PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: Evaluative Thinking in Teacher Mentoring by Leigh M. Tolley

Leigh M. Tolley
Leigh M. Tolley

Hi everyone! I’m Leigh M. Tolley, Past Chair of the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group (TIG) and Assistant Professor, Secondary Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette). Since 2019, I have been the Program Co-Coordinator of UL Lafayette’s Mentor Teacher Training Program. Through this program, we recruit, train, and support teachers in earning their Mentor Teacher ancillary certification so that they can better mentor K-12 teacher residents, teacher interns (candidates with a bachelor’s degree in another field), and both their novice and experienced peers. My own background in educational evaluation and research in formative assessment has led me to be a lot more aware of the evaluative thinking that teachers use in their daily practice. Over the past year, the adaptations that have been made to teacher preparation and training have reconfigured how teachers’ evaluative thinking is present in ways that are beneficial to educators and evaluators alike!

Lessons Learned:

Asking teachers to be aware of, show evidence from, and reflect on their practice helps to make their implicit knowledge explicit. Experienced educators are able to artfully and quickly craft and deliver outstanding lessons, and shift their teaching as needed in response to their students. However, it can be a challenge for them to clearly articulate to others the myriad judgments and decisions they made in the analysis, design, development, implementation, and formative and summative evaluation processes. Remote and hybrid teaching practices over the past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have made this even more of a struggle. Below are ways in which I have been able to learn more about teachers’ evaluative thinking:

Hot Tip:

Opportunities for inservice teachers to discuss their practice and their reasoning behind what they do helps to reveal their thinking and the inherent evaluative methods that are also involved. Giving teachers a space to engage with other professionals about what they do in an authentic way, such as online focus groups or lesson studies, will reveal much more than observations alone.

Hot Tip:

Encourage teacher analysis of data about their own teaching, rather than focusing on student data only. Part of the requirements for our teachers in earning their Mentor Teacher ancillary certificate is the collection and analysis of data about their lessons, often including videos of themselves teaching. Taking, and more importantly, having the time for teachers to review how they taught a lesson and what other evidence may—or may not—have contributed to student success, will help them to share more about their in-the-moment decisions.

Hot Tip:

Make conversations and reflections part of teaching, rather than occasional events. Scheduled, regular meetings and check-ins (such as the ones we hold through Zoom) will encourage these discussions to be ongoing among teachers, rather than only occurring once at a single meeting. In turn, this will help to facilitate their sharing about their practice when meet-ups do occur.

Hot Tip:

Engage with teacher candidates to learn what they have observed as a way to spark discussions and reflection. If preservice teachers are also in the classroom, encourage them to share what they see and have them ask questions about why a lesson was planned or implemented a certain way. Fresh eyes will likely bring in new perspectives!

Hot Tip:

Involve educators at all levels of expertise in conversations. By discussing evaluative thinking practices with inservice and preservice teachers, we as evaluators can share and encourage the use of evaluation-specific terminology that describes what is already happening in the classroom. This will then lead to shared understanding and stronger, more connected discussions.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

6 thoughts on “PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: Evaluative Thinking in Teacher Mentoring by Leigh M. Tolley”

  1. Thanks for your thought-provoking post. It has led me to consider more opportunities for self reflection in my own practice, as well as encouraging pre-service and inservice teachers to do the same. Specifically, as you described, the reflection or articulation of decisions made duringthe lesson, such as recognizing cues in students’ thinking or behaviour that can provide insight into how the lesson is being perceived by the learner, can be unconscious for experienced teachers but confusing or unclear to a more inexperienced educator. This was very clear in my own practice this past fall, when I hosted a teacher candidate in my Kindergarten classroom, as well as throughout the last school year when I mentored a group of educators who were learning to improve their literacy instruction. My years of experience in both of these areas led to my being aware of many “under-the-radar” cues from learner and while I adjusted my lessons to account for and accommodate these cues, it was not always clear to my teacher candidate that I had veered from the lesson plan, or what prompted me to do so. I see now that more time reflecting in a collaborative way with the teachers I mentor would help clarify my thinking.
    I am currently studying program evaluation, and found it challenging, at first, to see how my course work related to my daily work in my classroom. Your post has helped to clarify the evaluative nature of teaching: what I’d been calling “responsive teaching” is indeed evaluative teaching in that responding to children’s thinking, behaviour, and errors relies on my constantly evaluating and adjusting to provide the best possible learning outcomes for each individual learner. In this way, I think, it is possible to be aware of both the individual needs of each learner, as well as monitoring and addressing the needs of the group as a whole.
    I appreciate your “hot tips” and I’m certain they’ll be useful as I continue my mentorship role. Thanks again for your post,

  2. Hi Leigh,

    Thanks for your insightful post; I enjoyed learning about UL Lafayette’s Mentor Teacher Training Program as I have been a part of a locally-developed teacher training program both as a student and mentor. The tips you shared are practical, and I engaged in some of them myself as well when I was the student teacher. Specifically, your point on the importance of regular reflection meetings resonated with me as I always found them to be very valuable in shaping and improving my teaching methods.

    I found that these meetings pair particularly well with the mentor teacher conducting an observation of the student teacher teaching a lesson. In our training program, we always have a reflection meeting after such observations. Here, we first ask the student teacher to reflect on their lesson through answering the following questions:
    – What worked?
    – What surprised you?
    – What would you do differently next time?

    I think it is important for a student teacher to answer these questions first, as self-reflection is a critical part of learning. After the student teacher has responded to the questions, our mentor teacher adds their own comments and insights. When I went through this as a student teacher I thought that it provided some eye-opening thoughts. It happened on numerous occasions that the mentor teacher shared things that I did not see myself (e.g. a student eating in class after snack break was over) or suggested other approaches to a particular lesson or problem.

