A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on how principals might conduct evaluations right now. I wrote it in response to questions I had seen on the internet, took them at face value, and crafted content I thought could be valuable.
Then I toured some school buildings and talked with teachers who were juggling students in front of them with students tuning in from home, teachers who were reminding 5 year olds to keep their masks on and keep some distance, and library-media specialists who were solving technical problems while also managing to get their libraries running for students.
They were all upbeat and working hard, yet honestly shared frustrations and feedback. I can’t imagine how they might have responded to a principal’s “announced observation”
And then I saw this on Twitter:
I think my teacher evaluations for the year are done, goes something like this: You pivoted, adapted, you were flexible & persevered, you were resilient, you showed grace, you worked your tail off & you did it! Thank you, thank u! What educators have accomplished is unbelievable!
— Hamish Brewer (@brewerhm) September 27, 2020
Hamish Brewer’s post received a lot of love.
And it caused me to do some reflecting and rethinking.
So, while I think there might still be some useful tips in my post, I’d rather focus on just the first part. Yes, go into classrooms–virtually and/or in-person, but suspend evaluations for now, knowing that does nothing but ramp up teacher anxiety.
At this point, everything should focus on lessening anxiety so that people can do their best–which is what we are all trying to do anyway. It’s pretty unlikely that our teacher evaluation systems helped teachers become better before the pandemic and even less likely now.
So, let’s try connecting, celebrating and communicating and see what happens. I have a hunch we will get more out of this than we did from traditional evaluations.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.Read More
The term evokes so many mixed emotions. Teachers often find them useless at best and fear-inducting at worst. And principals often see them as just another item to check off a list.
In my work with leaders during this challenging time, many are wondering how they will fulfill this essential job function in these new and strange times. Some feel the pressure from their state or district to get a required number of evaluations completed by a certain date. Some wonder if they should just stop altogether for at least the time being.
Now, of course, there’s another layer of complexity as teaching and learning takes place with cameras, in Google Meets or Zoom rooms or with some hybrid approach. Teachers are understandably nervous about observations–especially if they haven’t seen any benefit to the process before we entered this new reality.
So, the principal who wants to create or maintain a culture of deep and joyful learning might keep the following points in mind.
Start by asking yourself why you are engaged in the evaluation process at all? How will teaching and learning be served by this particular observation? How does the entire “evaluation” process help the teachers and students in my building? How will you use each interaction to celebrate strengths and build trust. (By the way, if you’re wondering what that looks like, you might check out Craig Randall’s forthcoming book, Trust-Based Observations.)
If your responses are about making sure you collect enough data to upload to the district and/or state platform, take a few steps back. Sure, that’s an important component of your job, but you’re missing a chance to support deep and joyful learning if you go in with a checklist mentality.
Instead, you might remind yourself–and your teachers that your presence in classrooms (in whatever form that takes) allows you to be a:
The processes, protocols and even the framework we’ve used thus far for setting professional goals just may not work right now. Ask your teachers to tell you where they believe they should focus, what led them to that area and what evidence they will call upon to check on their progress.
Ask them, too, if they can think of alternatives to the current structures that would allow you to fulfill your obligations while also allowing for a “coloring outside the lines” mentality. They might ask for a way to substitute peer observations for principal observations. Or, they might suggest recording themselves, sharing the recording with you and then coming together to discuss. (Video is great–you both see the same thing and the good stuff can’t be missed!)
Let this be a brainstorm where there are NO bad ideas!
For all that is wrong and painful about this time of pandemic, there are a few bright spots. One of those is the gift of uninterrupted one on one time. It is rare that principals ever have time to fully give their attention to one person for an uninterrupted hour. Now, we have an opportunity to engage–over zoom- with a teacher for 30 or 60 minutes without interruption.
In addition, a zoom meeting can provide a level of comfort for teachers–especially newer teachers. Instead of meeting in the principal’s office, they can sit in their own home. (Alternatively, if you don’t do this already, meeting in the teacher’s classroom can provide him or her with a sense of confidence.)
Ask your teachers to show you something new or share a new idea. This may be a new tool they have or plan to use with their students or it may be something they’ve read. After they’ve shared, ask if they’d be comfortable sharing with others in a virtual staff meeting. While many teachers don’t like the spotlight, they do love supporting their colleagues.
You might also ask if you can highlight what you observed in a newsletter to families or with your district leadership team.
Yes, there have already been some horror stories about “unannounced observations” as evidenced in this Twitter thread. While many of the replies urged administrators to stop conducting observations, I disagree. It’s the principal’s job to make sure each and every student is learning deeply and joyfully–and to see to it that teachers have the resources and support to make that happen.
