Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A few Thoughts on Performance Reviews and Building Advocacy

I just finished reading an article by Audrey P. Church in the March/April 2014 Library Media Connection "Embrace the Opportunity: Annual Professional Performance Review" and can't help but think about the idea of how we can use our performance review as a means to build advocacy for our school library programs.

Currently the state of Kentucky is in the process of transitioning to a new format for evaluations called the PGES - Professional Growth and Effectiveness System.  Under this system, teachers, including teacher librarians, will be evaluated using a Framework for Teaching, based on the work of Charlotte Danielson.  The Framework (see the download on the right side of the PGES page) includes evaluation in the areas of: Planning and Preparation, Professional Responsibilities, Classroom Environment, and Instruction.

As with anything new, this system is sure to generate some anxiety as teachers and teacher librarians try to figure out how to demonstrate that they meet expectations.  But, upon further study of the Framework, teacher librarians will really find that they already shine in the areas of "Classroom Environment" and "Professional Responsibilities".  

Where we will naturally shine

Under the "Classroom Environment" category we daily demonstrate the ability to "create an environment of respect and rapport", the library is a "culture of learning" by its nature, we deftly manage groups who are using the library and materials and supplies, as well as establishing expectations for student behavior when in the library and effectively organizing and managing the physical space.  

When it comes to "Professional Responsibilities" librarians naturally maintain records, although we may need to broaden our record keeping to include student progress, we communicate to families through newsletters, Facebook, twitter, email blasts, we participate in professional communities, which can really be enhanced by becoming connected through social media and our local/national associations, and let's not forget all of the professional development we lead in our buildings.  A key piece in this category in my view is "Demonstrating Professionalism" and building a sense of advocacy for our programs. 

Where we might struggle in the beginning

It's the building advocacy piece that is really going to be essential to help teacher librarians show what they can do in the two areas, "Planning and Preparation" and "Instruction" that I could see causing some anxiety.  

For "Planning and Preparation" teacher librarians will really need to educate administrators and other teachers about the "content and structure of the discipline" as it relates to the library.  Yes, there are library standards that we must share, but we must be able to identify common core standards that relate to what students are doing when they are in the library.  Having a well studied view of the Common Core standards is critical.  This will require additional communication with teachers.  We can demonstrate knowledge of student skills and development by demonstrating that we have taken great care in selection of materials appropriate for our students' developmental and multicultural needs.  Many of the learning activities we develop will be implemented "on the fly" or on an as needed basis. We will need to demonstrate that we have developed a tool kit of strategies including research models, handouts and programs that students can use to find, seek and use information.  When it comes to assessment, we may find that it would be helpful to collect perception data from our students.  We can interview students informally or ask them to complete short surveys that show if the library program is serving their needs and helping them.

Under the "Instruction" category we may find that collaboration is going to be critical in communicating our value. We will need to work with teachers to identify the expectations for learning in many cases.  With a clear idea of what teachers expect, we can provide better support. In "Engaging Students in Learning" let's not forget those questioning strategies we so often use organically to help a student pinpoint what information they actually need and provide feedback for those interactions.  We are teacher leaders and are instructing students and staff constantly about best practices.  Let's work with teachers to co-teach units and collaborate on assignments that are appropriate for student development.

What can we do now?

I think now, before the evaluation tool is fully adopted everywhere, it's critical that we begin to put into place those things that are going to be needed to demonstrate our effectiveness.  Right now we can start enhancing those relationships that will lead to good collaboration. 
  • Reach out to department heads and teachers, set up specific times to meet with people to go over the research projects teachers have in mind for the school year and begin floating people resources that will help them with those projects. Once you know what research assignments students will be doing, you can more effectively suggest specific ways that you can support the teacher and students in learning.  Volunteer to go to classrooms or invite people to the library for resource sharing.
  • Begin to explore the ways that you will document your work - will you create a digital portfolio by using something like LiveBinders, OneNote, Evernote?  Are you going to keep a more traditional binder?
  • Get in a habit of reflecting on how you have helped students - questioning strategies you used that led to results, specific, anecdotal evidence of how you have helped students individually improve their work.
  • Experiment with collecting perception data - can you ask students to complete a Google form as they log off a computer, or can they answer a few questions on an exit survey as they sign in or out of the library?
  • Develop a plan for how you are going to be leader in professional development in your building.  Research the trends in education and technology and become an expert in those different areas.
In the article, Church provides a suggested list of evidence that you can collect to demonstrate your performance.  These are also pieces that I think build advocacy for your program.  Some of that evidence includes:
  • Collaborative lesson plans
  • Evidence of parental involvement
  • Exit tickets
  • Newsletters - show that you communicate with parents, students and teachers
  • Webpages
  • Photos of activities - show kids working in the library, provide visual evidence of the classroom/culture you have created
  • student work products - why not ask teachers to share with you research papers students have written with your assistance?
  • Collection analysis - add to that your reflection about how well it meets the developmental needs of your students
  • Evidence of professional development
If we can begin considering the pieces of the PGES now, adoption and implementation will go much smoother for us in the years to come.

If you can, be sure to check out Audrey P. Church's article!  It was extremely informative!

Where do you see teacher librarians shining under the new system and what are some ideas you have for collecting and maintaining evidence?

Works Cited
Church, Audrey P. "Embrace the Opportunity: Annual Professional Performance Review." Library Media Connection. March/April 2014. 12-14. Print.

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