WOW!!! It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the beginning of NEE’s service to schools.  It has been a great 10 years of growth and learning leading up to the NEE that we see today. As we look back on our journey, we reflect on 10 things we have learned about teacher evaluation and the many ways NEE has improved as a result.

1. Feedback needs to be a central focus of evaluation.

In recent years, it has become crystal clear that, when delivered effectively, feedback is the driver of professional growth. While classroom observation scores might start a conversation, feedback provides the level of focused support necessary to help teachers advance their instructional skills. Yet providing effective feedback to teachers can be one of the most difficult aspects of a principal’s job. That’s why over the past four years, NEE has placed more focus on feedback practices during summer training sessions with principals. To help principals develop more effective feedback processes, NEE has created two resources: the Guide to Effective Feedback Conversations and the Four Paths to Effective Feedback.

2. Professional development should be embedded in evaluation processes.

When evaluation data identify opportunities for growth, a next step is to offer professional learning to enhance that instructional strategy. And while a school or district might have a set of professional learning priorities as a whole, teachers need individual professional learning relative to their own goals and areas for growth. So, in 2014, NEE started work on the EdHub professional learning library to offer professional learning within the evaluation context. We later integrated the EdHub library in the NEE Data Tool to improve accessibility and usability. EdHub offers hundreds of professional learning activities for teachers and school leaders that align with the NEE teacher and leader indicators. We recently added the “Building Instructional Skills” topic within EdHub, which connects classroom observation scores with professional learning activities.

3. Calibrating with other school leaders improves accuracy of classroom observation scores.

Since the beginning, NEE has offered training for principals to practice scoring classroom observations. In training, NEE brings together principals from a cluster of schools to create a more robust learning experience. Over time, we have seen how this process improves the inter-rater reliability of classroom observation scores and the quality of feedback conversations between teachers and leaders.

4. On-demand training improves access and offers greater flexibility.

Although NEE training was previously only offered in-person, NEE now gives principals the option to complete their NEE training online and on-demand. In fact, during COVID-19, online and on-demand were the only training options available. Online training mimics the in-person training experience as closely as possible, while on-demand training offers principals a completely self-paced, asynchronous training experience. Although COVID-19 pushed all of us into an online world, the truth is NEE had already begun creating and offering more flexible options for completing the required annual training. These options make NEE training accessible throughout the school year if leaders wish to go back and review what they learned.  

5. Teachers should be involved in the evaluation process, especially when there are changes.

NEE now serves close to 300 school districts, and we have learned that when implementing any evaluation changes, the change process is much smoother when teachers are involved upfront. Whether you are adding a new NEE component to the teacher summative report, adding a new NEE indicator for measurement, or moving into the NEE evaluation system – it is wise to make sure teachers have an opportunity to provide input, that they know the reason for the change, and that they know what to expect. NEE offers support for communicating changes and building awareness of NEE with teachers; you can always contact the NEE Help Desk to connect with support. Even if there are no evaluation changes in a particular school year, NEE recommends that school leaders review the expectations of the evaluation process in the spring for the upcoming school year and then again in back-to-school meetings. Evaluation is more meaningful when the process is transparent and teachers are keyed-in.

6. Schools should select the NEE teacher indicators that align with their local priorities.

NEE now offers 39 indicators of effective teaching practice, and 27 of them have classroom observation rubrics available. (The others can be measured using additional NEE components.) Schools select only 3 to 5 indicators to measure in classroom observations. This level of focus allows for greater accuracy and more effective feedback. It also allows schools to prioritize the indicators that align with their local initiatives. For instance, if a school is working to improve student-teacher relationships, they may select NEE Indicator 5.3b as one of the indicators to measure in classroom observations. Evaluation communicates the importance of a particular instructional strategy, and effective evaluation supports the school’s goals and initiatives.

7. Peer observations can provide professional growth that far exceeds what teachers gain through traditional professional development sessions.

Research shows there are many benefits to peer observations, yet they are tough to implement because of scheduling complications, lack of funds, and time spent facilitating the process. One of NEE’s latest projects is building a system to more easily facilitate peer observations and ensure it is a meaningful process that results in professional growth. While we continue to build and refine the new tool, teachers and leaders can learn more about the NEE Peer Observation Process and use the pilot forms through EdHub under the “Professional Collaborations” topic.

8. Teachers’ goal-setting is borne out of evaluation and supported by it.

PD plans can be a half-hearted effort of identifying a professional development goal for the year. From the beginning, NEE’s Teacher Professional Development Plan has been an integral part of the growth process. Classroom observation scores may help teachers identify their goal for professional growth. The EdHub library helps teachers build their knowledge of the identified instructional practice. The observation and feedback process serves the multiple roles of recognizing the teachers’ efforts, providing additional direction to improve their results and document their progress.

9. Moving the needle on NEE Indicator 7.4 (formative assessment) requires shared understanding.

In its early years, NEE looked at data across all 200+ districts and noticed that classroom observation scores on Indicator 7.4 (formative assessment) were below expectations. To address this concern, we devoted time during summer training to improve understanding of formative assessment. At the time, formative assessment was an emerging concept and we realized it could be difficult to understand the difference between traditional assessment and formative assessment. NEE helped educators create a shared understanding of what formative assessment looked like and helped administrators both learn to recognize it and learn how to describe what they wanted to see to teachers. Now, many educators believe formative assessment is the key to learning – figuring out what students know and don’t know, providing instruction, finding gaps and misunderstandings, and moving them efficiently to mastery. We still place importance on understanding this indicator, as all administrators are required to score Indicator 7.4 on their annual NEE qualifying exam.

10. Unique evaluation processes are required for school specialists and in various contexts.

Over 10 years, NEE has built our evaluation toolbox to include evaluation for most school specialist positions: principals, counselors, instructional coaches, librarians, speech-language pathologists, and paraprofessionals. Each school specialist position requires a unique set of indicators and evaluation measures based on best practices for that position, and NEE now provides the resources and support to effectively evaluate them. In the teacher evaluation process, we also have created unique look-fors and notes for early childhood classrooms, remote learning environments, special education settings, and social-emotional learning. Providing additional specificity for these unique contexts further improves the effectiveness of evaluation processes.

We have learned a lot in 10 years, and NEE will only continue to learn and adapt to schools’ evaluation needs. We know change is constant, and we are committed to providing the support and resources required to help teachers and leaders grow and improve as change happens. Our next big projects involve creating a peer observation tool and assisting rural schools with recruiting qualified teacher candidates. We always invite you to contact us with ideas and suggestions so we can provide you with the best support possible. Here’s to our next 10 years of learning and leading together!

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.