Man writing on a piece of paper while sitting at his desk

The purpose of any teacher performance improvement plan (PIP) is to improve the performance of the teacher through professional development that ultimately improves the productivity of the school district. A good plan begins with the end in mind. What exactly does this teacher need to do to improve? Stating this in the form of a clear goal will guide the plan. The goal should be precise, focused and measurable. This goal will drive all aspects of the PIP and keep you and the teacher on the straight and narrow path to improvement.

Most of us have had many opportunities to write such goals but maybe not so much practice in writing the plans to achieve these goals. Life would be so much easier if you could just tell a teacher what needed to improve, and presto, it would happen. But teachers are mere humans, and we humans need guidance and direction before our behaviors can actually change. There must be a clearly articulated plan filled with supports and accountability if there is any hope for success.

There are three phases that make up the action plan of the PIP. All three phases must align to the stated goal, and all three phases must have built-in accountability to ensure compliance and sincere effort on the part of the teacher and principal.

Phase 1: Training and Support

You can’t just demand that a teacher changes their behavior. if the teacher knew how to exhibit a more effective version of the behavior in question, they would. Teachers have to acquire the knowledge that will allow them to identify and understand the action you are asking of them. They must be supported and allowed to learn and come to terms with the new expectations. The first step in a legitimate action plan is to give teachers the resources and time they need to acquire the knowledge and to understand the nuances behind these changes. Sending a teacher straight to implementation without the proper understanding and foundation is a recipe for disaster. Lay the groundwork for effective change by allowing a teacher to gather knowledge through books, webinars, peers, coaches, and observations.

Phase 2: Implementation

Once the teacher is on solid footing and understands what is being asked of them, it is time to identify the action and implement. One of the biggest mistakes principals make in developing a PIP is failing to break down the implementation phase into manageable steps. Progressing through a series of small actions that lead to the accomplishment of the goal is much more likely to result in success. Each activity and expectation designed in the implementation phase must directly align to the goal. Don’t waste your time or the teacher’s time assigning meaningless busy work simply to generate mindless data. Implementation requires time to practice, fail, adjust, and try again. Rushing this phase will produce compliance, not true lasting change. 

Phase 3: Monitoring the Plan

Principals have a full plate and, therefore, need to be careful not to make the PIP a burden that cannot be monitored in an efficient manner. One great way to do this is to give a majority of the responsibility for creating, collecting, and presenting the evidence of completion to the teacher. It should be the teacher’s responsibility to gather the evidence and present it to you in a timely fashion as directed by the PIP. It should not be your duty to watch the calendar and chase down the data requested in this PIP.

A good practice is to require the teacher to schedule two face-to-face meetings with you during the anticipated duration of the PIP. The obligation of scheduling, preparing, and leading this follow-up meeting will belong to the teacher, allowing you to play the more useful role of facilitator and coach. During this monitoring phase, you are going to discover that adjustments are needed to the plan. Show that you are sincerely trying to help this teacher succeed by giving them more or less time, revising or adding action steps, and simplifying and clarifying expectations all according to the needs of the teacher. It demonstrates to all involved your intentions are earnest as you support the teacher and that you are guiding the process with integrity. 

Building in Accountability

An action plan without accountability is no more than a hope and a prayer. All three phases must specify hard evidence to be collected that will allow the teacher to demonstrate they have completed each step of the action plan with fidelity and quality. When you are creating these measures, make sure they align with the actual action and the overall goal of the PIP. As an example, a teacher with a PIP built around the use of formative assessment might identify the analysis of formative assessment results as evidence to be presented. This analysis would reveal that the teacher is using assessment to meet the needs of students. Requiring not only the collection of the evidence by the teacher but also the presentation of the evidence in some form elevates the sense of responsibility to the plan. This evidence could be offered as an artifact, video, reflection, student work sample, photo, data analysis, or other creative means.

Cheri Patterson is a trainer and field support representative for the Network for Educator Effectiveness. She joined NEE in 2013 after an extensive career in K-12 education as a teacher, principal, and associate superintendent.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.