When Melanie Katz heard during the first week of school that her principal and fellow teachers were about to begin scheduling initial planning conferences for the new evaluation system, alarms went off.
Katz, the chapter leader at the East-West School of International Studies in Queens, felt that some teachers might need a deeper understanding of the purpose and potential of this initial meeting. Later that day she called the principal, Ben Sherman, with a proposal: How about the two of them hold a mock initial planning conference for the rest of the staff to observe?
Sherman jumped at the idea, and the following week nearly the entire teaching staff of the grade 6-12 school in Flushing gathered in the drama room after school for an optional, unpaid professional development session.
With about 35 teachers looking on, the principal sat at a table near the front with his laptop to take notes, and Katz sat nearby.
Katz informed the principal that she had chosen observation option 1, which entails a formal, scheduled observation by him of her class.
“What am I going to see in your class?” he asked.
She described the students and subject matter of her classes in math, computers and senior advisory.
Sherman then asked her to choose one Danielson component where she expected to demonstrate growth by December.
Katz said it was the component for using questioning and discussion techniques in teaching, number 3b.
“That is an area where I could be identified as developing,” she said later in recounting the mock conference.
Sherman asked what he could do to support her growth in this area.
Katz thought before responding: “I would like to see another high school math or science teacher” use questioning and discussion in their teaching. “I’d like to go in and see how they do it or possibly have some professional development on it.”
Sherman suggested that they might find videos of this teaching practice, an idea Katz liked.
The mock conference lasted about 30 minutes and felt so realistic that some teachers asked Katz if this was how she expected her planning conference to go.
Afterward, teachers spent another 30 minutes asking questions.
Katz said she had wanted to model for her fellow teachers how they could use these initial meetings to advocate for themselves and get the support and resources they need.
Sherman, who has led the school since its founding eight years ago, said his goal was to help put his teaching staff at ease.
“I understand there’s tremendous anxiety among my teachers about how they’re going to be evaluated,” Sherman said. “I believe I have the right teachers on my team and I want them to be successful.”
Amy Arundell, the UFT’s director of personnel and special projects, said the mock conference was an innovative way to show teachers how to use the initial conference and other aspects of the new evaluation system to further their own professional growth.
“It’s natural that some teachers feel anxiety because this system is new and some parts of it are complex,” Arundell said. “But as they come to understand the system better, I think they’ll see how it can help their teaching and professional development.”
Teachers are required to have one-on-one planning conferences with their evaluators by Oct. 25, and teachers must have a voice in scheduling the conference. This initial conference is required to occur at a time mutually agreed upon between the teacher and evaluator. If the evaluator suggests a date and time not convenient for the teacher, the teacher may decline and suggest an alternate date and time.
Teachers may also ask the principal for a second conference, Arundell said, if they felt that the first meeting was too short or perfunctory.
“I am extremely proud that this school’s leaders have chosen the path of collaboration in approaching the many complexities of the new evaluation and support process,” said UFT Special Representative Washington Sanchez. “They are off to a great start.”