Lessons from the ‘New School Shoes’ Experience Apply to New Teaching Indicators
Principals know one of the easiest ways to make the first-week-of-school connections with students is to ask them about their new school shoes. Students are so proud of their new sneaks, and confidence bursts as you inquire about them. If only we could get teachers to have that same self-assurance and conviction about the new teaching indicators that will be evaluated each school year.
Perhaps school leaders can learn a few things from the “New School Shoes” experience that would help teachers feel that same security and assuredness about the building’s focus indicators of effective teaching.
Make a Plan and Communicate
New school shoes don’t just happen; they are a well-planned event. After much inquiry and angst from a child, parents finally announce the intent to buy and the date of the purchase. This same trepidation and angst exist in teachers at the beginning of a school year. Even though you emailed the new indicator selections to teachers in the spring, they very likely have forgotten. Send a new email, list them in your weekly teacher memo, and mention them in the opening faculty meeting.
Make Your Case: ‘The Why’
All kids will up their debate skills while stating their case for the “I just gotta have ‘em” perfect pair of kicks. They will list all of the reasons this pair of shoes is going to make life better and name all of the positive attributes of the shoe. They become quite the salespeople in their desire to acquire the just-right shoe. Principals need to do the same sales job for their teachers. Teachers need to understand why the particular indicators were chosen. How do these indicators tie to the district/building focus? Did the data lead us to this selection? Were they the perfect match for our Professional Development Plan? Will these be the indicators that have the best chance to move our vision and mission forward? Does the culture of our community warrant these particular indicators? Explaining the reasons for indicator selection will go a long way towards their acceptance. (For more on this topic, read Setting the Building Focus Makes Evaluation Processes More Meaningful.)
Set the Expectations (aka The Rubric)
If you are a parent, you know before you enter the shopping process, it is wise to set the parameters surrounding the big purchase. You must temper expectations, define the must-haves, and reach a common understanding of the product you will ultimately purchase. Does this sound familiar? It should be the same process school leaders follow in relation to the NEE classroom observation rubrics. Take the time to print the rubrics and hand them to teachers. Yes, you should also tell them where they live in the NEE Data Tool, but teachers are busy people with a lot of priorities. Putting a hard copy in their hands is important, but taking the time to process its content with teachers is even more crucial. Establish specifically what teaching and learning behaviors are being evaluated with each indicator. Spend time discussing the clarification side of the NEE rubric. Have discussions about the listed look-fors, but take the time to define how each indicator will manifest itself within your school’s expectations. Have teachers work together to add building-specific look-fors to the rubric.
Show What It Should Look Like
How do kids know what shoes they want? They see them on websites, social media, and TV. These marketing strategies are used to showcase the look of the shoe and prove their worth. This is the visual that is cemented in their brains and guides the purchase. Providing this same experience for teachers can communicate what the indicators should look like in action. NEE provides you with classroom videos that have been scored and include evaluative comments for most of the indicators. There are both exemplar videos and practice videos with wider-ranging scores. Watching these videos as a faculty or small group of teachers leads to great discussion and a more consistent conceptualization of the indicator. These videos can be found in EdHub under the topics for “Indicator Scoring Practice Videos” and “Indicator Video Exemplars.” Additional content and activities about the indicators can also be found in EdHub.
Remember Learning is Social
Whether acquiring the knowledge to make a retail purchase or learning the nuances of a particular teaching indicator, it is easier done with support. I have watched my daughter and her friends combing through shoe websites, each of them offering their critique of the next pair of shoes to pop up on the screen. The result of this opinionated and thoughtful experience is a shared vision and consensus of what constitutes the perfect shoe. Giving teachers this same opportunity to work with their peers as they process the meaning of the indicators will build a shared understanding and more unified implementation across the faculty. Utilizing established teaching teams can provide an efficient way to allow teachers to define, comprehend and strategize each indicator. If enough trust and a proper protocol have been established, teams can observe each other to provide feedback concerning the indicators being implemented. Check out the peer observation material in EdHub under the “Professional Collaborations” topic for guidance on effective peer observations.
Consider a Free Pass
Sometimes you get those new shoes home and they just weren’t what you thought they were. They aren’t comfortable, they don’t look right with your outfit, or you have second thoughts about their style. No problem; you can just take them back! Why not give your teachers this same free pass? Offer to conduct the first classroom observation with feedback but no score.
This allows the teacher a dress rehearsal without high-stakes scoring. It gives you the chance to communicate your interpretation of the rubric and set a growth mindset. Teachers will appreciate your consideration and your feedback.
New school shoes give many students the self-confidence to face the new school year. They somehow offer support and assurance that everything will be okay. Give your teachers the same opportunities to face the school year with the security that they will be able to grow through the indicators, not despite them.
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.