Navigating Hazardous Terrain

International Education 21st Century

 

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Navigating Hazardous Terrain by Rashida Outlaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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The Evaluator’s Habits of Mind

Credibility. Any person that wants to do anything with their lives cannot achieve without establishing credibility. This includes those of us who have chosen to have a life of meaning. I, like so many of you out there, have chosen to use my gifts and talents in the service of humanity. That choice has led me into my current professional role as an educator, and inspired me to become an agent of positive social change.

As an advanced graduate student at Walden University, I am engaged in a course of study that will enable me to become a professional evaluator. There are many challenges that evaluators face, but there is one that can make or break an evaluator’s career, credibility. To understand the role credibility plays in the course of an evaluator’s work, I will paint for you a scenario where an evaluator’s credibility was called into question and describe what she could have done to achieve greater credibility.

Tad Little is a new principal at Big Town High School. Little is entering Big Town after the school witnessed an increase in student behavior problems and a decrease in staff morale. Vowing to the turn the school around, Little begins his tenure on a positive and encouraging note. As the school year progresses, student, parents, and teachers notice that high school environment is definitely more quiet and organized; however, the teachers begin to feel that they are under a microscope and being judged, sometimes accosted, for every decision they make concerning their classes. Meanwhile, Little is on a mission to institute procedures within the school that will help the school achieve adequate yearly progress, a status required by the school district and the state department of education. Little believes that tracking teacher performance through evaluations will be one way to demonstrate that the school is making progress.

So, Little creates a teacher evaluation form and meets with teachers to inform them of their upcoming evaluation. When teachers ask for a blank copy of the evaluation form, Little refuses, saying that he does not want the teachers to be too prepared. Little also does not specify the exact dates of the teachers’ evaluation. Rather, he tells the teachers he will meet with them the day before the evaluation. Many of teachers wonder why they were not given a copy of the evaluation form, as was the practice under previous administration. This line of questioning leads the teachers to ponder why Little is being secretive with the evaluation and how trustworthy will the results of the assessment be.

Although Little’s intentions may have been good, his method of implementing change in the school is clearly flawed. By not fully disclosing the process and procedures of the evaluation to the teachers, Little runs the risk of the teacher evaluation findings being rejected by the teachers themselves. Since the nature of the evaluation was effectively withheld from the teachers, a renewed atmosphere of distrust may develop, which will make it very difficult for Little to lead any future initiative in the school.

Unfortunately, the situation of Tad Little and Big Town High School is all too familiar for many of us in the education field. Is there anything Little could have done to promote effective evaluation in his school? Of course! Little should have adopted what I am terming the Evaluator’s Habits of Mind:

  1. Spend quality time with the teaching staff and helping them understand the purpose of the evaluation and how the evaluator’s (principal’s) knowledge and background can be utilized during the evaluation process (Yarbrough, Shulha, Hopson, & Caruthers, 2011).
  2. Develop professional relationships with all members of staff while maintaining a degree of independent judgment (Yarbrough et al., 2011).
  3. Draw on professional experience and wisdom when constructing evaluation instruments and methodologies (Yarbrough et al., 2011).
  4. Be honest with the stakeholders and community members about what you are doing, your intentions (Laureate Education, 2012).
  5. Be willing to speak the truth, even if the stakeholders do not like the evaluation findings, or even if your job is on the line (Laureate Education, 2012).

There is a lot of responsibility that goes into evaluation. Whoever takes up the role of evaluator must invest a significant amount of time in gaining trust and respect from the people that he or she is working with, which can include colleagues in the evaluation field and those who will benefit from evaluation findings.


References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer).(2012a). Voices from the field:Evaluator credibility. Baltimore, MD: Author

Yarbrough, D., Shulha, L., Hopson, R., & Caruthers, F. (Eds.). (2011). The program evaluation standards: A guide for evaluators and evaluation users (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication, Inc.

