How to conduct teacher evaluations during online learning

As administrators prepare for the 2020-21 school year, many are concerned about how they will evaluate teachers who are teaching online. Obviously, the process will be somewhat different than the way evaluations are conducted in “normal” school settings.

Over the past several years, both before and during the current Covid situation, I was engaged to evaluate the work of several on-line teachers. Before Covid, these were teachers who worked with home-schoolers and other students who were receiving distance-education rather than attending in-school classes.  During Covid, the evaluation was of teachers who had to switch to teaching in the online environment. Based on that experience, this is the process I recommend administrators use in evaluating their own teachers.

  1. A brief meeting with the teacher by phone, video, or, ideally if possible, in-person to discuss the process, and address any questions or concerns the teacher might have.
  2. Send the teacher a follow-up letter formalizing the process.
  3. Ask teachers to submit the following documents: 
    • Samples of their long and short-term planning
    • Special needs accommodation:  the number and nature of special needs that have to be accommodated in each class taught, and the nature of the accommodations made
    • Samples of activities they provided their students to engage in at home
    • Samples of communications they sent parents to assist them in supporting their children
    • A sample of at least three student report cards, representing students whose work was strong, average and relatively weak; and back-up documentation, e.g. marks, anecdotal records, assessment instruments which would reveal how student assessments are made. 
    • Where possible, links to observe at least three online lessons.  In some cases – this is ideal – I am made a member of the “class” and am able to observe in real time.  Second best, I am able to observe already completed lessons.  I prefer real-time observations because they provide more realistic data.  They will more closely approximate the situation of “regular” observations, where the teacher is not able to select only their “best” lessons. 
    • If the role of a teacher is other than a classroom teacher, e.g. a counsellor, administrator, or special education teacher working with individual students, observation of teaching may not be possible or appropriate.  In those cases, observation of teaching is often replaced by a form of “360 evaluation”, where input is received from others with whom the evaluatee works.
    • A meeting with the teacher to review the documents submitted and debrief any lessons observed.  This would typically be an approximately two-hour discussion.  I emphasize the word “discussion.” It is not an insulting monologue of my “commendations” and “recommendations”, but a professional conversation allowing us both a better understanding of what has been observed, and consideration of what, if anything, might be worth trying to do differently. (See my blog post Conversation is Essential to Evaluation)
  4. Preparation of a draft evaluation report.  The format of the report will vary, depending on the role of the teacher.
  5. Submission of the draft report to the teacher, inviting them to discuss any concerns. These would be matters they consider to be errors, important omissions, unpalatable wording, and so on.
    • Where there are concerns about the teacher’s work, such discussions are often the most fruitful part of the process.  They clarify the concerns, and, together, we further explore how they might be addressed.  Sometimes, the teacher points out something I have misunderstood, and then of course I correct the report.  Where the problem is one of wording that the teacher finds unnecessarily jarring, usually it is resolved by our agreeing on a synonym that allows me to say what I need in a way more palatable to the teacher.  Paradoxically, the language the teacher prefers, I sometimes would consider more offensive!
    • Where the teacher and I are unable to resolve any differences, and the teacher feels strongly enough about it to warrant further action, the teacher is invited to write a response that is attached to the report and becomes part of the official documentation.   In the many years in which I have done such work, I can recall only a couple of cases where that occurred.
  6. Submission of the final report to the teacher for signature.

So how does my process for evaluating online teaching differ from what administrators usually do?  There are three areas of difference:

  1. Most importantly, that observations are of video rather than in-person teaching
  2. A greater emphasis is placed on the documentation review, especially when observation of online lessons is not possible
  3. While good online teaching is in many respects similar to effective classroom teaching, there are differences, and the evaluation has to focus on how good the teaching is in the online environment.

Space does not permit an exploration here of the differences between online and classroom teaching.  That is addressed in my blog post 6 Post COVID Lessons for Educational Leaders as well as in my session at the recent Blackbaud K12 User Conference – How to Engage Students with Great Online Teaching

Online teaching and learning do not diminish the need to conduct effective and productive teacher evaluations. In fact, teachers may need even more support and direction in the distance learning model. Wise administrators will step up their teacher evaluation game to enhance the quality of the educational experience.

Much of my work is with administrations helping them develop effective evaluation processes for their schools, and also serving as an external evaluator of teachers and administrators.  Schools looking for assistance in evaluating their professional staff in this new environment are invited to contact me at or (403) 561-3550.

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