Does preparing for your evaluation take countless hours? You search for just the right lesson, one that matches your pacing guide for the unit on the day your administrator is scheduled to observe. You spend time writing an extensive three page lesson plan (just like you always do…), remember to incorporate some level of differentiation, include a few really great questions, and get all your copies and materials together. Sigh.
Oh wait, then you need to prepare for the pre-conference, so you answer all of those questions, which then prompts you to revise your lesson plans a bit. After all that planning, you’re now ready to give up your plan time to have a pre-conference and ﬁnally the day of the evaluation arrives. You’ve given your students a friendly reminder (some might use the word “threat”) to be on their best behavior, and as soon as the administrator walks in, your heart rate quickens, you notice your speech is slightly shaky, and you feel more nervous than you thought you would. You try not to notice as the administrator types away and peers over students’ shoulders. You pray that she questions the students who will give the best answers.
As soon as the admin leaves, you take a deep breath and become normal again. Over lunch, you ﬁnd yourself reﬂecting on the pacing of the lesson, and you already have three things you would change if you could do the lesson over again.
The next few days you carry a slight anxiety around as you contemplate the outcome of your observation. You’re not really worried about being ﬁred, but you want to be stellar. You want to be a shining star of a teacher. You want conﬁrmation that you’re an accomplished teacher, something to recognize all those long hours planning, grading, and communicating with parents.
The next step is planning the post-conference, during another plan time, to review your lesson and give you a ﬁnal score or rating. Nerves creep back, you’re armed with your reﬂection, and you’re feeling a little apprehensive. What if she didn’t like my lesson? What if she thought the pacing was too quick? What if she realizes my teaching isn’t that great? You wish the administrator could have seen how you wrapped up the lesson because students were sharing such great connections and ah-ha moments.
And somewhere, a hint of defensiveness slinks its way in.
The post-conference goes well, overall. There are a few areas of recommendation, which is a little disappointing considering all the time spent pouring ideas into the planning. You wanted a perfect score. You work hard and you know you’re a good teacher, it’s nice to have that validation. Instead, you feel criticized and you may even ﬁnd yourself slightly hating the administrator.
This adds up and contributes to a layer of stress that you don’t need.
So, how do we overcome the stress from teacher evaluations?
First, it’s important that you understand where this anxiety and defensiveness comes from. It turns out that we are hard-wired to seek out or look for threats. Tim Kight, of the Focus 3 Podcast, says that there’s such a thing as negativity bias; “It’s easy ﬁnd, ﬁxate and focus on things that are negative.” It’s our body’s way of managing risk, though in this day and age, our body is perceiving judgements and non-threatening comments as harmful. Brian Kight says, “You’re going to get triggered, biologically, by something that feels or looks like a threat, that really isn’t.” So a big part of our initial response is due to our body’s perception of a threat – a threat to our well-being, our job, our status.
Defensiveness, then, seems to stem from fear. With this understanding, we can pause when we feel ourselves bracing after criticism, regardless of how constructive it may be.
But what if we ask for feedback, from the most important connoisseurs of education- our students? This is a huge ﬁrst step in helping us shift our defensiveness to empowerment. This is a great time to check in with your students! Download the “midpoint check-in” and try it out with your students.