Tanks & Convertibles 2

Small Justices

Last week a dark-windowed tank-styled evaluation form nearly ran us off the road. This week we motor beside a top-down convertible. To begin our journey, we’ll need to clarify the purpose of evaluation, which is to elicit improvement: in performance, attitude, or content. As such, evaluations need to be future oriented—vehicles of hope. Yet how often do evaluations garner hope in their recipients? Not nearly often enough.

Why? All too often evaluators turn evaluations into critiques, venting, or self- aggrandizement. Critiques serve to inform consumers about a product or service so they might discern how best to spend time and/or money—needed but different from evaluating. And neither venting nor self-aggrandizement serve evaluation’s purpose: channeling Regina from Mean Girls just gets someone run over by a bus. To provide a hope-driven evaluation, the evaluator needs to roll down the top, look the evaluated in the eye, and be eyeballed in return.

But wait! Anonymity is key to many forms of evaluation. What student would risk future classes with a professor she described as “needs improvement?” Exactly. The hierarchical structure of our society renders these forms, if not necessary, at least expedient. I suggest a change in attitude: a willingness to form teams rather than to hoist corporate ladders. A team works best when the members know and value one another and help each individual find and use his/her strengths.

How does that happen? We dialogue. The Quakers’ circles of trust can, in many ways, serve as our model. Circles of trust exist to promote discernment, which is tangentially different from evaluation, but the framework suits. The evaluated speaks his/her piece, perhaps a self-evaluation, as others listen without interrupting. Thought is given and questions are posed for clarification only. In a season of silence (for the Quakers silent prayer) the “team” contemplates the evaluated’s potential and then offers suggestions. Fellow members might suggest that, although they consider John hopeless as second baseman, he possesses a good eye and might be right at home in right field. So the team offers the suggestion and promises support. Johnny leaves the meeting, perhaps disappointed, but with a measure of hope. Maybe he’ll like right field…

But let’s get back to that convertible. Since we’re motoring down a common highway, we might as well help others along on their drive. If his vehicle seems better fitted for the scenic route, we suggest an exit ramp. If she needs to slow down a bit, we point out her speedometer dial. All the while, we’re moving forward together.

Evaluations can be vehicles of hope rather than vehicles of torture. They can point us in promising directions instead of ripping up the road before us.

Thoughts anyone? What are your musings about top-down convertible evaluations?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


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