Monday, July 21, 2014

How should teachers view the professional growth process?

The evaluation tool should operate as a support to teachers and administrators, guiding our instructional conferences and encouraging continuous improvement within our craft of educating children.    We should have a strategic plan that changes with the landscape of education throughout our careers.  Educators should focus on building relationships that motivates and creates a love for learning, maximizes instructional time, increases engagement, and empowers students to be life-long learners!  

So, as you set professional growth goals at the start of the school year, remember to utilize the evaluation tool as an instrument to flourish, supporting and enhancing your professional growth. 

How should teachers view the professional growth process?   As an experience to:

•             Grow as a professional, creating opportunities to set goals and attending professional development to sustain growth.  Provide quality differentiated instruction for all students, while focusing on innovative ways to improve classroom instruction and ultimately student learning.

•             Collaborate efforts between fellow teachers, working as a team to improve building climate and instruction. 

•             Be positive!  Embrace change with an open mind and be an active participant during professional growth meetings and instructional conferences.  Be prepared and excited to sustain learning. 

•             Develop high expectations for yourself and students while consistently self-reflecting on your teaching and professional growth. 

•             Build trust and personal relationships with building principal and colleagues, approach the teacher professional growth process in a professional manner, willing to accept positive and constructive feedback.

•             Be open about concerns or frustrations, working with building principal to problem solve solutions rather than remaining stagnant. 

•             Remain confidential regarding your rating within the professional growth process.  The process should be an experience of continuous improvement and discussing ratings between teachers is not recommended.    It’s another reason why I continue to advocate for the elimination of the highly effective rating, while changing the method from an “evaluation” process to a “professional growth” process.

•             Understand that the teacher evaluation process is never final, we are always setting professional goals focused on improvement.

•             Accept that a single classroom observation (one way or another) does not provide the entire picture.  Multiple visits during the year and honest self-reflection is necessary to make a holistic assessment of effectiveness. 

•             Recognize that our children deserve and need effective teachers!  If you are unable sustain a positive evaluation ratting then you must have an honest conversations with yourself, your principal or a trusted colleague.  Find a mentor that can support you, either by reestablishing your teaching skill set or counseling you into another profession. 

•            Embark on all decisions with a basic question:  Is it good for children?

I always value the work teachers and administrators do each and every day!  Our jobs are difficult but extremely rewarding!  Thank you for always putting students first and not thinking they are a number, recognizing their individual needs! 

Reflecting on our effectiveness is important… what we do after we reflect is professional growth! Keep reflecting and making the most of your profession.  Educators are the best!

Have a great week!

Keith Howell

Related Posts:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Most principals worry about the teacher evaluation process… you are not alone!

The Big Question???  How do you decrease stress surrounding teacher evaluations?  Easy Answer… Increase trust!

The most valuable thing principals can do to support the evaluation process is increase trust! 

As I have stated in a previous posts:  I know… the “evaluation process” does have some negative tones due to the political uncertainties regarding the process.  We should change the name!  Let’s call it the “professional growth process.”  Seems a bit more positive and reflective.  For the purposes of this post and future posts, it will be referred to as the professional growth process.

Developing trusting relationships with teachers, while creating shared leadership opportunities, should be the focus for every administrator and will simultaneously decrease stress surrounding the professional growth process.  Relationship building and fostering shared leadership opportunities promotes a sense of community and cooperation in schools.  Teachers have many expectations and responsibilities and it is the principal’s job to support and encourage continues improvement through the professional growth process, without making it seem like “it’s one more thing” that they are responsible to manage within their day.  Building trust surrounding the professional growth process is key!

What can principals do to foster trust within their building and surrounding the professional growth process? 

1. Build genuine relationships.

-          Demonstrate an awareness of personal details within your entire faculty.  Know and care about them as people with lives outside of school. 
-          Express a positive outlook and enthusiasm of support for teachers.  It isn’t what you say… it’s how you say it that motivates staff to improve and continually to develop a growth mindset. 
-          Be available and visible, visiting classroom frequently during non-observation times.
-          Create a climate where staff members feel comfortable expressing concerns regarding curriculum, instruction, and building operations. 
-          Create a climate that demonstrates that every job is important and each person needs recognition and respect. 
-          Find humor in daily routines and help everyone understand that we choose our attitudes.  

