Professional learning and growth for staff members are important components to creating high-quality learning environments, building a positive school culture, and promoting staff retention. Ongoing feedback and yearly evaluations can set an important foundation for a cycle of continual professional learning. And, teacher learning is directly connected to student learning. As teachers develop additional strategies for engaging young learners, learn new ways to teach important early literacy and early numeracy concepts, and have access and experience to additional curricular tools, learning in the early childhood space becomes deeper and more meaningful.
Involving teachers in the evaluation process can help them to feel their voice is valued and promotes more reflective and thoughtful conversations, resulting in a collective commitment to improvement, growth, and learning. By using observations, evaluations, reflections, and continued feedback as catalysts for conversations and iterative improvement throughout a school, early childhood centers can be places that value learning by all–students, teachers, and directors.
Build a Culture of Trust and Respect
Before any evaluation, take time to get to know teachers and work to establish a trusting relationship with them. Be present in their classrooms and provide regular and ongoing feedback. Notice, especially, when they do something well. You might see them planning thoughtful lessons, working hard to connect with a student, or bringing a lively energy to the classroom. Tell them what you notice in a quick conversation, email, or note. These moments of acknowledgement and appreciation provide validation and establish a positive and supportive relationship.
Make it Meaningful
In preparation for a formal evaluation, consider asking teachers to share about their strengths and areas they hope to improve upon. You might use a template for them to complete or simply ask them to consider these questions before a conversation with you. This reflection is valuable for the teacher because it helps them to identify teaching practices and classroom strategies they would like to continue as well as areas they would like to learn more about. Teachers are more likely to integrate the feedback into their teaching practices if they personally see a need for additional learning. This also provides an on-ramp to a dialogue about how you can partner with them to add more tools to their teaching toolbox–benefiting the teacher, the childcare center, and especially, the students.
In addition to asking teachers to do a pre-conference reflection, be sure you are prepared for the conversation. Take time to observe them doing different types of teaching activities including welcoming students each day, teaching students during a calendar time or read aloud, and facilitating learning during open play periods. Notice not only what the teacher does, but also how they have set up the learning environment, how their students have learned to interact with one another, and how the teacher is working to build independence with young learners. You might also take note of how the teacher interacts with families during dropoff and pickup as well as their colleagues during the school day. Note specific ways that the teacher connects with families or shares ideas and enthusiasm with peers.
Focus your Efforts
If your childcare center uses an evaluation form, be very thoughtful about your feedback. Be sure to consider the teacher’s overall interactions with students and families rather than limiting the evaluation to observations of a specific moment or a one-time classroom visit. Also, be prepared to provide an explanation or evidence of any areas you note that the teacher should continue to improve as well as areas that you note as exceptional. Providing feedback with evidence and specific examples makes the process more authentic.
If you have a new childcare teacher or someone who has several things to improve, choose one or two areas to focus on. Come to the meeting ready to share how they could work on these challenges and brainstorm together how they can learn more. Consider finding a time when you can teach in their classroom to free them up to visit another classroom where they can observe a teacher who has mastered the particular skill. You might also teach alongside them in their classroom to model best practices or show alternative methods for helping students to learn and grow. If there is something that many teachers could benefit from learning more about, you might find local or online professional development courses or lead a school-wide book study.
Use the time set aside for conversations around evaluations to check in with teachers. In a year where teachers are working so hard to engage students while keeping them safe and healthy, honor their commitment, planning, and energy that they bring to their students each day. Be sure to take time to ask what they need to be successful in their classroom–including both emotional and pedagogical support. Listen to what they share, take notes, and use this feedback in your planning.
Also, use the evaluation process and conversations to talk about their future professional plans and goals. They might want to work toward teaching a different age band or even move into an assistant director or other leadership role within the school. Work together to chart a path for them. When teachers feel supported and valued, they are more likely to bring new ideas into their teaching, collaborate with peers, find creative ways to connect with students and families, and remain an active part of the school community for years to come.