Connecticut State Department of Education – Implementing Administrator Evaluation

What I’ve discovered in my first few years as a superintendent is that in a district without clear vision if you ask them what their work is, they tell you this very long narrative full of initiatives. Without a clear vision, that is what education feels like. We basically have five competencies of leadership that we talk about and that we’ve defined – vision, instructional leadership, culture leadership, people leadership and organization and systems. And if you ask me what was most important, I would probably say vision. The vision is the unifying force and it gives us a much better focus on our work, gives us much better alignment on our work. and it prevents the work from feeling overwhelming. I think all the best leaders that I’ve worked with have the ability to inspire the people around them. So that the staff and everyone in the system understands what the direction is, where are we headed to. And i think if you can develop a strong leader, a building leader, that leader then can support all those teachers. But I think any model needs to be based on a supportive supervision mindset. We transitioned this year to have school improvement reviews that are site based and I really enjoy the process because it’s really aligned with the new administrator evaluation model where the superintendent is very actively involved in the teaching and learning process and I am part of that observation with the principal. So it is not looking at the data in a disconnected sense at central office, it’s really looking at the data in practice, it’s really looking at the data with the administrators and the teachers and really being able to reflect on the data. And it is also recognizing that it is not only about quantitative data, but it’s about qualitative data, it’s about trends and patterns and perceptions in terms of how the teaching and practice takes place. I think effective administrators will attract effective teachers by really understanding what it takes to impact student achievement. We know that the biggest lever for student success is the individual classroom teacher, but we also know that the the second biggest lever is that administrator, the leader in the building. By focusing on administrator evaluation and really enabling them to calibrate themselves as observers, which is a concept that we talked about for years, and administrators would say, “When I go into a classroom, I want to know what is it that I’m looking for? What does good teaching look like?” The majority of our meetings became about continuous improvement, and they were either meetings about evidence and practice and what are we doing, and that too is growing them, or it was really deep level meetings where we were actually observing each other’s practice. When we are having a faculty meeting, it is talking about teaching and learning, it’s talking about best practices. It’s no longer a laundry list of all the items. That can be an email sent at another time. If administrators share openly with their staff that “Hey, I’m involved with a peer coaching model or I have an executive coach”, a teacher who maybe is struggling, maybe will be much more receptive to some of those same levels of support as their administrator. It is not just about evaluation, it’s about development. and, you know, really, if we are being powerful in terms of how we think about it this for teachers and how we think about it for leaders, what we are trying to do is improve the skills and the abilities of the people who we are serving. To sit down with leaders regularly, through the course of the year, with their manager to talk about how things are going and to provide constructive advice to try and build, have the systems in place that build a feedback culture. within the organization. And we found that people are really hungry for that, people want that input, people want to be better at their craft and it is our responsibility as leaders to build the systems that provide them that feedback. I think we have a model now where we have identified four key areas, the lesson planning, the classroom environment, the instructional practice and the professional practice as well, to be able to clearly articulate how that looks in the classroom and how that translates to impact student achievement. So I think the biggest take-away from us is really in terms of investing in professional capitol, investing in our administrators to be able to do this work and then in turn support the teachers throughout their process. I think good leadership is fundamentally important for recruiting people into schools, it is fundamentally important for retaining teachers in schools and it is fundamentally important for inspiring the next generations of leadership, be that teacher leadership or administrative leadership. The system we have in place for administrators and leaders to grow, I now see my leaders implementing the same models of systems for their teachers. I see that longitudinal commitment, I see that clarity of vision that my leaders no longer just pile initiatives on. It is about continuous improvement and all the initiatives are strategies. I think the starting point is really the leadership standards, and it’s something that really has clear performance expectations for each standard. And for each standard It has indicators of achievement. It is something that the administrator and I read very closely because there has to be a common understanding and a common interpretation of what the standard means. What they do is they create a common language among those people who are going to interact with a developing leader through the course of their career, to give them things to work on, give them areas of strength in a consistent language. So I think that’s an important first step is to have those competencies