So, make your why clear to your teachers, be open and flexible to when and where observations happen, ask for innovative ways to connect, celebrate and report the great stuff that’s happening while being honest about challenges.
Oh, and then ask your teachers for regular feedback about your own work. It will go a long way toward building the trust necessary for deep and joyful learning…even during a pandemic.
I would love to hear how others are approaching observations and evaluations as a way to support deep and joyful learning.
As Jim Collins tells us, “getting the right people on the bus” is key to creating a successful organization.
Nowhere is that more true than in hiring school leaders. Teachers set the tone for deep and joyful learning in their classrooms, but if the leader is not on board the school suffers. Conversely, great school leaders create communities of deep and rigorous thinking and joyful cultures of experimentation, risk, and professional learning.
I’ve been on both sides of the interview process. Unfortunately, it has often been the case that the hiring for these essential positions comes down to opinions formed after one or two short Q and A sessions.
I get it–time is precious and these decisions often have to be made quickly. However, having some stock questions and protocols can ensure that schools and districts have the best chance of hiring the right candidates.
Here are some tips from my experience.
When hiring a high school principal, for example, we had a mix of content area representatives. Some were department chairs, but not all. An assistant principal who was not interested in interviewing for the job was asked to be my point person at the high school. The current principal was serving in an interim capacity and had already made clear her preference to return to an elementary setting, so she helped us with scheduling and greeted the candidates. We also had school committee and community representatives, as well as at least one other principal in the district. Students have either served as part of the formal committee or as part of representative groups who meet with the candidates.
Google “questions for principals” and you are likely to find a series of “warm-up questions” such as
What is your background/leadership philosophy/your strengths
Then, there might be a series of questions asking them to tell you how they might deal with one type of scenario or better.
While this may get you some good information, some of this can also be prepped heavily and.sometimes, might not be true.
It’s better to always ask for examples of what the candidate HAS done with some explanation of how they would apply what they did and what they learned to novel experiences in the future.
By the way, I always give the questions to candidates when they arrive, giving them some time to prep. It calms nerves and allows them to shine. At the very least, have the questions printed and placed in front of the candidate so they can refer back to them when responding.
Because a 60 minute Q and A session simply won’t tell you HOW a person will execute his or her job, a performance task is a must.
Ours usually revolved around data–asking the candidate to analyze a set of data and prepare a presentation to be shared in a mock faculty meeting. You may include some guiding questions, but your better candidates will just run with it. (As an aside, if a candidate for a leadership position emails to ask if it’s “ok” to do this or that with the process or the presentation, this is probably not someone you want to make important decisions at a moment’s notice.)
Or at least several hours. Here’s the schedule we used (and sometimes adapted) for principal candidates. Clearly, our current situation highlights the need for some changes, but many of these can be adapted for a virtual setting.
This is a long day and you may need to truncate it a bit. (We’ve even done this in half a day when necessary.) But don’t be deterred –this is time well-spent. I’ve had candidates tell me–those hired and those not–that this interview experience was the best they’ve had. I’ve been on the other side and completely agree!
So, your candidate got through the first round with excellent examples and may have wowed you during the demo day. Now is the time to check with those who have worked most closely with the candidate in prior roles to check or confirm your judgments.
Here’s what you don’t want to say: “We just met with Sally. She was great. Everyone loved her. Do you have anything to add?”
Instead, try some of these questions.
For sure, this is a lot of time and effort. However, hiring good leaders is essential for building communities of deep and joyful learning. Not only do you get a great view of the candidate, but candidates who go through this process come away with a much better understanding of the school and district. Now that you know each other, you’ve got a better chance for a great fit.
Yet, in so many cases, time for deep, collaborative professional learning is minimal– 3 full days a year seems to be pretty standard, with common planning time during the day sprinkled here and there.
I recently conducted a programmatic review of a district that had not been able to budget full professional days for years. This was rightly viewed by teachers and administrators as the greatest barrier to progress.
The need for professional development has been highlighted by the pandemic and the forced move to “distance learning”.
In my home state of Rhode Island, the governor and education commissioner have responded to that need by issuing a common statewide calendar. In it, they provide dedicated PL days as well as common vacation days.
This gives students a much-needed break. There’s no expectation of logging into a Google meet or needing to be on their screen. Some students, especially older ones might use that as study time as they prepare for AP exams. But for younger students and their families, it’s a much-appreciated pause.
It also gives teachers protected time for professional learning without the expectation of also managing instruction. As I talked with district leaders across the state, I found that the time is being used wisely. Some are learning more about online teaching tools from district and state partners. Others are engaging in much-needed departmental or PLC teams. Some of these meetings are synchronous, others are not.
It’s wonderful that our state leaders recognize the need for protected professional learning time right now, as teachers are trying to navigate this unanticipated crisis.
