Collaboration Is the Key
to Effective Teacher Evaluation

Jessica V. Zuniga, MEd
Dean of Instruction, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD
Raul H. Yzaguirre Middle School

Any evaluation system needs buy-in from
everyone involved. Teachers will not thrive
when they are being evaluated on metrics they
do not understand or believe in. As a former
teacher and collaborative learning leader (CLL),
Jessica Zuniga took that lesson to heart when she
moved into administration.

“[With] any initiative, there’s always two key pieces,” she said. “The
first one is communication, but most importantly, relationships.
There has to be that connection between all of the players involved
so that everyone feels some sort of responsibility and attachment.”

She said that connection has been especially important in building
a campus culture that values growth and teamwork.

“The grant provided the opportunity of really making sure that true
collaboration was happening from the top down,” she said. “We
made sure everyone was involved. Not just the teachers, not just
the instructional coach, but the dean, the content administrator, as
well as the principal were present at all of the meetings. That really
did show staff that this is a collaborative effort. We’re all working
together toward one goal.”

Understanding Builds Collaboration

Zuniga said she builds that kind of cooperation into her process when
she plans her campus goals for the school year. She kick-starts the year
with campuswide meetings and trainings that refresh teachers on the
evaluation rubric system and its components.

Then, she narrows that down to a single component that she wants
teachers to focus on. The CLL takes that component and dives deep
into all its subsections, tactics, and goals during their CLC meetings
throughout the year.

“We would always try to make sure that whichever component of
the teacher rubric we were going to focus on during CLCs, that it
connected to their content and grade level. Most importantly, we
wanted it to align to district goals and instructional best practices,”
she said. “We tried our best to be transparent with teachers on what
we were looking for when we walked into their classrooms and how
everything tied together. The goal was to invest time in growing our
teachers so that they could offer the best learning experiences to
our students, thus increasing overall student performance.”

She said the CLCs break down the different aspects of the rubric, so
teachers not only understand what they will be evaluated on but also
why. Once the teachers have a firm grasp on the rubric, they work on
understanding individual expectations based on content areas and
grade levels.

Communication and Feedback Build Trust

Throughout the process, Zuniga works closely with the CLL and other
campus leaders to collect feedback from the teachers. She said that,

by listening to and acting on the feedback she has received, she
has built trust and has gained buy-in from the campus community.

“If the teachers felt like, ‘This is something that is being dictated
to me,’ they weren’t as receptive,” she said. “But when we had the
conversations, and it was more of a ‘What is your input?’ ‘How are
you feeling?’ They were more receptive to that.”

That feedback also has helped Zuniga know which concepts and
skills the teachers need to spend more time on, and which teachers
need a little more support. If the teachers do not understand or
have trouble implementing a specific aspect, then she knows they
need to slow down and try another approach.

For instance, she said, the teachers on her middle school campus
struggled to incorporate opportunities for collaboration into their
lesson plans. Teachers felt as if they did not have time during the
class period to add group activities, and they did not understand
how to tie such activities in with their regular instruction.

She worked with the CLL and campus leadership to build individual
plans to help integrate collaborative learning opportunities into daily
instruction and carve out time for group activities.

“When needed, our instructional coach [CLL] would do one-on-one
coaching cycles with teachers requesting practice of implementation
of CLC initiatives,” she said. “Our instructional coach would watch
them in action during class and then give them feedback on
refinement opportunities. Teachers would take that feedback, make
adjustments, and then try it again. At that time, I would be invited to
come along too as additional support for implementation feedback.
This ongoing process opened a two-way door of communication for
teachers to feel truly supported.”

She said some concepts take more time than others, and teachers
need room to master difficult strategies.

“We have stayed with that one concept the whole year,” she said.
“We went in with the understanding that there is no deadline. And
some of us may take a little bit longer. But that’s OK. That’s part of
the learning process.”

Opportunities Build Leaders

Zuniga said the TEEM program has also helped her to identify new
leaders on campus. She said in the past teachers really needed to
actively seek new opportunities to lead. That process could leave
good leaders behind if they did not know where or how to look or
did not see themselves as leaders.

“The opportunities that were given through the grant to be able to
build leadership within has really been a key piece to it,” she said.
“Sometimes we would find that it was teachers that you really
wouldn’t think would be receptive to being a lead or who shied
away from it. But once they had that confidence built in, they
started feeling more comfortable with taking on the leadership
and the mentorship of others.”

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