#1 Hire the best people, then get out of their way

employee evaluation

Students thought he was a poor teacher.

The dean asked a number of us who had multiple years of teaching experience to sit in the professor’s classes. My colleagues’ teaching left me dissatisfied. He was excited about his area of study but his content was dated and his communication style never changed. I could tell why students might think he was a poor teacher.

I was asked to a peer-review of the professor which would evaluate my colleague. When asked, I gave my perspective and then what I was willing to do to help the professor’s communication methods. During the committee review I sat with a number of others and my dean. The academic head asked a question that surprised me.

“How much weight would you give to student review in such an evaluation process?”

I do not think student reviews are very accurate,” was my straight-faced response.

Surprised, he asked how much of a percentage student reviews should count toward an evaluation.

10% or less,” I stated matter-of-factly.

Now he was really interested; his voice rose a bit when he countered, “But you have some of the best student evaluations in the school. Why do you think student evaluations matter so little?”

My answer stunned everyone in the room, “Because students don’t know anything.” [1]

I went on to explain that education is one of the few vocations I could think of where the person hired to do the job was being vetted by those who knew little about the content and less about teaching. [2]

“But students go through years of education,” came the obvious retort. “Surely they know better than anyone whether someone is a good teacher or not.”

“The student point of view is based almost solely on a self-centered rational,” came my reply. “A student saying, ’I didn’t get much out of this class’ is the essence of arrogance.” General student responses on teacher performance reviews tend to include:

The teacher is mean.

The teacher is too hard.

The teacher doesn’t care about me.

I don’t understand the material; it’s the teacher’s fault.

Some or all those concerns may be valid. However, the student should not be the judge of a teacher’s teaching. In fact, research shows that those teachers who are poorly rated may turn out to be the most influential over time.

The best performance review I ever had took place while I was teaching at Moody Bible Institute. Dr. Marta Alvarado came to my class to watch me teach one day. My class lasted almost 2 hours. She stayed the whole time. I could tell she was listening intently not only through eye contact but by the 4 page written evaluation I received the next week. Dr. Alvarado gave me time for self-reflection then spent an hour with me going over her assessment. The time she spent showed care for me and my students.

Over the years I have been responsible to evaluate a good many teachers as both department head and dean of faculty. My philosophy of appraisal came from the best administrator I ever had: John Deline. John’s philosophy was simple. His hiring-evaluation process is number one in my checklist: [3]

#1 Hire the best people, then get out of their way.

#2 75% of all evaluation should take place in the hiring process.

#3 Hire the person, don’t fill a position.

#4 Organizational mission, mission, and mission are the three reasons for hiring.

#5 Organizational communication, communication, and communication are the three processes for evaluation.

#6 Spend time with people; it is the best form of evaluation.

#7 Evaluation should be heavy on the qualitative (narrative), light on the quantitative (numbers).

#8 Watch how people treat others and how others speak about your people.

#9 Evaluations should both conform to and reform the context of your organization.

#10 Years served and credentials earned are poor organizational evaluations; disciple your people.

John Deline and Marta Alvarado are my evaluation heroes. In every leadership position I have held, I practice what I have learned from them and others.

People are the organization.

Personally seeking truth wherever it’s found, Dr. Mark Eckel now teaches leadership courses, teaching evaluation processes along the way.

[1] There is an obvious difference between secondary and undergraduate reviews and those of adult learners. My comments in this essay focus on 15 to 22 year-olds.

[2] I am a huge proponent of 360 reviews: everyone should evaluate everyone. In education, I abide by these percentages in evaluation: 50% supervisor, 20% peer, 20% self, 10% student.

[3] These points are not iron clad. I have hired a teacher who turned out to be a mediocre instructor. My problem in that situation was being pressed by my boss to hire someone within a short time constraint. I have also inherited teachers; some who were fantastic, others whose teaching left much to be desired.


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  1. Dr. Eckel–thanks for sharing. Multi-faceted applicability for me right now: both as a student in my current MA studies; in my vocation as a leader; and as an elder in equipping and building leaders within the Church. Additionally, I presume this is what was occurring when CBC staff/faculty flowed in/out of our last class together-Theological Foundations.


  2. Thank you for this message. It was excellent. I especially liked the thoughts offered by Dr. Devine.

    “Hire the best people, then get out of their way.75% of all evaluation should take place in the hiring process.” In my experience, I have found these to be so true.

    I also like the idea of the 360 evaluations. It may not to be good to do such a thing if your goal is to feel good about all you do. But if it is your desire to be better as an educator or to improve, then these kinds of evaluations can be helpful.

    In the past I have even allowed teachers to offer evaluations of my performance after I have had to take some sort of corrective action for their performance issues. In my thinking I would seek the perspective of others, including students, in order to see how we might improve. A student evaluation may not carry the same weight as your direct supervisor, but that student’s perspective may offer some insight that could help us be more effective.

    Thanks for a great article.

  3. you had me at the cartoon….;)

    always good to read your stuff!

    sending this on to a couple 19 and 22 year olds I know.

  4. A good article! I know of a man who was fired from a teaching position on the basis on the evaluation of one disgruntled student who showed his failure to learn in the years that have followed. This is a good measure weight of the evaluations that are produced, necessary and valuable – as long as the proper weight is placed on the proper persons.

  5. Bravo Marcus. My college volleyball coach always said to win matches a coached needed to “motivate players and then getting out of their way.” It’s not surprising great teachers work the same way.

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