The classroom autopsy – it doesn’t have to happen.  The term “autopsy” derives from the Ancient Greek  autopsia, “to see for oneself” ( autos,”oneself” and opis, “eye”). The principal aim of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death, the state of health of the person before he or she died, and whether any medical diagnosis and treatment before death was appropriate.

To put this perspective into education, teacher evaluations typically occur at the end of the teaching cycle which is the termination of the teaching and learning of a class. The quality of teaching at the end of the learning cycle is examined, the causes of poor student achievement are determined, and a diagnosis of what could have been done to improve student achievement is carried out.

As in a post mortem, it is too late to save the loss of student achievement for the current learning cycle and as in a coroner’s report suggestions are made as to how to improve teaching and learning in the future.  Thus if a teacher’s skills were lacking during the life of the class, too-bad-so-sad, the kids got screwed!

This is far too often the case, and it doesn’t have to happen.

A school or district should not wait until end-of-year or end-of-semester to evaluate whether or not the teaching efforts are helping students grow. If you start from the premise that teacher evaluations are meant primarily to drive teacher development, then regular feedback is essential. The necessary loop of feedback, corrections, and improvement that builds true talent can’t happen once every six months

So I’m suggesting that no matter what you use for a formal teacher appraisal (which could be an autopsy) that you break that appraisal up into smaller observations. Do focused walk-throughs throughout the year so that by the time you get to the end of year appraisal your teachers have had all the help you can possibly give them for whatever weaknesses you found throughout the year.

Final evaluations (and of course student achievement ) should hopefully be a lot better than they would’ve been had you not done these focused walk-throughs throughout the year.

“Evaluating a teacher is the single most important task a principal has,” Dr. Layne Hunt told Education World recently. “The evaluation process needs too be an ongoing process. Feedback from the principal must always be constructive, objective, and understandable. Then continuous follow up needs to occur to ensure and reinforce that the teacher is making positive steps.”

Everyone wins when administrators keep in-touch with class-room activities throughout the year.

Principal Ron Tibbetts from Providence, Rhode Island agreed that getting principals into classrooms more often is one of the biggest benefits of the walk-through approach.

“The more principals are able to spend time in classrooms, the more they understand what the teacher is doing and how the art of teaching is approached,” he said. “Walk-throughs create a mutual ground for discussing students, curriculum, achievement, and behavior. They keep the administrator ‘in-touch’ with day-to-day classroom activities.”

In my experience, working with and listening to hundreds of school districts  I have found that the more schools focus on evaluating teachers, the more student learning suffers.

Recording observations is made easier using technology as long as the amount of information to record is practical and not overwhelming.

Principals are usually overwhelmed, and teachers are often obliged to ‘teach-to-the-rubric’ rather than be creative and motivating to their students.  By contrast, the more schools focus on coaching teachers, the more student learning improves. (The Journal of Education Research, Aug 2010; Russo, A. (2004, July/August). Schoolbased coaching: A revolution in professional development – or just the latest fad? Harvard Education Letter.) Teaching is such a dynamic profession that there’s always room for growth.

In Los Angeles, teachers will soon be evaluated on a list of 61 criteria during classroom observations conducted by school administrators. The Los Angeles Times reported in November that many administrators are concerned about the time it takes to observe and rate teachers on 61 skills.

If these skills were broken down into focus walk-throughs then two things would be accomplished.  First, skills that were identified as lacking could be identified and improved upon to remediate the deficiency, and secondly  the final teacher evaluation would reflect better results for both teachers and learners and could simply be a review of the observations and coaching that occurred during the term.

Short focused visits (walk-throughs) give principals a first-hand view of instructional issues and patterns while providing them with a meaningful way to demonstrate their interest in and knowledge of the teaching and learning process.

Principal Teresa Cockerham, Ed.D of Providence Senior High School in Charlotte, North Carolina summed it up well when she told me: “We are able to look at what is being taught in classrooms and then compare that with the district standards. It is a non-evaluative tool that focuses on alignment and calibration.”

The rating of teachers, the analysis of the data and the production of the summative evaluation report for each teacher is made almost effortless with eWalkPLUS. eWalkPLUS is a web-based complete evaluation system that allows for the collection of observational data with hand-helds such as smartphones, iPads, Android  tablets, none of which require internet connectivity while in the classroom, and any device with a browser can be used when there is internet connectivity.