2. Create a strong working relationship with teachers built on trust and honesty.

-          Be honest during the professional growth process.  Tell teachers what you are looking for and provide suggestions for improvement.  Don’t tell teachers that everything was great if you are still looking for specific areas of instructional/classroom management improvement or increased student engagement, parent communication, etc.
-          Provide specific and timely feedback after formal and informal observations.
-          Demonstrate active listening of teacher concerns and provide ideas that will support teacher and student growth.  Listen and survey teachers regarding building initiatives.  Staff buy in is key to creating a successful and collaborative culture. 
-          Understand that a single classroom observations (one way or another) does not provide the entire picture and multiple visits during the year are necessary.
-          Support teachers during sensitive meetings.  Always bring conversation back to what is best for the child.  If a teacher is wrong or upsetting a parent then I will state the following:
o   I know (teacher) really cares about your child and that is why emotions are high right now, let’s take a couple of minutes to put things into perspective. At this time I will restate concerns and provide some solutions.
o   What (teacher) is trying to say… state this and then model an appropriate response.
o   I can tell that you (parent) are upset right now and don’t agree with (teacher)… let’s take a day or two to think it over.  This will give time for the principal to collaborate with teacher regarding an appropriate response to parent and support for student. 
If teacher is wrong, or lacks relationship building skills with parents or students, then those are conversations that need to take place with individual teachers in a confidential manner and not in front of parent. 
-          Direct parents back to the teacher to resolve concerns before you step in.  Parents tend to contact the principal before teachers even know that there is a problem or concern.   Principals should give teachers the chance to collaborate with parent before becoming involved. 
-          Support teachers who are struggling at their profession.  Counsel them to improve and be honest about the professional growth process.  In extreme cases, you might need to counsel an educator into a different career and this will only be successful if you have a positive relationship with that person which is built on trust. 
-          Never talk about another teacher’s effectiveness ratings.  It is appropriate to give accolade regarding positive staff performance but principals should never talk of teacher effectiveness… a big reason why I advocate for eliminating the highly effective rating. 
-          Don’t rescue teachers, give them encouragement and support to be successful.  They will thank you for the reassurance and trust. 

3. Provide opportunities for professional growth. 

-          Provide sustained professional development opportunities that are meaningful and relevant to current trends in education. 
-          Provide professional development at a reasonable pace, not to overwhelm but to provide direction and excitement for professional growth. 
-          Increase targeted and sustained professional development activities during staff meetings.
-          Support and differentiate teacher goals and professional growth through instructional conferencing - reviewing environment, instruction, planning, and professionalism.  No need to have school wide professional development on communicating with parents if only a couple of teachers are in need of support.

4.  Create a culture of shared leadership.

-          Provide opportunities for teacher leadership through committees, leading student groups, building management decisions, creating surveys, book studies, sharing on twitter and/or blogging, professional development presentations, etc.  This will increases accountability and a sense of ownership within building decisions and enhances growth as a building.
-          Understand that your faculty has exceptional skills to offer.  Focus on shared, continuous improvement, promoting cooperation and cohesion within the school.  Allow your staff to provide professional development during staff meetings, building on their strengths!
-          Allow your staff to take the responsibility of building trust within grade level groups and developing each Professional Learning Community member’s self-awareness about the things that are most relevant to the building mission and vision. 

5.  Show competency and demonstrate knowledge. 

-          Show competency and demonstrate knowledge of building management, curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices that are congruent with district and state mandates.  Create a plan of how to manage state, local, and building operational needs while recognizing change is inevitable, embracing it at every opportunity.
-          Ask a few simple question before bringing new initiatives to the staff:  How is this going to benefit students?  How is this going benefit the building climate?  Is it necessary to enhance student or staff success?  Did I survey the appropriate stakeholders before moving forward? 
-          Demonstrate consistency and accountability by addressing needs of the current situation.  Decrease unknowns surrounding building management, calendar, behavior management, PTO activities, district initiatives, etc.
-          Provide a supportive and safe environment conducive to learning that provides support for student with academic and behavioral needs.
-          Understand and provide direction regarding the evaluation tool and district/state process. 

This post is more of a reflection on how I want to operate as a building principal, decreasing anxiety around the professional growth process.  I know, seems overwhelming!  Good thing, we are all in this together for the betterment of students.   Professional growth process should be a positive experience and the umbrella to everything we accomplish during the school year.  We should use it to improve our instructional practices and professional growth, with our number one focus being the core: Student Learning.  I want the professional growth process to support educators and not be the cause for stress, and the best way to accomplish that is by increasing trust!   

The increased teacher evaluation attention seems overwhelming!  Something to consider:  educators usually have long careers with plenty of time for sustained growth.  We should have a strategic plan that changes with the ever-changing educational landscape throughout our careers. 

Enjoy relaxing, learning, and reflecting over the summer!


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Effective vs Highly Effective – Do we need to clarify?

My last blog post focused on the importance of self-reflecting, which intrigued me to reflect and ask a simple question regarding our current professional growth process:  Is it improving instruction and professional growth, or is it creating stress and anxiety for teachers? 

It is inevitable that teacher evaluations are becoming increasingly important at the state level, and it filters down to districts and school buildings where principals and teaching faculty are experiencing stress.  How do you quantify an exceptional teacher?  This is a question many are asking, and it’s leaving educators with a feeling of uneasiness within our profession due to political uncertainties surrounding the process. 

