Self-evaluation is currently being promoted in Irish school settings, both primary and secondary, by the Department of Education and Science (DES) (2012). The rationale behind this initiative appears to be that schools can achieve an improvement in the standardised test results of their pupils in literacy and numeracy through the use of self-evaluation. In other words, the self-evaluation process as proposed by the DES is another form of accountability to be undertaken by teachers. However, the concept of evaluation that has been outlined by the DES could be classified as whole-school evaluation, rather than self- evaluation by individual teachers. I do not think that whole-school evaluation has the potential to achieve the desired improvement.
Improvement constitutes a change, whether the change is in approach, in thinking or in attitude. Often we cannot easily bring about changes in others or in situations, and so we need to begin the process of change with ourselves. The desire to change our practice may stem from our experience of feelings of unease or of dissatisfaction with the status quo. We may wish to change the way we have always done something, in order to find a more effective way of doing it. This process necessitates engaging in self-reflection. Teachers who wish to reflect on their practice could ask themselves questions such as, ‘What did I do?’ and ‘Why did I do it?’ To answer the ‘why’ questions, teachers could refer to their educational values.
It is not always easy to articulate our values, but if we ask ourselves questions, such as ‘What do I value in the area of education?’ or ‘What is important to me in my role as educator?’, it will be easy to come up with three or four things that really matter to us as teachers. The next step is to reflect on these values and to determine if we are living out these values fully in our teaching lives. For example, I may have come to the realisation that I value a democratic, participatory approach in my teaching but, when I reflect on what is actually happening in my classroom, I may find that I am using a didactic style of teaching that does not allow for full pupil participation.
I would suggest, therefore, that the DES should promote self-evaluation by individual teachers at classroom level as a first step towards improvement. Then, when teachers have made some progress in reflecting on their practice and in trying to live to their values, a process of whole-school evaluation could begin. Improvement is more likely to occur when teachers are using a values-based approach to their classroom practice.