Jennifer Wright is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

In my first months of teaching, I got a lot of advice on how to ace my evaluation. Senior teachers would pop into my classroom, look around and ask, “You been observed, yet?” As soon as I’d say “no” they’d run through a string of tactics that would “guarantee” me a satisfactory rating: 

Keep the blinds straight; administrators use them as a quick check for organization.Train students in the “P-Alerts” (principal alerts) method: when the principal’s in the room they’ll receive extra points if they perform as needed. Have warm-up exercise. Don’t have a warm-up exercise. By all means have students complete an exit ticket. Chart the lesson. Insist ALL students raise their hand. Discourage hand-raising—high schoolers should engage each other in conversations. No matter what you do: record everything.

These contradictory bits of advice confused me, but when I asked, none of my colleagues could tell me exactly what was being evaluated in the formal observation or how the process worked.

The RISE model

Pittsburgh’s new teacher evaluation model, the Research-Based Inclusive System of Evaluation (RISE), changed all that. For the first time in my teaching career, I know what measures are being used to evaluate my practice. Observations are no longer enigmatic because everyone uses the same, district-standardized process. After extensive training on the RISE rubric, teachers are given the power to self-assess and pinpoint areas they want to target for improvement before their administrator even steps foot into their classroom. Mandatory informal observations give administrators a taste of teachers’ classroom practice before any formal evaluation process can begin. Above all, this growth model of teacher evaluation facilitates collaboration. 

Based on the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, RISE evaluates teachers in four domains of teaching responsibility: Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction and Professional Responsibilities. The below table showcases the components located within each domain:

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation

1a Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy
1b Demonstrating Knowledge of Students
1c Setting Instructional Outcomes
1d Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources
1e Designing Coherent Instruction
1f Designing Student Assessments

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

2a Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
2b Establishing a Culture for Learning
2c Managing Classroom Procedures
2d Managing Student Behavior
2e Organizing Physical Space


Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

4a Reflecting on Teaching
4b Maintaining Accurate Records
4c Communicating with Families
4d Participating in a Professional Community
4e Growing and Developing Professionally
4f Showing Professionalism

Domain 3: Instruction

3a Communicating With Students
3b Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques
3c Engaging Students in Learning
3d Using Assessment in Instruction
3e Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness


Table courtesy of the Danielson Group:

Self-assessment and improvement

I’ll be honest. At first I wasn’t too keen on this new evaluation system. I’d always been evaluated satisfactory and didn’t trust that this new system would truly benefit my practice. But when I started the first self-assessment, I realized RISE’s value. Under each component within each domain, I stopped to reflect on my teaching habits and strategies. What tactics did I employ to provide sound instruction?  How did I create a positive learning environment? How could I improve communication with my students’ families and encourage more parent participation? When I couldn’t think of an answer for one of these questions, I’d add it to my list of areas to target for improvement. I knew I couldn’t successfully tackle every component at once, so I chose to tackle one at a time.

I started with parent communication. While I did call and email my students’ parents, I realized I wasn’t doing so to invite their involvement in my classroom. Instead, I usually contacted them to report out what children already accomplished—good or bad. I decided to seek help from a teacher on my team who relentlessly contacted parents and encouraged them to contact her, resulting in truly two-way relationships with her students’ families. She showed me her contact lists and email blasts, and explained how she went about strengthening relationships with families. In the end, it wasn’t difficult to adopt and employ these strategies. I only needed an expert to show me the way. 

The formal observation

With the mystery surrounding the observation process stripped away, my administrator and I could now structure our pre-conference conversation around the RISE rubric using my lesson plan, artifacts of my work in “off-stage” domains (1 and 4) and my targeted areas for improvement to guide our discussion. I felt empowered to lead the conversation, provide evidence of my practice and prepare my administrator for what she would observe the following day. Opening these lines of communication and grounding our conversation in RISE alleviated the anxiety that previously accompanied the formal observation process. Given all artifacts and evidence of my practice I’d been collecting, less was at stake. My entire practice was not dependent on a 30-43 minute observation. It was a relief knowing I had a say in how I was ranked in each component, under each domain. 

Moving forward

I’m fortunate that Pittsburgh Public Schools progressive reform model includes the new teacher evaluation model RISE. The model promotes teacher growth while valuing teacher’s voice and hard work in the process. Perhaps more importantly, it also holds administrators accountable to a standardized evaluation process. Every teacher in the system is evaluated using the same process, thus removing real or imagined notions of favoritism that in my experience had previously impeded teacher-to-teacher collaboration. And in the end, it’s great to know we are all on the same team pushing ourselves to be the best we can be for each other and for our kids. 

I urge you to take action and encourage our legislature to insist on similar evaluation models statewide. We owe it to our teachers. We should demand it for our kids.


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