Educational Insights from Hogwarts #3
In this article I continue the series regarding how Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix can give insight and/or start conversation about classical Christian education. Last week I explored how Educational Decree #22 raised questions about the role of the government in public and private schools. This week we take a look at Educational Decree #23 where Dolores Umbridge is named Hogwarts High Inquisitor and is given power to inspect her fellow teacher.
The central idea that someone would inspect the teachers at Hogwarts is an excellent idea. The thought that an institution would have no accountability or oversight with respect to instruction is concerning. In most cases one would expect the Head of School to do such inspections him/herself, but certainly many schools may hand off this responsibility in part or in full to a qualified lead teacher who could do such assessments. In the case of Umbridge, the main problem is that she is apparently subversive to the mission of the school and is therefore in no position to be the best one to inspect fellow teachers. Nevertheless, Umbridge places only Hagrid and Trelawney on suspension, and any objective reader of the novels would admit they are under-qualified (see Part 1for more on these two).
Readers get only brief glimpses into Umbridge’s inspections, but the example is not one worth emulating. She seeks to embarrass Trelawney and Hagrid in front of their students and she interrupts McGonagall’s class. Neither of these behaviors is acceptable from one conducting a teacher evaluation. We also learn that she has notified each teacher in advance of his or her inspection, a topic we will explore in a moment. Beyond these brief insights, we learn little of the exact nature of Umbridge’s questions and evaluative practices.
Although the nature of these evaluations doesn’t provide a lot of help for classical Christian educators, it does help raise important questions for classical Christian schools with respect to teacher evaluations. For example, are scheduled evaluations actually the best way to evaluate teachers? Prior knowledge of one’s evaluation allows a teacher to put their best foot forward, yet an evaluation should be more comprehensive. We don’t want teachers who can perform for the evaluation but provide inadequate instruction the rest of the time. Rather than, or certainly in addition to one-time evaluations, evaluations should happen with pop-in moments. As evaluators make a habit of popping into class for a few minutes unannounced on various occasions, several positive outcomes obtain. First, evaluators get a much better sense of the quality of instruction happening on a day-by-day basis. Second, teachers have accountability not only on a one-day evaluation, but the knowledge that they may be observed at any time provides an impetus for making each lesson as excellent as possible. Third, teachers get more frequent feedback about how they are doing and how to improve. We provide students with frequent feedback, but some schools may only provide their teachers with a single evaluation about how to improve. Fourth, students are held accountable to be virtuous learners because they may find an administrator in class at any moment. All of these benefits are good reasons to make evaluations more frequent.
With respect to the nature of evaluations, it seems that quiet observation that does not interrupt the class (unlike Umbridge) is the best way to approach the classroom observation. The questions between evaluator and teacher should happen after class or at a separate private meeting. Moreover, evaluations should not only provide general areas for improvement, but specific advice on how to improve aspects of the class such as pedagogy, lesson planning, and getting students involved in class.
As will be the case with all the articles in this series, I hope merely to raise questions for further discussion. I would love to hear from you. What are the evaluation practices at your school? What kinds of questions have you found helpful in fostering meaningful conversation in your evaluations?