Bringing the Growth Mindset to Teacher Evaluations

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Bringing the growth mindset to teacher evaluations

Good news for educators: Despite fears of a high teacher turnover rate, reports show that educators are actually staying in the classroom longer than we thought. The National Center for Education and Statistics found that only 17% of educators leave the profession after the first five years, which is a much more encouraging statistic than the previously thought rate of 40% to 50%.  

With educators settling in for long-term teaching careers, administrators doubtlessly want to provide support and encouragement along the way. Interestingly, effective methods for assessing teacher quality and providing helpful feedback may be similar to those that educators use for their students.  

The growth mindset, or the belief that intelligence can be developed, has gained widespread popularity in the education field. It is a distinctly different approach from the fixed mindset, which holds the belief that a student’s intelligence or aptitude is predetermined. Moving to a growth mindset has inspired teachers to look for progress over time rather than focusing on test scores as a measure of student intelligence.   

The same principles can be applied to educators throughout their own teaching careers. If a first-year teacher struggles with classroom management or has difficulty pacing lessons, are these personal weaknesses or skills that can improve over time? A growth mindset perspective would focus on the latter, with administrators helping educators see their own potential. Here are three tips for bringing a growth mindset perspective to teacher evaluations.  


Use teacher-led evaluations

In one real-life example, Andrea Hernandez explained how Martin H. Gottlieb Day School applies the growth mindset to educators as well as students. Hernandez noted that while the school had moved to evaluating students through student-led conferences, educators were still being evaluated via model lesson observation. In the spirit of applying a growth mindset to its educators, the school began to use teacher-led conferences, which required observation by other teachers, watching videotaped lessons for self-evaluation, and compiling artifacts that demonstrated educator growth over the school year. Rather than filling out a checklist of expectations, the twice-yearly meetings took the form of mutually beneficial conversations with administrators.  

Although preparing for these teacher-led evaluations required more work, Hernandez reported that most teachers preferred the new approach, and the growth mindset was effective. "Much like the student-led conference, teacher-led evaluation meets each teacher where he or she is and recognizes that learning is not one-size-fits-all," Hernandez said.

See challenges, not obstacles

For those used to assessing progress through rating scales and traditional evaluations, switching to a growth mindset can feel like a big departure. But if we are simply evaluating progress, how can we be sure that educators are actually achieving their objectives and improving their teaching? Carol Dweck, author of "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," noted that "a growth mindset isn’t just about effort." As with our students, it’s not enough to praise teachers simply for trying. We also need to continue guiding them to grow and try different strategies until their efforts result in learning.

Think of it this way: How often do we apply a fixed mindset to the act of teaching? Phrases such as, "Oh, I just don't know how to make history lessons all that interesting" or "I'm really more of a hands-on teacher; I just can't get the hang of this new software!" have been spoken by many an educator. Rather than simply responding, "Well, at least you tried," administrators and mentors can go a step further. After reviewing areas that need improvement, those overseeing evaluations could ask, "What strategies have you tried to help your students engage with the lesson? What else could you try?"


Be part of the journey

One of the key benefits of using a growth mindset to evaluate educators involves recognizing unique opportunities for professional development. After all, as educator Paul Friedmann stated in his article "A Career Path for Every Great Teacher", "Teaching isn't a static career." Friedmann noted that teachers have different skills and growth opportunities in their first year of teaching versus their fifth or even their twentieth year. To retain educators for a long-term career, we need to be equipped to use their strengths and meet their needs at every point in their journey.

Brooke Charter Schools, where Friedmann teaches, takes a unique approach to supporting new teachers and rewarding veteran educators. Educators begin as associate teachers and are paired with mentor teachers who help guide them through the early years. After associate teachers are hired full-time, they still receive guidance from administrators. As they gain experience, educators in this system can take on leadership roles and eventually be nominated to become master teachers.  

Recognizing educators' needs and abilities at each step of their careers is both supportive and motivating. For instance, Friedmann said, "[Brooke Charter Schools] commits to helping me develop in my areas of weakness, and it shows me multiple pathways that I can follow through my long-term career as an educator." As educators commit to longer teaching careers, we need to commit to supporting and motivating them throughout.


Developing a growth mindset is a practice that students and teacher alike must learn to embrace as an ongoing process. According to the applied research center at Stanford University called PERTS (Project for Education Research that Scales), the more we continue to explore and practice having a growth mindset, the more resilient both students and educators can become, even when entering contexts that may send us fixed mindset messages. Just as developing a growth mindset amongst students is not an immediate process, applying this way of thinking to educators and their evaluations will also take time. However, with the proper support, everyone can become successful.

Need a little inspiration to get you started? 

Check out this TedX talk by Sheryl Chard called No More Bad Coffee: Professional Development That Honors Teachers. In her role as the Director of the Sofia Center for Professional Development at Bosque School, Sheryl Chard hosts workshops, seminars, and retreats for Bosque School faculty and other educators in the community that are heavily informed by feedback from countless educators. 

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