Teacher Evaluation: Keep Calm and Improve Your Craft
By NAfME member Jenny L. Neff, Ed.D.
(Modified from original J.W. Pepper blog post, Feb. 18, 2016)
Over the past few years, many states have revamped their teacher evaluation systems. Many of these systems have resulted in an increase in record keeping, evidence gathering, and reflecting on the part of teachers. Some have even included other outside factors, such as student test scores (referred to as value-added measures or VAM). These job-related tasks and record keeping can be time consuming.
A classroom visit from a building principal can make some teachers nervous, and the addition of scores added to the teacher evaluation can create stress for many. While teacher evaluation continues to be a daily topic in schools, perhaps we can put our minds at ease by focusing on that which we have control over, instead of outside factors that are out of our control.
In Smith’s book Little Things Matter: Improve Your Life One Thing at a Time, Life Lesson #48 states – “Don’t Worry About What You Can’t Control”. I’m not suggesting you completely forget about things like student test scores, but rather focus on what you can control; and as Smith puts it “step up your game”.
Whether your district is using Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, Marzano’s Teacher Evaluation Model, or another teacher evaluation system, these tools typically present specific areas of focus for the educator. Translating a teacher evaluation rubric into music-specific action is something music educators can explore as they improve their craft.
As you reflect on your teaching, which areas are your strengths? Identify these areas. Celebrate your strengths, build on them, and share them with others inside and outside of your department.
Next, identify areas in which you could improve. Even if we have a successful program, it’s important to continue learning to stay current. This helps us communicate with colleagues and create new pathways for learning. So often we get stuck in the rut of routine, however if we explore available resources we can learn new ways of teaching a concept that saves time and may even create deeper understanding for our students.
I’ve often seen newer teachers struggle with managing classroom transitions, checking for student understanding, and using appropriate pacing. These areas are part of what is observed during classroom observations (Danielson’s Framework for Teaching). How do we address these areas of need? We ask essential questions of our students, but as educators what essential questions should we ask ourselves?
Planning Smooth Transitions
What are your classroom routines? How do you establish them?
- Writing prompt – Creative Writing Prompt Examples for Music
- Warm-up activity or routine at their seat when they enter – I have found exercises from The Creative Director, Alternative Rehearsal Techniques and other publications by Edward S. Lisk to be very helpful in helping build ensemble techniques/skills.
- Exit tickets – King’s Music Class Blog and Teachers Pay Teachers
Checking for Understanding
How do you check for student understanding? Is it frequent enough?
Are you really checking, or simply stopping rehearsal and telling students how to fix something?
- Aguilar, E. (2010) – Do You Check For Understanding Often Enough With Students?
- Boston Public Schools – Are They REALLY Learning? Tips and Strategies to Check for Student Understanding
Using Appropriate Pacing
Is your pacing content and age-appropriate?
Are students acting out or bored because of your pacing?
- Are your lessons sequential and purposeful?
- Does your classroom management get in the way of instructional pacing?
- National core arts standards process components for performing
- Sample outline of class communicated in visual format:
Identify areas of your teaching that need attention and seek solutions and supports to help you grow. These links are just a sampling of resources you can begin to explore. What you do in your classroom is something you can control and improve upon as you develop and hone your craft of teaching, and one that will benefit students in the end.
- Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
- Marzano, R. (2015). Marzano teacher evaluation model. Retrieved from
- Popham, W. J. (2013a). Evaluating America’s teachers: Mission possible? Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
- Smith, T. (2010). Little things that matter. Lake Dallas, TX: Success Books.
About the author:
Jenny Neff is an instrumental music teacher at Bala Cynwyd Middle School in the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, where she is in her 24th year of teaching. She earned her doctorate (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership at Immaculata University. Her dissertation topic was on the topic of teacher evaluation. She received a Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music Education from Michigan State University. She serves as the Eastern Division Representative for the Council for Band, for the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), and is a mentor for the PMEA Mentor Program. She is an active presenter and guest conductor.
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