Last week, when I asked a room of 110+ Michigan principals what might make a teacher feel unsafe at school, the most frequent answer was not school violence, it was not bullying, nor was it upset parents. It was not threats, or weapons, or lockdown drills. So what was it? What is the number one thing that makes teachers feel unsafe at school according to this group of caring and dedicated principals?
See for yourself.
These positive and creative principals who were spending three days learning together agreed that evaluations are the biggest threat to teachers feeling safe in schools.
Excuse me for a moment while I get up on a soapbox.
There are so many things that are out of our control as building principals, but evaluations are not one of them.
There are so many things we cannot use to help our teachers feel strong and positive and ready to tackle the next step in their continuous growth, but evaluations? We have so much control over how they feel to teachers.
They can empower and strengthen, or they can depower and defeat.
They can be a time to highlight skills, or they can be a time to “catch” a teacher doing something wrong.
They can be a time to ask questions and dig deeper together, or they can be a time to make assumptions.
Let’s picture asking this question of teachers about students: “What might make your students feel unsafe at school?”
How might we react if teachers’ number one answer was assessments? We would point out that we don’t have direct control over many things that make students feel unsafe, but teachers do have control over how assessments are delivered and how they feel to students. We would say, “How dare you teachers make students feel unsafe because of assessments? Come on!”
Let’s say the same thing to ourselves–“How dare we principals make teachers feel unsafe because of evaluations? Come on!”
Let’s ask instead of tell.
Let’s point out more strengths than areas for improvement.
Let’s focus on growing alongside each other rather than a right/wrong mentality.
Let’s make sure our teachers know, more than anything, that we SEE them. We SEE their hearts. We SEE their hard work. We have their backs.
This doesn’t mean that we avoid challenging conversations or that we don’t address concerns. We just do so in a way that is respectful of the needs of the whole teacher. Teachers deserve to feel safe, engaged, challenged, supported, and healthy at school. Our students deserve teachers who feel safe, engaged, challenged, supported, and healthy at school. Let’s make sure evaluations contribute to this goal rather than create an environment of fear.
Author’s note: I used @mentimeter for the presentation and one of the features of this interactive formative assessment tool is making group word clouds. There are many other features, like multiple choice questions and short answer questions. It is an awesome tool because it is so fun (participants are assigned emoji characters) and it allows you to embed content into the presentation. I highly recommend trying it out with your students and teachers!