Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Evaluating What You Do

Evaluating the work and impact of teachers is one of the more controversial topics on the subject of education reform.

On the topic of tefilla, I am interested on how schools evaluate the progress made by students as individuals or in a group setting? I see the following five possibilities:
  1. Attendance - that there are tushes in the seats at the proper time.
  2. Spirit- that there is significant participation or a lack of disruptive behavior (are students saying "Amen").
  3. Feedback - either compliments or complaints that come to the administrator's desk or formal evaluations that are given to students at the end of semester. (not so clear that it is fair to check if the prayers were answered from above).
  4. Overflow - that students attend other prayer events (i.e. shul) or talk about tefilla in other classes.
  5. Performance of skills - that individuals demonstrate an ability and/or comfort with specific tefilla skills (leading or reading Torah) that satisfies a benchmark.
These possibilities explore how to evaluate the student - but how does the supervisor evaluate the educator on this aspect of their job. Do you know of specific guidelines for teachers in their professional reviews? What criteria has your school given you to measure your educational return on investments for tefilla?

Some educators have contacted me have to say that they are compensated more for running or attending tefillot in their school and explicitly mentioned that there compensation has no relation to the performance aspect of the students.

What professional standards are in the Jewish Marketplace?

1 comment:

  1. I hope it is ok if I use your comment box as a platform for my own little rant about davening in schools -- as a matter of full disclosure, I am working at my 3rd yeshiva and have observed the attendance and attitude of davening at each. In one, I was the attendance monitor, and currently I am paid to help keep the room quiet and focused.

    Davening in the yeshiva setting is doomed. There, I said it. We are taking an experience which is a bein adam lamakom moment and requiring that students perform it to the satisfaction of another adam. Requiring that students daven turns the time in minyan into a class period, as we check attendance, enforce silence, require standing and sitting at certain points, and threaten students if they misbehave, cut or don't daven with school based punishments.

    Do we have a choice? Mitcoh she lo lishma and all that, right? Can we simply not have davening in school even though we know that most students will not daven otherwise? Should we make davening a voluntary activity so those who wish to daven can have a proper experience without interruption, and the others can use their energies elsewhere? Is there even a possible solution?

    Think of yourself as an adult. is davening always easy? is it always fun? Do you always feel connected to the divine, or are there mornings where it just isn't clicking, or afternoons where you have the urge to check your phone, or evenings when you want to share a joke or comment with a friend instead of saying the same words (in a foreign language) that you said yesterday? And that's when davening is voluntary and you chose to go! Force a student and the resentment of being forced to do ANYTHING adds an additional level of resistance.

    And where is the gratification? When we study for a test, we end up with the grade, and sometimes, even some information or skill that we can use in the real world. Does davening give us anything that changes our day to day approach to the world?

    So we rely on grades, threats and other inducements, and hope that, like honey on an aleph-beit card at an upshirin, we can add some physically pleasing conclusion to entice students into a spiritual frenzy. And it rarely, if ever, works. So, what to do?

    I suggest the following approach -- it requires an investment of time, attention and energy. It isn't easy and I don't guarantee any results.

    Recognize 2 things -- first, students see the difficulty of davening and suddenly having kavanah as acutely, or even moreso, than adults and second, that the larger the group, the harder it is for a student to feel accountable.

    Then understand the role of the adult: role model, disciplinarian, instructor, sympathetic ear etc. The teacher or rebbe who sees himself or herself as in the minyan to daven exclusively, will not draw anyone else in. The teacher who is there only to discipline, will not let the students see any of the beauty of davening.

    Establish more, smaller minyanim, with a teacher who knows every student and to whom the students feel personally (not just in terms of school, but in terms of a real bond) accountable. Have this person daven daily with the students and empathize with them. Maybe on one day it is OK if a particular student puts his head down, or doesn't daven effectively. Maybe, seeing the adult as a partner in davening will make the others feel more inclined to give themselves to the experience.

    Now don't worry. I know the down sides. The demands on the adult, the need for rooms and sifrei torah (and those who can daven and lein...) and so on. And again, this isn't a guarantee of success. But our current model of having everyone in a room and, under penalty of something, require that they all sing Ashrei together isn't doing anything to inspire them.