Incentivize Collaboration to Improve Teacher Performance
Up to this point in my career, I have worked in an administrative position in four schools on two continents. I have also consulted with dozens more all over the world. I have a doctorate in educational leadership and I have been blessed to work with some incredible academic researchers.
You would think there would be some similarities that come out in all the schools and systems I have worked with and you’d be correct. There are elements that are universal to learning and education all over the world. However, one of them stands out to me: How do we measure teachers?
Every school system I have seen has grappled with this problem. What is a good lesson? Who are good teachers? How do I measure them? How do I reward them? Teacher evaluation truly is a universal challenge with few answers.
Of course, there are many amazing resources to help school leaders to establish practice and develop evaluation philosophy. Yet, those resources shift and pivot regularly discrediting earlier “truths” about evaluation and appraisal.
In my experience though, teacher evaluation does not meet its intended aim. Think about it, we evaluate our teachers against some metric, but for what purpose? Is it a Human Resources exercise to identify low performers for counseling? Is it to understand the landscape of teaching within a school or district? Is it used to design professional development plans that meet whole school needs? Is it a way of identifying high performers for merit increases or bonuses? I have heard all of these reasons in the past.
What I haven’t heard much is that teacher evaluation is a means of improving teaching and learning students. If this is not a reason for evaluating teacher practice in a meaningful and immediate fashion then it does nothing for students.
However, there is a flip side to this. A way to improve teacher practice, support struggling teachers, and build upon the passion and expertise of the high flyers:
Teachers working together and supporting each other through a professional framework will:
- Improve overall teaching and learning at a school through shared resourcing and peer critique.
- Help identify school-wide professional development needs and provide a forum to present those materials.
- Empower and celebrate the strong teachers while drawing upon their passion and knowledge to help their peers.
- Identify the low performers as there will be nowhere to hide.
To make collaboration a key part of school improvement, though, it must become engrained in the school culture and practice. And to have teachers full buy in to engaging collaboratively with peers they need to be rewarded for their time, effort, and achievements.
It is radical to say, but I argue that we should incentivize collaboration. Provide reward when teachers engage in formal PLN. Do this through individual rewards for time and contribution, then add on group rewards for impacts on learning or engagement in professional development.
And as we know, in education, rewards come in many forms. Of course, you could do this with money and some teachers would be very happy to take bonuses or merit increases. However, I find that teachers feel more rewarded when they are given accolades, resources, or the most important thing: time. Find ways to give your teachers incentives for collaboration and they will work together to achieve amazing things.
I find it funny that we live in a time where 21st century learning skills have shown us that project based learning and collaboration are key skills our students need, yet we don’t have ways to build those skills in our teachers.
By incentivizing collaboration, sharing, participation in a PLN, or just peer reviews of teacher practice, schools will find their academic programs will become more impactful and engaging for our students.
And I guarantee you that every dollar spent or minute of time offered to incentivize collaboration will be worth a 100x more than any incremental gains made through existing teacher evaluation systems.