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P.S. 40 teachers prep for tougher evaluations by simulating them

Teachers at Manhattan’s P.S. 40 played students this morning, engaging in role plays, “turn-and-talks,” and “sharebacks” to learn about the new way they will be evaluated this year.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined the teachers for a training session about Charlotte Danielson‘s “Framework for Teaching,” the teacher evaluation model that principals are supposed to start using this year.

Without an agreement between the city and teachers union on new teacher evaluation rules, teachers will still be judged as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” at the end of the year. But the city has instructed principals to follow Danielson’s framework — which divides teachers into four categories, from “highly effective” down to “ineffective” — when they conduct observations throughout the year, in conjunction with the rollout of new “common core” curriculum standards.

“We’ve worked out some pieces with the UFT around the evaluation, but right now, my goal is to make sure we’re having the training take place around the Common Core,” Walcott said.

A group of five P.S. 40 teachers acted out a scripted classroom scene, with one “teacher” pushing her “students” to think critically about a nonfiction reading on Polynesian settlement in Hawaii. Walcott and the rest of the staff watched on and consulted yellow photocopied evaluation rubrics to see if the “teacher” should be judged highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

The rubric was used last year to assess teachers up for tenure only. Many teachers rated “ineffective” were denied tenure and teachers rated “developing” largely had their probationary periods extended. The city wants to see similar steep consequences for low-scoring teachers when a new evaluation system is finally in place.

But even without an evaluation deal, the new rubric will allow administrators to flesh out expectations for their teachers, said Susan Felder, P.S. 40’s principal. Teachers also said the rubric could be useful, even it’s not used for their formal evaluations.

“It’s what we should be doing, but I think the way it’s here is actually more clear-cut for me, so I don’t have to say, ‘Well, what do they want from me?’ I now have my own guide,” said Lauren Schnur, a sixth-year teacher.

Schnur was in Walcott’s small group, and the two discussed whether the “teacher’s” line of questioning encouraged enough critical thinking. Walcott said he thought the “teacher” might have filled in too many gaps for the “student.” Shnur was slightly more forgiving, saying that the “teacher” redeemed herself by asking more probing questions later in the script. The group ultimately reached a consensus that the “teacher” mostly fell into the effective category.

Then Felder asked her staff to use the Danielson rubric to evaluate themselves. Sensing that it might be intimidating for teachers to discuss their weaknesses in front of their boss, let alone their boss’s boss, Walcott rose and joked, “I’ll leave the room so feel free.”

Before “class” was dismissed so that teachers could move on to discuss how to talk about 9/11 with their young students, Walcott addressed the group, He assuaged any concerns that might be brewing about the consequences of teachers falling into the “developing” category of the rubric.

“I’m a developing chancellor,” he said. “We’re all learning new things every day.”

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