clearly defined. Having that understanding then helps us look for evidence for each indicator of achievement and really determine what are the areas where the administrator is performing and doing very well and what areas the administrator needs additional assistance with that I can provide. Our conversations with our administrators are much more centered around student performance data and we are starting to see those conversations now trickle down to teachers. So when an administrator is meeting with a teacher, the questions are much more geared towards data. What are those student performance results? What does the student performance data tell you about what your class, about the learning, about your lesson? For those administrators who have areas of weakness in terms of data analysis, we really spend time looking at the data that they have in front of them, looking at the data that is really meaningful and relevant and looking at data that they have also spent time discussing with the school-wide data team with the teachers at that particular level. I like to spend a lot of time doing a mini case study, so selecting a particular student who was probably struggling in the fall, and charting that student throughout the year to see if there has been growth. And using that particular student as a case study for a larger case study in terms of a grade, So, for example, Grade 9 or Grade 10. And I think that really helps administrators see and look very closely at a pattern in terms of growth. And we really chart it, we chart it out. We have spent alot of time at the district level talking about Marzano strategies, talking about high yield strategies, but we really have a discussion also with teachers in terms of what have they used within the classroom that has been successful for students? It is important to note that not all strategies are good for all students and sometimes we say, “We are going to do notetaking at the school level”, but not everyone needs the strategy of notetaking. So having candid conversations about what really makes sense for a particular group of students I think makes sense in identifying the strategies and also realizing that midway if that strategy is not giving you the results that you are looking for, you might have to set that one aside for something else that might have a greater impact. Education is not an industrial occupation. It is not something where you say do this, do that, do the following fifteen steps and you are going to have a student who is educated at the end. It’s professional occupation that requires judgment, it requires subtlety, it requires constant adjustment. And in that that context, the power of your people, be they teachers or leaders, is the single most important thing that you have. In terms of implementing the new teacher and administrator evaluation model, that will be a challenge for all of us How can you continue to support the day to day operations of a district while at the same time focusing on what I think is really your primary assignment, teaching and learning? What I’ve done in order to meet those needs, meet the new job description, the job description I want, is to make sure that my community, that my vision isn’t just an internal one, it is an external one too, and so the community knows what my vision of instruction is, and knows that first and foremost in every day is students, kids and learning. I need to be visible in the buildings and I think you probably always should have been visible but I think folks want to know that you know what is going on at the ground level. Really getting us out more, to be in the classroom, to be in the schools and to have professional conversations about how to support our students is really something that all of us welcome, Accountability alone will never work for a school district, Accountability, balanced with support, will work. So we are going to hold folks accountable, and we are going to give them the support they need to be successful. We think that will drive our continuous improvement efforts, So I think as district leaders in this era of reform and in this era of accountability and development, we need to be more conscious of the challenges that schools face and the challenges that our people face. I think we have to be much more mindful of people development, of the development of educators. of the development of leaders. I think we have to be much more conscious of the challenges that educators face. They need to know that their administrators, both building based and central office are aware of the challenges they are facing on a daily and regular basis. So getting yourself into those buildings, making sure that there is time for teachers to share openly and make suggestions. And I think if you are going to have a system of accountabilty, it needs to start at the top with the superintendent. The superintendent then needs to hold the administrative team accountable and the administrators then work with the teachers and hold them accountable. But the whole system needs to be based on trust, it needs to be based on development, personal and professional development and folks need to see that a system of accountability in itself can be something that leads to greater outcomes for them and for their students. We strike a balance in creating effective administrators and impacting positive outcomes by setting realistic student goals, and one of the things that we spend a lot of time with administrators is really determining what are the goals at the school level that will yield the results that we are looking for in terms of growth for literacy, numeracy in some cases, in terms of climbing.. We are going to study our evidence, we are going to study our data, we are also going to study our practices. Because we can’t just sit around and talk about this is where students are and this is the competencies they