When preparing for educator evaluation processes, setting a building focus helps to promote growth and effective feedback between school leaders and teachers.

At the Network for Educator Effectiveness, we encourage focus around evaluation processes in three key ways:

  • We recommend schools select only three to five indicators of effective teaching practices per year to evaluate.
  • We suggest each classroom has six to 10 observations per year to create and sustain focused feedback conversations around instruction.
  • The three to five selected indicators – measured through six to 10 classroom observations as well as on the NEE Student Survey – become the focus of teachers’ summative evaluation reports.

In this blog, we will address some of the ways to ensure your leadership, faculty, and staff understand the building focus for evaluations as well as the “why” behind that focus.

Could your teachers articulate the building focus?

Evaluation with a focus can and should help carry forward individual growth and school improvement. To get to that point, it is important that teachers can articulate the purpose and focus of the evaluation process – instead of viewing it as a detached time-waster that is another hoop to jump through or a box to check.

The first step is to guarantee teachers are aware of which indicators will be used in the evaluation process. This requires communication, communication, communication. It sounds easy, but it is difficult to overcommunicate and easy for teachers to feel they have not received enough communication. We recommend the following strategies to strengthen communication about the focus of the school’s evaluation processes: 

  • Before the beginning of the year, inform teachers of the indicators of effective teaching practices that will be used as part of the observation and student survey processes. 
  • It can be most helpful to give teachers an opportunity to see those effective teaching practices in action and become familiar with the rubrics as they observe. Utilize the Indicator Scoring Practice Videos available in EdHub. In full faculty meetings or smaller-group meetings, ask teachers to watch one or more of the videos and use the rubrics to identify effectiveness.
  • At faculty meetings, facilitate further discussions on the scoring rubrics for the selected indicators. Center those conversations on the known strategies, systems, and processes the school has in place to support those teaching practices.
  • When introducing topics of building improvement initiatives, show or talk about the connection between those initiatives and the effective teaching practices you are evaluating. For example, when talking about PBIS systems and practices, communicate the specific indicator that those practices or systems align with; when talking about formative assessment strategies, walk through how that aligns with NEE Indicator 7.4.
  • In feedback conversations with teachers, have scoring rubrics handy and ready to share. Get teachers familiar with using the language of the indicator, instead of the shorthand number. For instance, instead of “scored a 3” talk about your observations of “less than half the students” or “less than half the time.” Use “cognitive engagement” instead of Indicator 1.2, or “student-teacher relationships” instead of Indicator 5.3b.
  • Recognize effort and exemplary performance of instruction with specific language about how it relates to the effective teaching practices that are the focus of the school.

The more you can engage teachers in conversation using the language of the effective teaching practices, the more teachers will become involved in the evaluation process and their understanding about evaluation will improve. 

The next step will be critical to tying the evaluation process to the school.

Communicating “the why”

It is crucial to convey why the indicators of effective teaching practice were selected.  This “why” can come from numerous places.

  • Quantitative data focused on areas of improvement
    Based on quantitative data, educators may choose indicators of effective teaching practice they believe will drive improvement in a specific area of instruction. For example, if data from a standardized assessment shows a schoolwide lag in critical thinking, that school may select NEE Indicator 4.1 (critical thinking) as a focus area for evaluation.  
  • School culture
    Indicators of effective teaching practice may be chosen as they relate to school culture – either to grow in a certain direction or to be maintained at a certain level. For example, a school may wish to build emotional awareness and understanding for all students and would choose NEE Indicator 2.4: The teacher promotes the emotional competence of students to measure whether students are provided the space to build understanding and awareness, and at what level of effectiveness.
  • Vision and mission of the school
    There may be times a school wants to measure how well it is meeting its mission or vision. The school would then select an indicator or cluster of indicators that align with the mission and vision, and the indicator(s) would provide an understanding of how the vision and mission are being met inside each classroom.
  • Building improvement goals
    Each school has certain initiatives or programs it seeks to implement each year. These may be instructional, behavioral, social, or assessment-based. In cases where there are initiatives in place, there should be measurement in place to track progress of implementation.
  • Professional development goals
    In some cases, a school may even decide to have teachers select an indicator to focus on based on their own interests and how they want their classroom to operate. A school may provide a smaller list of indicators for individual teachers to select, or let them select from all available indicators. This could help teachers individualize their evaluation process, develop a way to track their professional development, and grow in their own targeted area.

These are some of the most common data points and justifications for why an indicator of effective teaching practice would be selected in a school. Ultimately, it all comes back to measuring progress and growth. After all, that is a key to any evaluation. It is important to convey to teachers the why. By communicating to teachers that an indicator was chosen from the above bullet points, or for another reason, you provide clarity and meaning around the evaluation process.

How are the selected indicators going to help the school get better?

Measurement for measurement sake has seldom accomplished anything. Meaning is introduced when measurement carries forward to the next phase: learning. And, when it comes to the evaluation process, that’s where the feedback conversation comes in.

Each time data is entered from a classroom observation is a signal that the school leader and the teacher should have a conversation. That conversation will be about a specific teaching practice – one that is known, is readily identifiable, is a theme of professional development, and is definable by both you and the teacher. The ensuing conversation is not based on your likes or dislikes, nor that of the teacher. Instead, it is based on how effective the specific teaching practice was implemented and, more importantly, what comes next.

For more about effective feedback conversations, read about our three golden rules and five-step process of effective feedback.

At the Network for Educator Effectiveness, we believe in evaluation that promotes growth. We know growth happens through measurement and through conversation. We must know what we want to improve at, we must learn how to get better at it, and then we must measure how much better we have gotten, before we start the cycle over again.

Specific and consistent communication about the indicators of effective teaching practices the school is focusing on, and about why they are the focus for the school, lead to the right environments for conversations centered on growth and making the school as great as it can be.

Tom Hairston is the Managing Director of the Network for Educator Effectiveness. Tom has worked with NEE since 2011. Prior to his work with NEE, he worked for two years as a Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports Consultant for the Heart of Missouri Regional Professional Development Center at the University of Missouri. He began his career in education as a high school special education and language arts teacher and football coach at Moberly High School in Moberly, Mo. Tom received his PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri in 2012.

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.