Introduction: Rethinking the Effectiveness of the Dog & Pony Show Model
During my first three years as a high school math teacher in Massachusetts back in the early 2000s, I had grown accustomed to having an administrator in my classroom observe as I taught a math lesson. As a new teacher I was required by district policy to be observed at least three times per year. Both my administrator and I knew how the drill worked: We would pick a date and a class for me to be observed. We would meet in advance to talk about what I was planning to teach. During my observation I would make sure to use innovative teaching strategies or cooperative learning activities with my students. We would meet after the lesson to talk about what went well and where I could improve. The administrator would write up a narrative, I would sign it, and it would be filed away. The process would then repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Over my first three years I had nine observations. Once I reached my fourth year, I was considered tenured and thus my observations went down to one every other year. This means it would have taken me an additional eighteen years of teaching before I would have completed another nine observation cycles.
I don’t think my experience in this regard is unique, as many school districts used and still use a model very similar to this one. As I reflect back on that experience as a new teacher, years later, I don’t think I ever remember actually using anything that came from my evaluations as a way to improve my own teaching. Don’t get me wrong, my pre- and post-conferences always yielded great advice. My administrator and I always had great discussions about my lessons. We never really talked about my teaching. What I did on a day-to-day basis as a teaching professional to impact the lives of my students wasn’t easily observable during the dog and pony show, the name I had given for the act of preparing an observable lesson that would showcase all the innovative teaching strategies I could cram into a ninety-minute block. (more…)