“Good” Is Not “Good Enough!”

The other day, I met with a teacher friend of mine to do some planning. We’re both teaching different grades this year, but she wanted to make changes to her program and was looking to brainstorm ideas together in order to do so. As we were working, she made the comment, “I don’t think that I’m a bad teacher, but I want to improve.” That got me thinking.

  • We may see ourselves as okay teachers.
  • We may see ourselves as good teachers.
  • We may see ourselves as great teachers.
  • We may see ourselves as excellent teachers.
  • We may see ourselves as outstanding teachers.
  • But should we not always be looking for ways to bump up our teaching practices to the next level?

As these thoughts were going through my head, I couldn’t help but think about my school experiences last year. I remember the months leading up to my TPA (Teacher Performance Appraisal) and my tremendous fear with being evaluated. I remember how terrified I was of the regular principal and vice principal walkthroughs. I remember my huge fear of feedback.

It wasn’t that I thought that I was going to fail my evaluation. It wasn’t that I thought that I was going to hear that I was a horrible teacher. But months later, I know what it was: it was my fear of hearing negative comments. What if my principal and vice principal didn’t like what I did? What if they thought that I could improve? And you know what? They did ask me questions. At different points during the year, they respectfully challenged some of my ideas, and they got me considering new ones. Both my principal, Paul, and vice principal, Kristi, provided me with many next steps all year long. And now, as the summertime quickly comes to an end, I can say to them what I probably never said enough of last year: thank you!

  • Thank you for showing me what I did well, but also showing me where to go next.
  • Thank you for letting me “fail,” but also giving me the confidence to consider a new approach.
  • Thank you for supporting me as I continued to try, and try again, all year long.
  • Thank you for probably making last year one of my biggest years of personal and professional growth!
  • Thank you for making me excited about the changes, and growth, that I can experience this year.

As educators, I think it’s great that we can believe in ourselves and our abilities. I think it’s great that we can recognize our strengths and know when we’re doing a “good job.” But I also think it’s great when we can recognize our weaknesses and look at ways to improve. I may always feel nervous about walkthroughs and evaluations, but I also know that good questions, great challenges, and thoughtful next steps will make me a better teacher — and I want that: for me and for my students! How do you handle feedback? How do you encourage it? How do you continually look at ways to improve your practices? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


10 thoughts on ““Good” Is Not “Good Enough!”

  1. I can’t fit all my ideas on twitter 🙂 so I’m chiming in here too, Aviva! I agree that we can always improve (I’m a big believer in growth mindset) and I’ve been thinking about performance appraisals lately. I know people who have teacher performance appraisals this fall and are already not looking forward to it (particularly the observation) and these are great teachers. I started to wonder if framing appraisals as “a principal judging our teaching”, makes it impossible to do anything but feel like we’re under a microscope. But if we try to reframe an appraisal as “inviting another set of eyes in to help me grow and consider new ideas” then we’re engaging more from a position of power (feeling a part of the process, rather than under the microscope). This of course means we’d have to downplay the formal evaluative aspect in our own heads (which is very hard to do, I know) and imagine the resulting conversation as a teaching tool instead of an evaluation. In reading the comments section of your linked post on “walk-throughs” it sounds like you’re already trying to do that, which is fantastic! I wish more teachers felt empowered to do that.

    I also wish that performance appraisals themselves could be more teacher-directed (e.g. ask what areas we want to improve on, and requiring clear goal setting about how to improve – with admin giving advice, articles and resources about those areas, and setting up chances for us to observe others who excel in those areas). It doesn’t mean that principals can’t address areas they see are clearly lacking when they observe and suggest goal setting for those areas; but it would give teachers some more incentive to engage with the process for reasons other than proving we’re ‘good enough’ at doing our job to get a ‘satisfactory’ (the adult equivalent of a gold star on our work). Process over product, you know?
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Thanks for the comment, Heather! Your second paragraph really had me thinking because this is what I’ve always tried to do with my TPA. During our first meeting, I mention an area that I’d really like some feedback on, and while my principal or VP may comment on another area too, they tend to focus on this one. Last year especially, I really found the TPA to be more of a process. My principal, Paul, was evaluating me, and while he did the formal visits, he was always in my room. We spoke regularly, and he always willingly gave me feedback after his visits. His final report reflected all of these visits, and made the TPA less of just a snapshot in time.

