teacher eval system means better educator training

Commissioner Bowen tests out Farwell Elementary's pilot teacher evaluation system, which makes good use of iPads.
Commissioner Bowen tests out Farwell Elementary’s iPad teacher evaluation system in Danielle Bilodeau’s fifth grade classroom.

Administrators and teachers at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston are using iPads to develop new educator evaluation rubrics, the first Teacher Incentive Fund school in Maine to do so. I had the chance to use the app to evaluate fifth grade teacher Danielle Bilodeau when I visited Farwell last week, and I can assure you that teachers have never had any feedback system like this before.

As I rated Danielle on multiple aspects of her teaching – from her ability to orchestrate group learning to how well she offered activities for multiple intelligences – Danielle proved to be a real firecracker of an educator. Her students remained engaged in her mythology lesson on cause and effect, and she clearly laid out goals for a follow-up hands-on activity. This new tablet-based evaluation form, with its 17 areas of assessment, allowed me to adequately record and credit her abilities.

The form also has comment boxes so that administrators can write praise in areas of teacher excellence, and constructive feedback in categories marked for improvement. Professional development then flows from the results of each teacher’s evaluation.

By the end of this year, Farwell Principal Althea Walker will have identified the strengths of the pilot system as well as areas that require attention in the next few years. And next fall she intends to begin evaluating every teacher, hopefully getting through all 31 of them before the school year’s out.

Not only does Farwell have administrators offering feedback to educators in new ways, but kids have a chance to evaluate their teachers as well. Students were given a survey geared to their level in March, and the results were released to teachers last week. In the future, this type of student feedback will be taken into account in the administrators’ overall teacher evaluations.

My visit was planned in large part to highlight the work we need to do to prepare,  evaluate and support “great teachers and leaders” – one of the core priorities in the Department’s strategic plan. As one of the Maine Schools of Excellence, Lewiston is a district that’s out front when it comes to properly evaluating teachers in order to provide adequate training, and we need to keep paying attention to their efforts.

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