Thursday, January 22, 2015

Are You a Target of Misuse of Danielson Observations? Advice From Former Chapter Leader

From MORE blog
After attending the Peter Zucker hearings and seeing up close how observations were being used to go after him (even though it was technically the last pre-Danielson year) I am learning a lot.

I was in touch with a teacher recently who feels she is becoming a target of a vicious, incompetent administration. The chapter leader is in the principal's pocket - a partner in crime - and the district rep doesn't look like much help -- if they are in the Unity club together you may have to go above the district rep -- and last resort is using blogs. This situation is all too common -- a good reason for those wanting to figure out ways to challenge a corrupt chapter leader to attend the MORE workshop this Saturday - Fighting Back In Your School. 

I told her to be ready for an influx of formal and informal observations designed to undermine her and create a paper trail.

These are not easy battles to fight and with the Cuomo assault, Silver arrest (New York Assembly Speaker, Faces Arrest on Corruption Charges) and ineffective UFT/NYSUT it is Katy bar the door time for teachers, especially given the number of vicious and even psycho principals out there. (Note that the Farina attempt to curb principal power as reported in today's NY Times - (Chancellor Set to Centralize Management of New York City Schools) has nothing to do with the teacher end -- don't expect support for teachers from the Superintendents Farina has installed.)

I reached out to an experienced former chapter leader Ed Notes reader for advice on how to fight back and here is the former CL report with an example of how one teacher in her school fought back aggressively-- in this case the chapter leader who replaced her when she stepped down is a good person and willing to stand up for the staff. ( I did something similar back in 1971 when my principal gave me a U on an observation -- I wrote an 8 page response and posted it over the time clock - and that was my pre-tenure year -- yes I was crazy -- but it worked - never bothered me again).

Here is her report:
If a teacher's lessons are being targeted and Danielson is being used as a weapon----it becomes a part time job fighting admin. She needs to know Danielson better than her admin, be specific in how she addresses it and ask questions---a lot of smart questions based on her report----

The AP never answered any of her questions----and the teacher made that such a big issue.....she was able to turn the tables on the AP. If your friend the teacher has any allies they need to write her uft district rep on her behalf and get them into the school for a meeting. Her chapter leader needs to know members will go over his head.

Here's a sample from a teacher at my school....she responded to her AP.
....This email is in response to the feedback I received from you on December 17 at 7:30am that resulted from your informal observation on October 30.

Here is some background information you could not have known unless you asked me. This reading lesson was a continuation from the previous day, Tuesday October 29. The story that I chose was fictional and was chosen as a read aloud for the month of October. While reading this story and asking questions, the students could not identify that the story was fiction or list events from the story that may not happen in real life. 72% of the class could not answer these questions and give me evidence as to why this book was fiction. Therefore, the purpose of this lesson was to address my students’ needs yet you labeled it as an “activity that required minimal thinking.” Common Core requires students to explain the difference between fiction and nonfiction books. Standard RL 1.5 states, “Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information…” When students enter my 2nd grade classroom unable to do this, it is something I must spend time on. Therefore, your comment regarding “minimal thinking” confuses me. It raises the following questions:

· If discerning the difference between fiction and nonfiction requires only minimal thinking and yet is a first grade standard that 72% of my students have not met, are you saying that I should not teach it because it only requires minimal thinking?

· We have been repeatedly told that we should design our lessons based on the needs of 70% of our students. Has this policy changed?

· Do I ignore the fact that the majority of my students cannot adequately perform an activity that meets the previous grades’ standards since you labeled the lesson as “an activity that required minimal thinking?” Whether it requires minimal thinking or not is really irrelevant since it is something that my students clearly struggled with and is part of the Common Core that I must teach.

· I look at the standards as a scaffold. Each subsequent year is supposed to build upon the previous year’s standards. They are stepping stones. This is what I learned from various workshops and materials given to us regarding the CCLLS. So I design my lessons around them after assessing where my students fit in with K-2 standards. Is this not the correct approach to take? Am I to skip laying the foundation that should have been in place by the end of first grade?

Prior to your observation on October 30th, the students participated in an interactive written response to the questions regarding discerning a fiction book from a nonfiction book after we discussed these questions as a whole class on Tuesday, October 29th. In response to your comment, “The instructional pacing was slow,” the lesson that you saw was a recap of the day before in order for the students to be able to try these same questions in their own independent reading book. My pacing was slow due to the difficulty the students were experiencing with this concept which students were expected to master last year in first grade but did not. 

