Evaluating Teachers on the Hidden Curriculum
Teachers should be evaluated on the atmosphere they create in their classrooms and the degree of trust they have established with their students. Several findings from the Schools of Integrity and other research literature support examining both classroom culture and teacher-student relationships.
Classroom culture: the hidden curriculum of a school starts in each individual classroom. Faculty should have the opportunity to discuss their school's hidden curriculum at length, as a whole group, because it will bring them closer to alignment with their school's core ethical values and agreed practice on the ground. Even young students can be aware of the "walk and talk," and how closely we signal that one follows the other.
A specific format for considering this as a whole faculty is the Values Carousel activity, featured in our secondary curriculum. Use a prompt along the lines of, "What specific classroom choices demonstrate to your students that honesty is a core ethical value you believe in?" Substitute the word "honesty" for any of the other core values of your school:
- Do teachers make specific choices about the room set up to reflect respect of each individual and of the classroom community?
- Do they demonstrate compassion by setting up a variety of ways for students to reflect and celebrate their learning?
- Have teachers devised an assessment process that feels fair to each student, and have they been honest and transparent in implementing the system?
- Do teachers take responsibility for their own learning in the classroom and for the mistakes that are bound to happen along the way?
These are all examples of classroom practices that create a culture of integrity and build high trust levels with students. As faculty get a chance to discuss teaching behaviors and choices that will signal each core value of the school, they're getting closer to an aligned school philosophy and a powerful culture. They can then engage in designing a simple, evidence-based assessment process about the hidden curriculum of the classroom, using the school's core values as the standards.
Classroom content: It's important to evaluate teachers on their performance in their own subject area using a range of criteria, and one of those criteria should be the teacher's grasp and communication of the ethical dimension to what students are learning. The original and broadest purpose of schools as organized institutions of society has always been to shape the kind of people we are preparing for the future. Each subject area has a direct relationship to that higher purpose, yet teachers' thinking and understanding about this relationship is often limited. Teachers should be aware and able to articulate this specific dimension to their work:
- Why, for example, are we asking all students to have a basic understanding of mathematics? How might each student's contribution to society be connected to this required subject? "Fiscal responsibility" comes to mind, as do liabilities to society like Bernie Madoff.
- What's the relationship between learning science and learning to function responsibly in society? The many ethical dilemmas, including the original ethics lapses related to the British Petroleum oil spill, immediately come to mind.
Teachers should be accountable for helping students make connections between real life and the content areas through ethics for two important reasons:
- Done right, students will be more personally invested and engaged in this subject matter, and
- Done wrong, students can graduate from our schools with high academic preparation but no understanding at all about the original point: "What are you going to do with all this learning to contribute to a better society for all of us in the future?"
Paula Mirk worked at whole child partner the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE) for 17 years. For the majority of her tenure, she oversaw IGE's education department. IGE collaborates with national and international organizations and with school districts large and small to integrate ethical literacy into classroom practice, school culture, and systemic reform. Connect with IGE at firstname.lastname@example.org.