There are many different tools being utilized to evaluate teachers.  The state of Michigan (where I work) created The Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, (MCEE) that selected four teacher observation tools (Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, The Thoughtful Classroom, and 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning) to be piloted among a variety of different school districts.  Eventually, one will be chosen and it will be the principal’s daunting task to evaluate all teachers, without subjectivity, and with extreme integrity and fidelity to the process.  Student growth will be the predominant factor and there will be domains, dimensions, components, and/or frameworks focused on teacher effectiveness, with loads of research to back up each principle.  Research based teacher evaluation tools have their place in education; however, I want to make the process motivating for teachers. This can be achieved by focusing on what we can improve, strategically setting goals that matches our ever changing educational landscape, supporting the 21 Century.  The evaluation tool should be utilized as a support to teachers and administrators, guiding instructional conferences and encouraging continuous professional growth, within our craft of educating children.   

In the past, the evaluation activities were not much different than they are today.  The process would consist of observing the lesson, providing feedback by showcasing accolades, and collaborating on improvements to take the lesson to the next level.  These were great conversations of support, which included celebrating success and setting goals for sustained improvement.  The process was stress free, (for the most part) and still held us accountable for continuous improvement and professional reflection of effectiveness. 

Unfortunately, the new process is stressful, not because we are utilizing a research based evaluation tool.  I enjoy utilizing a rubric to support and generate conversations during our instructional conferences.  The problem lies with effective vs highly effective.  Obviously, quality teachers, who are excited about their profession, do not want to be considered less than effective. The problem is that the highest level of stress tends to be with teachers who are effective and do not receive a highly effective rating. Most teachers are focused on student learning and professional growth.  Those who are not should be dealt with in a confidential and appropriate manner, utilizing established protocol from your district.  I truly believe this is a very small number of teachers.  Usually, teachers that are teetering between minimally effective and effective have documented examples that justify the need for future growth.  The same can be said for teachers teetering between effective and highly effective. This continues to lead to debate (or at least an awkward conversation) rather than positive instructional conferencing dialogue for improved teaching.   

Assuming that a teacher meets many/all of the effective and highly effective qualities, along with having adequate student growth,  then the question should be asked: what are the problems with having a highly effective category?  Things to ponder: 

-          We utilize the Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching in my district to generate conversation surrounding the evaluation process; however, she created the rubrics for professional growth, and not necessarily a ranking system.  Are we using the model as it was intended? 
-          Announced and unannounced observations represent a small sampling of what takes place throughout the school year.  Is this a true indicator of what takes place during all lessons, with respect to instructional strengths and areas of improvement? 
-          One principal’s viewpoint and philosophy might be different from another within a district, even when trained under the same model.  Can we guarantee that our viewpoints are consistent across the state, district, or even buildings? 
-          Exceptional teachers can adjust teaching to meet many of the Highly Effective categories when an administrator enters the room; however, is this is an indicator of what takes place each and every day?  Is there a need for deeper self-reflection (previous post)? 
-          Political uncertainties continue to surround the evaluation process.  Can we feel comfortable with a process that could change, due to legislative mandates that have not been determined? 

This dilemma is stressful for administrators as well.  A question I always ask myself: how can I be highly effective when the landscape of education is always changing and there are so many variables that can guide future growth?  Administrators want to do a great job of providing honest feedback, without teachers being worried about their effectiveness category.  Most teachers want to be great, and the evaluation process should be the avenue that fosters improvement within our ever-changing profession.  Do we need a highly effective category to accomplish our goals?   

For now, the law states that we must have multiple rating (highly effective, effective, minimally effective, or ineffective) categories.  With that said, we need to clarify what it means to be highly effective so that we are utilizing the Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching to support our conversations about professional growth rather than effectiveness. 

Some possible ideas for clarifying Highly Effective:

-          Teacher must initiate a desire to be highly effective during goal setting meetings at the start of the school year, setting expectations to maintain effectiveness over multiple years. 
-          Teacher must demonstrate ability within all or a considerable amount of the highly effective domain attributes, showcasing best practice and 21st century learning strategies.
-          Longitudinal student growth data (3-5 years) should meet or be above target growth expectations. student growth philosophy 
-          Attend 10 additional hours of PD (above the 30 required) during the school year, bringing the information back to the relevant staff.  Teacher is a leader in their field and impact students beyond their own classroom.
-          Teacher has the ability and willingness to teach all children and grade levels within professional certificate.
-          Zero discipline or letters of concern from stakeholders (administrator discretion) within the last 3-5 years. 
-          Teacher is the positive voice in education, supporting their craft and profession with positive attendance. 
-          Accurate self-reflection on each domain, indicating where growth is necessary.  Deeper self-reflection is necessary throughout the school year.  See previous post. 
-          Teacher demonstrates above and beyond attributes that supports the building and district. 
-          Teacher is willing to be a host classroom for teams of administrators or teachers for the purpose of instructional rounds.
-          Additional observations by outside administrators, supporting consistency between buildings.  

There will always be a level of subjectivity; however, creating a clarifying list, while establishing your effectiveness desire at the start of the school year, will decrease stress and bring the conversations back to professional growth. 

This is just one principal’s ramblings about the current dilemma we are all experiencing.  Feel free to share your comments regarding your process or beliefs.  It is important to collaborate and reflect as we continue to navigate through this process.  Thanks for reading! 
Keith Howell