And providing and protecting time for that learning should be a basic condition of the profession in this country (as it is in several other nations).
A few ideas…
Far too many administrators are stuck in the compliance paradigm.
When I was an assistant superintendent, we created a district-wide professional learning steering committee. Our district-wide Professional Learning Days (or Professional Development, as we called it then) had been met with “just ok” feedback. In addition, the head of the paraprofessionals’ bargaining unit let me know that they were extremely dissatisfied with what the district had been providing for professional development.
So, we set about to change that–to put people in charge of their own learning. Ultimately, two teachers became co-chairs of the committee and we collectively transformed the feeling of PD days. Faculty and staff gave positive feedback and, more importantly, more ideas for improvement. Some administrators attended sessions, others facilitated, some did a mix of both. By the time I left the district, we had ideas and plans for even more personalized and asynchronous opportunities.
No babysitting. No compliance. Just lots of good learning–which translated into deeper and more joyful learning for our students.
And with even more time, and more creative uses of time, we can do better and better by our students and ourselves.
So, let’s appreciate teachers with more than signs and gifts during a single week. Let’s give them the time they deserve to hone their skills and their craft. Let’s appreciate their intellect and expertise by giving them the gift of time.
And, to be fair, this feeling isn’t new for educators, though it’s magnified now.
Simple does not mean easy. Simple does not mean that we are letting up on learning.
When I’ve worked with curriculum teams, we usually start with the work of DuFour, et. al.
Educators always love these questions.
Great, I say. So, now, let’s answer that first question.
Teachers pull out their state standards, textbooks, final exams, etc and soon our response to question 1 fills up pages.
It becomes clear that we cannot teach everything if we want students to learn deeply and joyfully.
Teachers understandably have trouble with this. EVERYTHING feels essential.
But then I ask them to picture a capable student in their class. Now, consider that this student will endure some tough circumstances this year–perhaps illness–that causes him/her to be out for a significant portion of the year.
Most teachers can’t conceive of having this student repeat an entire year or course. So they then consider what the student would REALLY need to know and be able to do in order to move beyond this class or course.
We use this guidance from Larry Ainsworth to choose our essential standards (aka Power or Priority Standards.)
In fact, there are schools and teachers that do this regularly for students with special circumstances.
We just never considered that we would need to do this for all students…in all subjects.
But we can. Simplify. Get down to the essentials–the real and true essentials and go from there.
Right now, I would ask teachers to consider the ONE thing students must know or be able to do between now and next year. How can we teach that? How will we (and students) know if they’ve learned it?
Then, go on to prioritize the NEXT thing on the list and so on. If the first is all we can reasonably achieve this year, so be it.
Kudos to those districts that have made this focus on essential standards crystal clear, reducing overwhelm and giving space for deep and joyful learning.
#ourFCPS friends- Essential Standards for remaining instructional weeks for ES & MS are posted to Distance Learning Support (teacher-facing) BB site. For ES, also posted to ECF google site at https://t.co/LauP8aXIwm (FCPS google log-in required). @kmkoelsch @christiepday pic.twitter.com/uP74XXrrLp
— Andrea Hand (@AndreaHand2) April 12, 2020
“This just doesn’t feel right! I miss the kids. I miss the teachers. I miss visiting classrooms, shaking hands with students as they enter the building, laughing with teachers at lunch duty!”
This, or some version of this, is what I’m hearing from the principals I work with.
Most school leaders hate to be out of their schools. Whether it’s being called away to a district meeting or staying home sick (a rare occurrence), most principals will do anything to avoid being out of the building.
So, sitting at home–or behind your desks in empty schools–is no doubt a jarring experience.
Yet all over the country, principals like my friend Anne in Maine tell me the current crisis has raised their game.
In conversations with school leaders over the phone, Zoom, and Twitter, leaders have shared the ways they are making connections, supporting learning, and–perhaps most importantly–demonstrating their own vulnerability.
A1: Search #StayConnectedCPS and see photos of our amazing and innovative students and staff taking on our Chesapeake 5Cs Virtual Challenge last week. Lifelong learners in action! #valinchat pic.twitter.com/7SbNLU9K2n
— Alaina Trott (@AlainaTrott) April 2, 2020
— Shameka N. Gerald (@Shameka_Gerald) April 2, 2020
A2: My kids + I are challenging ourselves to try/learn something unrelated to SOLs each week. I challenged myself to learn how to watercolor + I am finding it's very calming! Making sure to carve out "me" time, being outside, and virtually connecting with friends! #VaLinChat https://t.co/3jmJiJGCZw
— Megan Howland (@meganahowland) April 2, 2020
Thanks to all who are leading…and sharing! To share more examples or get some coaching support, you can contact me here.