Collaborating to Examine Teacher Observation Rubrics for Equity
As an organization that strives to be anti-racist and to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in our work, our Hendy team has taken a close look at our priorities and projects to determine how we can take steps to actively help create anti-racist schools. We believe that every organization should consider where they have influence and take strides to use their influence to proactively address racism, and teacher evaluation rubrics is ours.
As experts in teacher evaluation, and as an organization that frequently supports networks, districts and states to design and implement teacher evaluation rubrics, we identified rubrics as a place that we can advance equity with our clients. We know a lot about rubrics, both about how to write good rubrics, and how to implement rubrics to support teacher development and growth. And, we’ve been intentional about including language about inclusion and diversity in rubrics that we’ve helped to draft and implement. But we hadn’t yet taken an intentional look at rubrics to identify what in the language may be truly advancing equity in teaching and learning, and what might be hindering equity. We also knew that, as a team of four people who all identify as white, we have some critical blindspots in the work of examining tools with an anti-racist lens.
So, before we set out to create a tool, host a workshop, or even publish this blog post, we decided to do the work of examining rubrics ourselves. We contracted with two trusted leaders in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in education, Carrie Ellis from Celestial Consulting and Ashley Griffin from Bowie State University and BEE Consulting, who themselves are women of color, and asked them to engage in this work with us. We also engaged Talia Shaull from Achievement First and Lisa Friscia from Democracy Prep, both members of Hendy’s Chief Talent Officer cohort, so we could have the perspective of practitioners in the field leading this work in their organizations. As a team we set out to examine the language of four teacher observation rubrics, two that are commonly used in districts and networks across the country, and two that are specific to networks we work closely with. Our intent was to identify specific examples of language, and overall trends in rubrics, that either supported or hindered efforts to advance equity and anti-racism. We also wanted to test a potentially transferable process for examining rubrics with an anti-racism lens.
We started the work by first affirming the role of rubrics in advancing equity and anti-racism in schools, and were honest about what rubrics can and can’t do. Then we examined the content of four rubrics to identify:
- Language or expectations in the rubric that values white dominant norms, values, and culture over those of other racial groups;
- Language in the rubric that is supportive of equity (specific practices, mindset cues for teachers, etc.); and
- Missed opportunities in the rubric to advance equity of instruction for students.
We organized and summarized the themes we saw in each rubric, and discussed those themes together to both align and clarify. In our discussion we surfaced several categories of content that might drive examination of other rubrics for bias and equity.
In addition to categories of content, we also discussed structural features of rubrics, and how those features may or may not advance equity. Specifically, we discussed student-focused vs. teacher-focused rubrics, and the inclusion of DEI as a separate indicator vs. baked in throughout all indicators.
Bringing together experts in different content areas to wrestle with a challenging question was engaging and frankly a lot of fun. We were able to push each other’s ideas, discuss what really matters, debate language and its impact, and learn and grow in the process. At the end of the day, our brains were tired, but we were energized by the ideas we created together and the possibility of sharing with others. We see a significant opportunity to improve rubrics and recognize that while doing so is insufficient for creating anti-racist schools, they do play a critical role in driving teacher practice and leaders’ coaching, and therefore must be improved.
Our work helped us to develop guidance that might support others who wish to examine their own teacher observation rubric, and inspired us to engage others in this work. We look forward to sharing that guidance in a webinar later this spring. If you or your team would like to engage in this work, please reach out. We all have a role to play in advancing anti-racism in our schools, and teacher evaluation rubrics can be a great place to start or continue efforts to ensure equity for all students.
Huge THANK YOU to Carrie, Ashley, Talia, and Lisa from all of the Hendy team!