Friday, February 20, 2015

Teacher Evaluation and Servant Leadership

I wrote this reflection for my Master's course this morning.  We were asked to reflect on connections between the four domains of the Danielson model (Planning and Preparation; The Classroom Environment; Instruction; Professional Responsibilities) and servant leadership.  Although I teach students about servant leadership every year on Wilderness camp, I'd never stopped to think about what this might mean for my teaching.  It was a worthwhile exercise, and I thought I'd share what I wrote:

Servant leadership has permeated so many different aspects of society, extending even into secular business models.  Cautious optimism tells me to hold out hope that western education, too, will one day adopt this framework for leadership.  Christian educators need not wonder at what this might look like—our schools and the policies that drive them are the perfect testing ground.  What if teacher evaluation consciously prized and promoted servant leadership?  In truth, the four domains specified in the Danielson model connect perfectly with a model of Biblical servant leadership as teachers are called to establish and communicate a clear vision with integrity while simultaneously exercising selfless service within their communities.

A clear and carefully articulated vision is crucial in servant leadership.  In order to effectively support and serve his followers, a leader must know first where he is going and then share that sense of purpose with those he is leading.  Christ lived this out from the start of His ministry as he described in memorable detail characteristics of the Kingdom of God and those who will inherit it, a vision that His disciples may not have fully understood, but embraced all the same.  Similarly, effective teaching requires planning and preparation.  The teacher must have clear objectives in mind, and must be able to share this road-map with the students so that they, too, understand where they are going, why they are going there, and how they will get there.  The amount and quality of planning that a teacher accomplishes before stepping into the classroom is both an aspect of servant leadership and quality teaching.  

Moreover, servant leaders must have integrity.  A servant leader is true to himself, is proactive in cultivating trust with his followers and is quick to acknowledge his own shortcomings and mistakes, seeking repentance.  Christ is the paragon of integrity and in Him we can observe some truly spectacular pedagogical and management strategies. Christ told stories and occasionally provided direct instruction to His disciples; Christ demonstrated acts of healing and mercy in front of His disciples; and Christ sent His disciples out to perform such acts on their own.  His pedagogy developed a climate of trust with His disciples and when He needed to chastise and admonish them, it was effective by virtue of the learning environment He had crafted.  Likewise, in the establishment of a learning environment and in classroom instruction, a teacher must cultivate trust by establishing clear boundaries to be enforced consistently, and must engage in teaching practices that are true to the teacher, that develop trust with the students and that ultimately prepare the students to be sent out on their own.  The piece of integrity which I’ve not yet touched on—repentance—requires a different approach.  We must look to one who was merely human to observe repentance in action.  King David was a man after God’s own heart, yet his heart was swayed by his lust for Bathsheba.  David’s response to Nathan’s confrontation is instructive for us: when we err—and we surely will—we must own up to our mistakes in humility and ask for the forgiveness of our followers who may have been hurt by our wrongdoing.  Despite traditional teacher-centered models of education, the teacher does not have all the answers.  Quite the contrary.  Our students will mess up and so will we.  Our humility in those situations will not undo what we did, but it will rebuild broken trusts and it will provide students with a living model of what it looks like to repent and move forward.

Finally, a servant leader must be selfless and committed to serve within the broader community.  Christ lectured His disciples on this point, telling them that if one would be great in God’s Kingdom, he must become the servant of all.  Christ demonstrated this, washing His disciples’ feet, and Christ then commissioned the disciples to do the same for one another (His pedagogy in action yet again!).  Today, feet-washing does not carry the same weight that it would have in Israel at that time.  Still, we as teachers function in communities with plenty of tasks to be taken on, families to be communicated with, professional growth to be engaged in.  We must approach these tasks not with an air of superiority, but with one marked by a desire to bless and a desire to learn.  We must be the ones to reach out to our students’ parents and ought not to wait for them to contact us.  We must seek to support our colleagues and engage in productive collaboration, even when that feels inconvenient or demands that we change how we teach.  We must continually seek to grow as educators ourselves with the recognition (and celebration of the fact!) that we are lifelong learners.

Teacher evaluation, in effect, is not merely about being held to professional standards.  It is about accountability to a much deeper calling, and one that is inextricably bound to the profession of teaching.  Teachers are leaders—this is inevitable and indisputable—what makes all the difference in the world is the breed of leadership we aspire to.  Evaluation, both formal and informal, both summative and formative, must remind us, challenge us and call us to serve.  To serve our students, to serve their parents, to serve our colleagues.  It is through these acts of service that the Christian teacher ultimately serves God.

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