    As a current student in a program evaluation course with otherwise very little experience in the field of evaluation, I learned that collaboration is an important aspect of an effective evaluation (Shulha & Cousins, 1997). Specifically, working closely with colleagues—which happens with a student teacher and their mentor—seems to be important in ensuring that the outcomes of such evaluations are used to shape one’s teaching practices (Saunders, 2012). In my experience, collaboration goes both ways: my mentor indicated that he appreciated having a student teacher look critically at their lesson and teaching practices. He also shared that he learned a few things from me, his student teacher, in the areas of planning and organization, so it just goes to show how a teacher training program is beneficial for both the student and mentor teachers. Your tip of getting student teachers to ask questions about the how and why of a lesson is one I will certainly implement going forward, as I now mentor novice teachers.

    You mention that one of your requirements is for teachers to collect and analyze data about their lessons. What kind of data should I be thinking of? Is there any quantitative data, or is it mostly qualitative? I am curious because perhaps there are some metrics that I have been overlooking in my evaluation of student teachers.

    Thanks again,

    Saunders, M. (2012). The use and usability of evaluation outputs: A social practice approach. Evaluation, 18(4), 421–436.

    Shulha, L. M., & Cousins, J. B. (1997). Evaluation Use: Theory, Research, and Practice since 1986. Evaluation Practice, 18(3), 195–208.

  3. Hi Leigh,

    Thank you for such a great post! I am currently completing my master’s degree in education. We are presently discussing Professional Learning Communities (PLC). PLCs are professional development activities that are conducted in isolation from practice. The goal is to expand opportunities for teachers to reflect and collaborate without limitations or restrictions. One of your Hot Tips relates to the advantages of having a PLC “giving teachers a space to engage with other professionals about what they do authentically” PLC promotes collective effort to enhance student learning, encourages learning of all professionals in the school, builds knowledge and uses data for reflection and improvement.

    Have you thought of developing an in-house Professional Learning Community for the Mentor Teacher Training Program?

    Thank you again!

  4. Jacintha Gunasekera

    Hi Leigh,
    I enjoyed reading your post and wanted to comment on it. This year has been extra challenging for Mentor Teacher Training Programs. Being a new teacher and trying to find ways to connect with the Mentor teacher has been a difficult task during Covid-19. However, as you have stated reflective teaching practice is a good way for us to evaluate how we have implemented the lesson.
    Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is at its best when experienced and unexperienced teachers work together. As an educator who has been in many partnerships with teachers, I find that new teachers bring the technology and the new learning concepts while the experienced teachers bring their curriculum knowledge and understanding of the intricate working systems in a school. In my school board we have the NTIP New Teacher Introductory Program. We can partner with a teacher mentor of our choice. I find that good working relationships makes the work enjoyable.
    This year we found innovative ways to connect with new teachers by having a lunch and chat zoom lines, doing Flipgrid videos of our challengers and connecting with the mentoring groups. I also had opportunities to login to an online classroom to observe student-teacher interactions and assessment strategies. We had opportunities to connect online with our mentor one-on-one sessions to share assessment and evaluation methods and strategies. My one take away tip is to always be reflective of our learning and teaching. Asking self-reflective questions such as: “What went well? or How can I improve this activity for better student engagement?” has helped me to further my knowledge and understanding of my own evaluation practices.

  5. Hi Leigh,

    I am reading your article about a month after you have posted. I was intrigued by your article as I am currently in my second year of teaching and found that having mentors to turn to have made my first two years of teaching a lot smoother than what I had initially thought. Personally, I didn’t take part in the formal mentor program that is offered by my district because I had a lot on my plate with full time teaching, an additional part-time job, and courses for my Certificate program at the time. Although I didn’t take part in the formal mentor program, I found teachers at my school did take on that role for me. Additionally, I can resonate with the point you make about having inservice teachers discuss their practice and reasoning behind what they do. During my practicum experience in the Teacher Program at UBC, I found that the post-conference after delivering a lesson that would be evaluated was very helpful in helping reflect on what went well and what I could change for the next time. As a new teacher, I appreciate that your brought up it is important to HAVE the time for teachers to review how they taught a lesson. In my district, I know there is release time provided for the mentor and mentee for these conversations to take place. I believe that if a district truly wants to shape amazing teachers, they also have to do their part in providing resources and time. I think that new teachers and veteran teachers have a lot to offer to each other and regular conversations and reflections can inspire teachers to continue on their own journey of life-long learning and creating meaningful learning experiences for students.

    Thank you for the valuable hot tips!

  6. Hi Leigh,
    Thanks for sharing your insight into evaluative thinking and practices teachers use daily. I could not agree more with your statement that the pandemic has led to adaptations for educators and evaluators alike.
    Having mentored a teacher candidate for the first-time last year and feeling overwhelmed with how much and what kind of feedback to provide, I appreciated the succinctness of your post and how you suggest what should be the focus for beginner teachers. Inservice teachers need more of these opportunities to reflect and engage with their peers while they are working in a classroom, in my opinion.
    When I did my degree a few years ago in Canada, there was a high value placed on being able to perform all the regular classroom duties for a multi-week period, which can lead to teacher burnout and exhaustion before even beginning a career. While I do agree it is important to understand the grind, having the time to reflect and analyze teaching practices is a key part in learning and improving. When it comes to inservice teachers and their workload, I’m wondering what aspect you believe to be the most important?
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,

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