 

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The Evaluator’s Habits of Mind by Rashida Outlaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What the Future May Hold

What do I want to do when I grow up? This was a question that we used to ask ourselves when we were younger, as if the time to be a grown up was so far away. Well, I do believe that for all intents and purposes, I must be grown up considering that I finished college, completed a Master’s degree, work full-time, and got married. But, what is it that I want to do? I enjoy being a teacher and an educator, but will I do this for the rest of my life? As stated in the previous post, studying at Walden University has afforded me the opportunity to envision myself beyond my present position. So far, one of my professors has suggested that I consider going into higher education. My husband also suggested that I consider teaching at the college level as a means of advancing my professional competence. For this blog post, I will imagine that I am an institutional researcher at a higher education institution who is studying the growth of for-profit colleges and universities. I will approach this topic through the lens of accuracy standard A1 Justified Conclusions and Decisions, which calls for evaluators to devise an assessment process that result in conclusions that can justify changes and modifications to programs (Yarbrough, Shulha, Hopson, & Caruthers, 2011).

For-profit higher education institutions have been increasing in prominence throughout that last 20 years. Despite the negative criticism these institutions receive, for-profits are widely regarding for putting a college education in the hands of those outside of the mainstream. Tierney (2011) believes that for-profit colleges and universities have an important role to play in the burgeoning knowledge economy of the United States. Tierney (2011) notes that the traditional colleges and universities are not able to meet the increasing demand for a college education that will be necessary for the US to maintain its global, economic position. For-profit institution’s ability to reach a large segment of society (working adults, first generation college students) is invaluable to helping the US become a more educated and skilled society (Tierney, 2011). To verify the accuracy of Tierney’s claims, an institutional researcher would have to first gather enough reliable information related to the US’s global, economic position and how it relates to the need for greater access to higher education. Then, the research would have to interpret the findings and determine what position for-profit educational organizations can occupy in the new knowledge economy. There are perhaps many steps the institutional researcher could take to find out more about this topic, but two methods mentioned above can be a starting point for maintaining accuracy in research finding by arriving at justifiable conclusions and decisions.

References

Tierney, W. G., (2011). Too Big To Fail: The Role of For-Profit Colleges and Universities in American Higher Education. Change, 43(6), 27–32. http://doi.org/10.1080/00091383.2011.618079

Yarbrough, D., Shulha, L., Hopson, R., & Caruthers, F. (Eds.). (2011). The program evaluation standards: A guide for evaluators and evaluation users (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication, Inc.

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What the Future May Hold by Rashida Outlaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Standardizing a Profession

Organizational research, assessment, and evaluation is proving to be a very interesting field. Although I am only three weeks into my first specialization course, my eyes have been opened to the possibilities that this field of study may provide upon completion my PhD. One possibility that I may be able to implement immediately into my professional practice is the use program evaluation standards that encompass processes and procedures of conducting evaluation. The standards cover areas such as utility, feasibility, propriety, accuracy, and evaluation accountability. I have spent the last week engaging with these standards and trying to see the ways in which they can play a role in professional life. For the purpose of this blog post, I will describe briefly the meaning of three standards, provide a short literature review of scholarship that relates to the standards, and discuss how I might use these standards in my professional practice.

Upon review of the program evaluation standards, there were three that came to my attention: U2 Attention to Stakeholders, U4 Explicit Values, and F2 Practical Procedures (Yarbrough, Shulha, Hopson, & Carutheres, 2011). Attention to Stakeholders’ meaning is implied by its title: when preparing and conducting evaluations, fair attention must be given to the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. This ensures that the evaluation will include multiple perspectives. Because stakeholders come from diverse backgrounds, naturally, they bring many points of view to the table. Likewise, the evaluator must be aware of his own self-knowledge throughout the process. Program standard U4 Explicit Values addresses this dynamic and encourages evaluators to be aware of individual and group values that shape evaluations. The feasibility of an evaluation is contingent upon Practical Procedures being in place from start to finish. Practical Procedures, which generally take the form of very specific actions, help to make clear the purpose of the program that is being evaluated.

Stakeholders, values, and procedures, taken separately, figure well in the life of an educator. Educators, especially teachers, make up a large percentage of stakeholders in educational institutions. The values that individual educators posses shape their view of the world and informs their approach to teaching and learning. Meanwhile, educators need practical procedures as they engage with their day-to-day task of educating students. How have scholars engaged with these program standards? What connections exist between program evaluation standards and modern educational research? After conducting a brief exploration on educational topics of interest to me, I found five scholarly sources that appear to make a relationship between organizational research, assessment, and evaluation and current issues in PK-12 and higher education.