Am I not supposed to pace the lesson in way that affords my students the opportunity to grasp the standard? Or am I expected to increase the pace despite the fact that my students are struggling to understand what I am teaching them?

For these reasons, I can not agree with your score of “developing” for component 3b. I find it unacceptable that the majority of my 2nd graders could not tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction as well as describe the genres’ characteristics and that you rated me negatively for attempting to ensure that they meet the Learning Standards established by NYS.

The score of “developing” for component 3c is quite baffling. Does the score you give depend on the responses from only 2 children? You asked one of the students, “What do you do when you’re done?” She stated that she recopies her answers so they are neater. This is something I never tell my students to do and personally I think you know that. The students are told to reread their work and make sure they answered all the parts of the questions. If they think it is correct then they switch with their partner and “TAG” each other’s journal. Student CB didn’t do her assignment correctly and she actually had to go back and fix it once I conferenced with her. Student SS’s response was that she puts her head down. Did you ask her if she’s feeling ok? Did you ask the question in more than one way? Did she understand what you were asking? Student SS has an IEP and receives OT, Speech, SETTS, and is an unfocused student that needs constant redirection and repetition. Student SS is often tired in class so I allow her to put her head down at times. Her tiredness is a side effect of the medication she takes to control her seizures. Why am I being negatively affected for modifying my expectations based on a student’s medical condition? In fact, this should rate me as “highly effective” under Danielson 1b. Are you directing me to end this accommodation and try to keep SS alert and focused at all times despite the effects of her medication?

I also received a score of “developing” for component 3d. You state that, “students appear unaware of assessment criteria.” The word appear does not represent fact. Were all of my students unaware of the assessment criteria or just some? Are you only speaking of the one student you spoke with? Your comment is too vague, yet it is negatively affecting me. Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to provide a “self-assessment checklist,” which appears to be what you are speaking about, for every lesson I teach. Is that your expectation? Am I to create a self assessment for every lesson I teach? I sent the students back to their tables after having several students tell me and the class what they were supposed to do when they went back to their seats. The students also had a modeled reading response to follow. You asked one student (the same student from component 3c), “How do you know you’re right?” 

Her response was that she reads it out loud. I think her response is appropriate. When students read aloud the responses to themselves, they can hear if what they wrote sounds right and makes sense. This is often the case when they read their work to me. Again, it’s a negative reflection on me that one student doesn’t give you an answer to your liking. Seven year olds can not be expected to know if they are right all the time. Self assessment has its place but the idea that 2nd graders can always know when they are right without teacher input is not a developmentally appropriate expectation. Whether or not a child’s work is correct can only be recognized by speaking with them, looking over their work with them, which in reality takes more than 2 hours if I spend only 4 minutes with each child. Also, I have to look through or read their independent book in order to assess them accurately, which was taking place when I was meeting one on one with students. Your comment, “feedback to students was general,” again is vague. You give one response I gave, “good answering.” Did you notice that there were more students I gave feedback to? The fact is I gave actionable feedback to 15 of my students. 


  1. Very powerful letter from that teacher, and instructive.

    Thanks for this timely and useful posting.

  2. This sounds like the comments that I received on my observation. I wrote a similar rebuttal. They did not renew my contract based on one observation that was done in November, but then the post ob conference wasn't until March! I was told I was not renewed on May 15th. I then had a second observation and post conference after May 15th. Ridiculous comments were made like, "Teacher does not interact with students during the lesson". I was giving a quiz!! She knew I was giving a quiz because she can see my lesson plans posted online. And the majority of that class is special ed! I was told that I should have walked around encouraging them by saying, "Come on guys! You can do it! You got this!" Seriously? Not quietly either or to individuals. To the entire class at a regular volume. I would find that very distracting, even for the regular ed students. There were multiple other things that I found disingenuous and even blatant lies. I did get them to change 2 categories because they claimed it wasn't 8th grade material and I showed them the CCSS AND the page in the 8th grade textbook.

    I've accepted the fact that I will not be renewed. They still want me to do a 3rd observation - and it will be the final week of school. That will require me to wait to start packing up my classroom. I feel like I am being asked to jump through hoops and they aren't even rehiring me! They probably should have completed all 3 observations before telling me I wasn't going to be renewed and now they have to cover themselves. I've asked if I could opt out of it - because as I said, I could walk on water at this point and it wouldn't matter. I was told no. I find this now very cruel for me to be subjected to this. It would be different if I felt it was objective, not subjective. But that is not the case. Any suggestions?

  3. Wish I had fought back. Danielson herself agreed that it was never meant to be used as a "gotcha".


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