3 Suggestions to Make Evaluation More Meaningful

PJ CaposeyBlog, Connect Better, Grade Better, Lead Better


  • Reduce the teacher evaluation pressure by investing in more conversations and more time in classrooms.
  • See tips for how to make a pre-conference more meaningful.
  • Praise heaping, rating justification, and point proving are three conference styles.
  • The best solution is to give 2-3 key goals for improvement.

If anything, last year seemed to be EVERYTHING. I like to say if it does not challenge us, it will not change us. I know that the past 12 months have been challenging. The question is whether or not we will allow it to change us for the better.

At a minimum, I hope that every educator has two lasting thought patterns that emerge from the past year-plus. First, what did the pandemic reveal to us about each other and the systems we operate within? Second, what systems and processes did we find we could essentially live without? And what are we going to do to either leave them behind or reimagine them to better serve our students and staff?

One such area that is near and dear to my heart (I know, I am weird) is teacher evaluation. Many districts throughout our country changed, ignored, or significantly amended the evaluation process and system during the pandemic. As we return, I implore us not to fall back into the old routine of this is the way we have always done it and to critically think through what we can do to come back better than we were before.

I have three core suggestions that will allow all of us (administrators and teachers) to make evaluation more meaningful.

Make Evaluation More Meaningful Tip #1: Understand the Pressure Proposition

How often is the wrong person hired because thin-slicing anything leaves huge margins for error? Let me say this another way. If we were able to watch every candidate we considered hiring teach multiple times and watch how they interact with their peers, my belief is that we would have a much higher success rate in hiring.

This seems self-evident when we discuss hiring. This easy concept is somehow lost on many of us when it comes to retention, growth, and evaluation of the staff that we have already hired.

Principals often lament that the evaluation process lacks meaning. When pressed, they often talk about how teachers just want to survive the event or that it produces such stress that it is nearly impossible to have a true learning experience. Principals are 100% correct in these assertions.

Great principals make the evaluation process meaningful by being committed, not just interested, to ensuring their teachers have the support necessary to grow. Click To Tweet

The issue is that there is one way to reduce the pressure—changed principal behavior. It is a simple combination—more visits with increased feedback leads to improved trust and more valid and reliable feedback. The only behavioral change comes from the choice to invest the time.

If you do not have the time to invest, the results will stay the same. Remember, schedules reflect priorities. You can do this. Get into more classrooms and having more conversations can make a bigger difference!

Make Evaluation More Meaningful Tip #2: Stop the Pre-Conference Madness

Pre-conferences are the worst. They don’t have to be.

The vast majority of pre-conferences I observe are incredibly boring. They do nothing to help the administrator truly, deeply learn about the teacher. The time set aside for this does little to influence the hearts and minds of our teachers.

We must reimagine pre-conference conversations and begin with the end in mind. With so much focus on compliance and the forthcoming lesson, we miss the opportunity to talk philosophy, preparation, and practice. We miss the opportunity to truly learn about the teacher. How can we help someone grow when we do not understand what they believe or the reasons for their behavior?

Here are five steps to come back better by reimagining the pre-conference process:

  • Never (NEVER!!) ask the same question in a pre-conference you already asked a teacher to respond to in writing.
  • Make sure at least half of your questions are about typical practice and process and not simply the lesson observed.
  • Replace ‘what’ questions with ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions.
  • Talk less than 50 percent of the time.
  • If you are unsure of what to ask, consult your typical teacher interview questions for ideas on how to ask questions to learn more about philosophy and typical practice.
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Make Evaluation More Meaningful Tip #3: You Cannot “Win” an Evaluation

I have been a part of literally thousands of post-conference conversations. The overwhelming majority fall into one of three major categories:

  • Praise heaping
  • Rating justification
  • Point proving

Each of these conference styles has their faults. Praise heaping is easy, and in most cases, lazy. The teachers you heap praise on (often thinking you are making them happy) are the most eager to learn from constructive feedback. We waste this opportunity for them to grow by using flowery language and high marks. This practice is made even worse if word gets out in the teachers’ lounge that every conversation goes like this. This is when your real superhero teachers will know the praise is empty, further invalidating the process.

The second and third style both, at their simplest form, are about winning. Both conversations devolve into someone, typically the evaluator, trying to force their opinion or thought process unto someone else. We like to think these conversations are collaborative, but attempting to convince Mr. Smith that he is not proficient in Questioning and Discussion for 25 minutes does not meet the threshold of working together to create new thought.

When we get into the ‘win first’ mindset, we lose the entire point of the post-conference.

The post-conference is designed to provide feedback so that a teacher continues to grow and develop. Spending time and energy debating semantics about one of 22 sub-ratings does not serve this purpose.

The quick and easy fix is to ensure that after an introductory and reflective conversation, your MAIN priority as the evaluator is to agree to two to three key goals for improved performance for every teacher. In addition to determining the goals, the teacher should be made confident that your role is not just to help in creating the goals, but also to help in providing support so that they can achieve them.


Great principals know that they too have a responsibility in the growth and development of every teacher. This is the same thing we demand from our teachers with their students. Great principals make the evaluation process meaningful. They can be committed, not just interested, to ensuring their teachers have the support necessary to grow. Think through this process. Come back better!!

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About PJ Caposey

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, keynote speaker, consultant, and best-selling author of eight books who currently serves as the Superintendent of Schools for the nationally recognized Meridian CUSD 223 School District in Northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social media platforms as MCUSDSupe.