The research that I found share some similarities in that educational institutions, like organizations in the business world, are entities that are in constant periods of change. The questions that these sectors wonder surround who will lead the change, how will the change take place, and what do we do once change has occurred. Marshall (2012) suggests that higher education middle leaders, personnel with job titles from head of department to associate dean, are at the forefront of institutional change. In fact, these middle leaders, in practicing change leadership, are in positions to bring about organizational change because of their role of hovering between two worlds, senior management and the colleagues who report to them. This unique set of relationships allow middle change leaders to connect with colleagues who share similar values (Marshall, 2012).

Weymes (2005) makes a parallel claim when he suggests that the key to organizational success rests with developing the creative potential of the people of the organization. Making connections between Chinese Confucianism and western philosophy, Weymes (2005) asserts the organizations that seek transformational change needs to understand both internal and external stakeholders. Establishing sustainable relationships, built on trust, with the people of the organization provides a way for these stakeholders to develop an enduring connection with the purpose of the organization. Palermo (2013) suggests that organizational change helps institutions to guarantee proper procedures and processes. Palermo offers a means by which organizations can achieve change, through the five stages of the transtheoretical change model, which include precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance (Palermo, 2013).

Slater (2008) recommends that school leaders build leadership capacity among their staff by initiating collaborative communication in their respective schools. By working collaboratively, stakeholders can rise into the ranks of leadership and have a greater chance of effecting change in their organization (Slater, 2008). Verberg, Tigelaar, and Verloop (2013) present negotiated assessment as a means for educators to develop self-knowledge. This type of procedure gain help develop a teacher’s professional practice.

I think the lesson here is there are many factors to consider when one decides to become an evaluator. Having explicit values, maintaining the intention to give due attention to stakeholders, and developing practical procedures for instituting change should make up a solid foundation for leading change in organizations.

 

References

Marshall, S.G. (2012). Educational middle change leadership in New Zealand: the meat in the sandwich. International Journal of Educational Management, 26(6), 502–528. http://doi.org/10.1108/09513541211251361

Palermo, J. (2013). Linking student evaluations to institutional goals: a change story. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(2), 211–223. http://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2011.618880

Slater, L. (2008). Pathways to Building Leadership Capacity. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 36(1), 55–69. http://doi.org/10.1177/1741143207084060

Verberg, C. P. M., Tigelaar, D. E. H., & Verloop, N. (2013). Teacher learning through participation in a negotiated assessment procedure. Teachers and Teaching, 19(2), 172–187. http://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2013.741842

Weymes, E. (2005). Organizations which make a difference: a philosophical argument for the “people focused organization.” Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, 5(2), 142–158. http://doi.org/10.1108/14720700510562721

Yarbrough, D., Shulha, L., Hopson, R., & Carutheres, F. (Eds.). (2011). The program evaluation standards: A guide for evaluators and evaluation users (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication, Inc.

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Standardizing a Profession by Rashida Outlaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The Evaluator’s Inheritance

           As part of my ongoing personal and professional development, I am going to include a new focus of my blog that will address a variety of issues that emerge in the course of my PhD in Education program at Walden University. My specialization, Organizational Research, Assessment, and Evaluation (ORAE), prepares scholar-practitioners to become professional evaluators who are cognizant of their social and ethical responsibilities when conducting evaluations.
         But, what are these social and ethical responsibilities that evaluators inherit? Yarbrough, Shulha, Hopson, and Caruthers (2011) note that evaluators must be aware peoples’ fundamental human rights and include the interests of not only the powerful, but of the powerless members of society.  The American Evaluation Association (2004) outlined five guiding principles that can inform the professional practice of evaluators: systemic inquiry, competence, integrity and honesty, respect for people, and responsibilities for general and public welfare. It seems that the human being and his welfare are at the center of evaluations. The whole purpose behind conducting evaluations is to improve society by improving the human condition. If that is the case, then all efforts must be employed to ensure fair and ethical evaluation.
         One of my many research interests is for-profit education. I took up this topic because I am immersed in the for-profit education world. I work in a for-profit K-12 school and I am pursuing a PhD at a proprietary university. Can students receive a good education in institutions where the profit motive informs internal and external operations? Or, are for-profits able to present a new, effective model for education that other types of institutions can follow? I hope to explore these issues throughout my program. For now, I am wondering what social and ethical responsibilities one will face in trying to find out answers to the aforementioned questions. When studying for-profit educational enterprises, one will quickly notice that many of the schools, colleges, and universities are run like businesses designed to increase the profits of the stakeholders. This structure puts the owners in a very powerful position and the employees in a subordinate position. An evaluator in this situation would need the cooperation and participation of all stakeholders. She would also have to ensure that all voices are heard and that stakeholders can freely participate in the evaluation.
         I believe that having pre-defined social and ethical responsibilities will help guide the evaluator and the evaluation. I would add that during the course of the evaluation, new circumstances may arise which could bring to light new responsibilities that were not previously known. Therefore, the evaluator must exercise constant flexibility.

