It would be an understatement to say schools continue to experience difficult times in the first quarter of 2022. The Network for Educator Effectiveness has taken steps over the past 24 months to support educators across our network in any way possible, and this blog is another small step in providing support.

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As February settles in, building administrators come into the annual season of preparing summative reviews for their instructional staff. This year, we may need to handle this task with a slightly different approach. Unlike any time in my lengthy career in education, more educators right in the prime of their career are walking away from the profession. There are more reasons than I can begin to list, but overall, far too many educators have hit their stress-level limit and are choosing to leave their current role in schools. Some in the higher-than-normal stress environment are faced with related health issues, which necessitate a change in their situation. Other early-career educators are deciding to leave the profession after weighing their current compensation package against their stress level. There’s not enough of the former along with too much of the latter.

Another complicating factor is the narrowing educator pipeline. Missouri experienced a significant reduction from 12,000 education majors in our institutes of higher education in 2012 to 8,000 in 2016. Unfortunately, those numbers are tumbling again. It’s too early to know the exact impact, but education course enrollment numbers are lower. This reality clashes with our previous method of simply replacing less-effective probationary teachers with new teachers from the next graduating class.

I bring up these issues so we gain a broad perspective of where we are before taking on the topic of how to prepare a teacher summative evaluation this spring. Three years ago, I would not have offered the following suggestions. I don’t know if in three years these will still be my recommendations. But today, I believe we need to use a fair measure of caution regarding the tone, context, and content of our message in preparing summative reviews.

The Tone: We need to acknowledge that large blocks of educators are under so much pressure and stress. Many are simply in survival mode trying to get to June. We, as administrators, need to carefully consider the timbre of our words (both verbal and written) by using a fair measure of understanding for the situation that staff have been placed in during the past school year. Make it crystal-clear from your first words/actions in the summative review period that you are there to support them through this situation. I also hope supervisors of principals are doing their part to offer needed support to building leaders during this time. The days of ruling with an iron fist have gone; our profession simply can’t chase educators out the door. If they are ineffective, then we better figure out a plan to help them improve because there likely isn’t anyone coming over the hill to take their place.

The Context: No one signed up for this hazard duty. For the “troops in the trenches,” this difficult situation has been thrust on them. So let us be cautious in the context of our message. Let us seek an approach of understanding their situation and to establish an environment that helps them navigate the challenges faced and will likely face again. Let us be careful when we consider areas of improvement to ensure the teacher’s performance was not hindered or limited by factors beyond their control. If you find areas that must be addressed, then offer support to help them succeed and not a whack across the knuckles.

The Content: As you prepare the NEE Summative Report and your conference talking points, be mindful of how you write and discuss the content of the summative report. In writing the summary comments on the report, you must be accurate and fair to document the effectiveness for the evaluative cycle. But also clearly showcase how the teacher handled and overcame the challenging circumstances of this school year. While the actual indicator rubric performance scores may not have been as high as usual, we must recognize and praise the teacher’s efforts to at least attempt to handle the circumstances and offer the best possible outcome for the students.

Overall, we must recognize the teacher’s position in the challenges faced this school year. It was another unprecedented situation that we hope never happens again. All educators have endured a lot over the past 24 months. That adverse impact is still playing out. Each of us stands in our own little corner of the education world. Each of us tries daily to navigate a path toward a better situation for our students and staff. I hope my thoughts help you in these coming weeks to get to a better place in June.

For more on NEE’s recommendations for the summative process, review our additional blogs:

Dr. Marc Doss is co-founder and Expansion Director for the Network for Educator Effectiveness. He has 30 years of experience in the classroom and education administration at the building and district levels.

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.