Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Focus on Teachers: Brian Mulvaney, Using Evaluation Feedback

February 13, 2013

Brian Mulvaney didn’t take the traditional path to becoming a teacher.  He has a Bachelor’s Degree in business management and a Master’s in history.  He completed his certification at night while teaching during the day.  He admits, “At the time, I didn’t take a lot away from my certification courses.”

Brian credits his unique background for his flexibility as a teacher and his receptiveness to feedback and suggestions.  He also points to his district’s teacher evaluation system for helping him to improve his teaching. 

As Brian explained to our education team, “Our evaluation system helped me rethink a lot of what I was taught in my education courses. In my first few years of teaching, I created my daily lessons by starting with ‘what am I doing today?’ and then went day-to-day.  Now, I start by identifying what I want students to walk out of my class knowing and doing.  I build my lessons from there. Our evaluation system made me re-visit how I design lessons.”

Surprising, right?  Brian’s description is not typically what we hear about teacher evaluations.  But, his district—Hillsborough County, FL—is far from typical in this arena. 

Through Hillsborough’s Empowering Effective Teachers initiative, Brian and his colleagues are part of a multi-pronged approach for developing and supporting strong teachers.  Hillsborough has a new teacher-induction program, incentives for teachers who work with the district’s highest need students, enhanced professional development and a new evaluation system.

So, what makes Hillsborough’s new evaluation system so special?  According to Brian, two critical things.  First, the new evaluation tool “created a common language for administrators and teachers. The feedback I receive is now much clearer and easier to understand than before.  The new instrument also allows us to reflect on our own teaching —what you think you did, how you think you did, what went well, ” Brian tells us.  “Our old instrument was just this long checklist of things the principal observed and how many times he observed it.  It didn’t guide you in understanding what you need to do better.”

Second, Brian points to the new evaluation system’s peer evaluation component.  In addition to formal observations and informal “pop-ins” by administrators, teachers are also observed by peers who then share their observations, feedback and suggestions from their own classroom practice.   Brian admits that the peer evaluations had a bumpy start in his case.  “I didn’t really understand the peer observation piece well the first time around.  I was observed by a teacher outside of my field.  I disagreed with some of her comments but I thought I was just supposed to sit there and take it.  Now that I have a better understanding of this process and how my own reflection is important to it, it is my strongest area.”  

“I find that peer observations have been extremely helpful to me, ” Brian tells us, “particularly when the observer has been an in-subject teacher.  It makes the conversations specific and their suggestions relevant to what I’m trying to do in the classroom.  It has made me more cognizant of what I am doing and what I could be doing.”

An 8th-year teacher, Brian is currently in his third year as a participant in Hillsborough’s Empowering Effective Teachers work.  Hear more about his experiences here.

 
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