are displaying and these are the behaviors they are displaying, if we don’t have a firm grip on what our practices really are. Because otherwise we might just set goals where we are replicating the practices that are already in place that may have been effective or may not have been effective. It involved analysis and observations of our practices. It involved analysis and observations of the outcome based evidence. So we have built our evaluation development system around the idea that you start with the goal setting conference, you have a mid-year check in, you have an end of year check in and there is lots of information that may fuel those discussions. We organize, particularly the goal setting conversation, in sort of I guess three categories. One is student and school goal setting. Second is around the different leadership competencies. And the third is a structured conversation about professional learning. Having that orientation I think is an important first step. The evaluation or the coaching is not the school visit when you walk through and you give the coaching afterwards and the leadership, Or it is not the classroom visit when you then give the feedback immediately afterward. It is instead the feedback that is based on repeated and consistent interactions and when you can develop a real clear storyline about what it is that an educator may be strong with and where they may need development. So developing an action plan is something that our administrators are very aware of and there are two critical areas in that process, really establishing timelines for those key priorities and identifying the adult behaviours or actions that really need to take place to achieve those identified goals,. Let’s create that action plan, let’s create some timelines and tell me who is going to be responsible for carrying out each one of those items because it may it may be the Instructional Associate, it may be the Assistant Principal, It may be the Guidance Director, but let’s create all of our action steps, let’s put timelines and dates to those and then let’s — who’s responsible, and then who’s going to monitor to make sure that it’s occurred. This is where we want to go, we’ve agreed this is where we need to go for our staff, for our students. So how are we going to get there? You are looking for specific details that support the goals that were set at the beginning of the school year, and those goals really need to be aligned with the district goals. They need to be developed by mutual agreement, the superintendent and the administrator, and the goals also need to be linked to the Connecticut Leadership standards, and that is part of having a common understanding of what the standard means. And you really need to spend time having dialog, professional dialog, with administrators. in terms of the interpretation of the standard. For me, to identify good evidence, it needs to be about student growth and it needs to be consistent across the district. So I am looking for student growth academically but I am also looking for improved enrichment programs, improved intervention blocks, I am looking for reductions in behavioral referrals and suspensions. We would also observe the Administrator conduct or facilitate faculty meetings, data team meetings, professional learning communities. We would also observe the Administrator interacting with parents at an evening function or family engagement. Evidence takes all kinds, takes all forms, and some of it is more reliable and more significant than others. On any given day, on any given visit, there could be a thousand things happening that are influencing what the context is. I think the most important thing in observation is to be able to develop a real throughline and a real storyline about what the leadership needs are as they relate to competencies. I think a good rubric helps to create and steer a storyline out of what can be discreet and disparate bits of evidence. The rubrics are very helpful in terms of providing coach to effective administrators because they give you specific targeted language and that is something that we sometimes struggle with. The rubric doesn’t necessarily provide you the Action Plan but it does provide you the very clear idea of destination. Sometimes we say something is good or needs improvement, but what does good look like and what exactly needs improvement? Sometimes I think in the past we have gotten stuck in conversations of “and here is what we will do to make you better” and better is just a deadly term because you can’t grab better. You know, you can’t visualize better unless you have something like a rubric where, and this is what better looks like, this is the attributes or behaviors of better. There are specific that each administrator can target where they are at and i think if the administrator fills out the rubric, the central office staff person, the superintendent fills out the rubric, and then to have that open, honest discussion, I think that will lead to improvement plans for the administrator. Once we do locate you on the rubric, we can then very clearly and with some concreteness draw and here’s what it looks like to the right of rubrics. Being able to align that with a specific performance target and indicator of achievements gives the administrator very, very targeted feedback in terms of what are the areas of need or what are the areas of growth? The categories are specific enough but they also give you some room for growth, which is what this whole profession is about and why we think a new evaluation system for both teachers and administrators and superintendents will lead to better student outcomes because it will be about developing professionally as an individual and if we can all get better at what we do, in the end it will be our students that benefit from that.

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