      I wonder if it’s the mark (the Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory) that makes the TPA process so nerve-wracking. Would we be more open for feedback if there wasn’t a mark involved? There’s so much talk online about the growth mindset, and to get the most out of a TPA, I think that we need to always be looking at ways to improve. This isn’t easy, but it sure is valuable.


  2. Hey Aviva,

    I had my TPA last year as well. In recent years I’ve come to think of it as much less of a judgement experience and much more as an opportunity for improvement. That mind shift didn’t happen overnight, but when it did, boy did things change.

    I started almost to think in terms of a pre-emptive strike. What if I there was a level of classroom and teaching awesomeness that was beyond the current TPA scale? I even went so far as to invite my superintendent in for the TPA. (Okay, full disclosure, we already had a pretty strong, decade log professional relationship). Still, I thought about actually ASKING for a TPA to be done every year. By thinking in these over the top terms I found the experience to be nothing more than a literal day at the office.

    I invited everyone I could to come in for a visit. Honestly if they could offer suggestions for improvement, then it was probably something I should look at. The other reason for this is that we really don’t know what we don’t know. Was there something I was missing completely? Possibly, but how was I ever going to be aware of it without some outside help? Feedback from knowledgable others can only help the reflective practitioner move forward.

    So am I just going to cruise through the next few years until my next TPA? No way, of course not. It’s time to ramp up my game. What worked on year ago might totally flop in 2015. I need a lot more feedback on my practice in order to move forward. It will come from administrators or knowledgable colleagues. It will come from collaborative teacher inquiry. It will come from students and parents. It will come from social networking. Most of all it will come from a growth mindset.

    P.S. I like the list of 5 states at the beginning of your blog.

    • We may see ourselves as okay teachers.
    • We may see ourselves as good teachers.
    • We may see ourselves as great teachers.
    • We may see ourselves as excellent teachers.
    • We may see ourselves as outstanding teachers.

    I think I could assign a day of the week to each of these sometimes 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Colin! I think that you make some wonderful points here. While I didn’t invite my superintendent in for my TPA, I actually had many parents present at the time, and I think that was good. Talking to everybody — from colleagues to superintendents to administrators to parents to students — offers us varying views on our teaching practices and varying looks at what we can do to improve. This “growth mindset” is a great one to have, and even when not being evaluated, there’s definitely value in hearing feedback. This year, I tried to invite more people into our classroom, and while I still have some nerves with visitors, more opportunities to have them, helped. Your comment is a great example of this!

      And yes, I think that I can fall in any one of those “teaching categories” any day of the week (or any time of the day, for that matter 🙂 ), and continually taking stock of how we’re doing and what we can do to improve, is important. We also model for students that it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s even more important to learn from them.


  3. Aviva,
    I think academic freedom is something we all enjoy in our classroom, but we also need someone to check on us and let us know how we are doing. I have always appreciated feedback when it is provided as one-on-one communication, genuine and not just given because it is part of the process or an individual habit.

    • Sandhya, I agree with you about the importance of feedback. When we can learn together, and feel comfortable sharing thoughts, suggestions, and questions with each other, I think that’s best of all.


  4. Hi Aviva,
    It was a pleasure working through your TPA with you. I too found that last year was an incredible year of growth for me too and much of the credit goes to my many discussions with you. I learned so much about effective teaching, about challenging our thinking regarding “voice and choice” and how I can be most effective in supporting the practices of of all staff members in my school. Thank you for teaching ME!!!

    • Paul, it was so nice to come home today to such a lovely blog post comment! I’m really glad that we could learn so much from each other. Maybe this is another great point to consider: there is so much value in good professional dialogue, and the ability to “push” and “push back,” so that we can all improve our practices. I’m very fortunate that you and Kristi constantly provided this for me. I hope that next year, while I may be at a different school, you’ll use Twitter and this blog (and maybe even one of your own — hint, hint 🙂 ), to continue to challenge me in the very best of ways.

      Enjoy the rest of your summer, and all the best next year! I hope that you’ll continue to share your learning. I learn a lot as a result.


  5. I love this topic! My only comment really is, it matters if there is mutual respect between the one being evaluated and the one doing the evaluation. I think with respect, the idea of judgement goes out the window and true growth can happen.

    • That’s a great point, Tammy! It’s one that I’ve seen discussed on Twitter too. I definitely felt this mutual respect with my admin, but I wonder how we can build this respect if it is lacking. Ideas?

      Thanks for continuing the conversation!

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