References
American Evaluation Association. (2004). Guiding principles for evaluators. Retrieved from http://www.eval.org/p/cm/ld/fid=51.
Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011).The program evaluation standards: A guide for evaluators and evaluation users(3rd ed.).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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The Evaluator’s Inheritance by Rashida Outlaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

My Professional Identity

I spent the better part of today searching online for PhD fellowships. I had in mind that it would be nice to be a part of community of scholars in training while having an organization fund part, if not all, of my education. The more I looked, the more it became clear that I don’t fit in anywhere. Perhaps, I am wrong about this. I hope I am. My brief, two-hour survey showed me that many PhD granting entities want graduate students that fit certain criteria, i.e., studying traditional, research-oriented fields (history, economics, biology, literature, etc.) at brick and mortar institutions. So, where does that leave me? I work full time, study online, and have taken up a field of education that may be considered “practice-oriented.” Other than PhD residencies, will I not have a chance to be surrounded by other scholars-in-training? Do I even need a PhD fellowship to achieve this goal? Is it possible to build a PhD network without being associated with a well-known, prestigious foundation? Will it be enough to join professional associations and attend their conferences?

Meanwhile, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation offers the MacArthur Fellows program, which does not seem to care about your university affiliation nor your branch of study. They want to help you become something great so that you can impact the society. Sounds great, but there is no application. MacArthur Fellows are nominated by a Selection Committee, who then recommends the prospective fellows to the Foundation. You have to somehow get yourself noticed. If I do manage to get noticed by the MacArthur Fellows, I could probably quit my day job and really work on… something. Imagine that. Not having to trod off to a job somewhere, but to be fully in charge of your everyday life. Imagine what you could come up with. Is this how geniuses are born? Is working, albeit as a teacher, holding me back? I wonder…

Getting my blog going again

After more than three years, I decided to give my blog another go. Initially, I was inspired to create a blog after watching the movie “Julie and Julia” (2009). The main character, Julie Powell,  found a way to combine two of her passions, writing and food, by creating a blog. In doing this, her life was transformed. So I thought, “hey, I can do that.” And in 2010, I did a bit of online research on jump starting a blog and brainstormed some ideas.

My first sketch of The Itinerant Teacher.
My first sketch of The Itinerant Teacher.

On 29 January 2010, I published my first post. What followed were 9 others posts that got very moderate traction on the blogsphere, as well as some interesting comments, a couple of which I suspect came from disgruntled students. I suppose I could focus on why I abandoned my blog, but I feel that would require me to live in the past. Who wants to do that? Instead, let’s focus on the present.

So, why I am restarting this blog after a three-year hiatus. For one thing, I aspire to be a great teacher. This aspiration was solidified after attending the 2015 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. After returning from the conference, I started checking out blog posts that seem to insist that teachers should blog, like Steve Wheeler and Ray Salazar. I’m sure there are more blogging evangelists out there, but these are the two who have inspired me the most thus far.

Another reason for restarting this blog is that I have discovered a passion for education technology that was nurtured at ISTE 2015. I want to bring this passion into my school and help them develop a school-wide technology program. It seems that blogging is one of many tools used to connect with other educators who are doing the same thing.

So, here I am, putting myself out there, hoping to be an agent of change. I would love to hear from others that are on the same journey! Thanks for reading.