Spoiler alert: This summer, Network for Educator Effectiveness administrators who participate in our half-day recertification training will see this material covered in that session and will get to practice making instructional change decisions with simulated data.

Educator evaluation is about much more than a score, and it goes far beyond the classroom walls.

Effective evaluation means principals are accurately evaluating teachers, providing effective feedback, and implementing instructional change to support student learning.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness aims to help principals become more accurate evaluators through our annual, recurring trainings. We’ve also previously covered some best practices for providing effective feedback to support teachers in their professional growth .

Now, we want to dive deeper into how principals can implement instructional change to support student learning.

Person looking at chart data at desk

Getting Started on Instructional Change

NEE developed a six-step process for leading and implementing instructional change, which we get to below, but first we wanted to share the beliefs that inform and strengthen this process.

We believe the path to improved instructional practice begins with regular walkthroughs and classroom observations. NEE encourages principals to conduct numerous short observations throughout the school year to obtain a clear picture of the instruction taking place in the school. Teachers receive continuous feedback on their skills through this process, which encourages professional growth.

Administrators and teachers then collaborate to utilize observation data along with data collected through student surveys and other measures to make connections between the learning standards, student achievement, and instructional practices. This collaboration leads to the development of goals for instructional change.

A Six-Step Process for Instructional Change

We developed a process to guide school principals and teams in their quest for meaningful instructional change. (Download our Guide to Effective Instructional Change.)

The NEE instructional change process is cyclical in nature and encompasses six steps:

  1. Determine Needs
  2. Design Goal
  3. Create a Plan
  4. Provide Learning
  5. Conduct Practice
  6. Evaluate and Reflect

Determine Needs

The principal, as the instructional leader of the school, initiates the work to analyze school data, identify achievement gaps, and determine the instructional changes necessary to meet student achievement goals.

Available data for this first step might include:

  • PDC needs assessment
  • Student achievement by classroom and subgroups
  • Individual professional learning needs identified in PD plans
  • Indicator trend report (available in the NEE online evaluation system)
  • Student survey results
  • District and building priorities for students, grade levels, content areas, or the whole school
  • Local assessment data

During this data review, trends start to emerge. Administrators should be able to draw conclusions about the existing needs for instructional change and, if there are several, can prioritize those needs.

A need for professional learning directed at instructional change might exist for individuals, small groups, grade levels, content areas, or across most of the faculty.

Design Goal

The next step starts with presenting data to the appropriate teacher or group of teachers.

The approach to this step depends on the group you are focusing on for instructional change. It might best be conducted on an individual basis, with a grade level or content area team, or with the whole faculty. If shared with a group, make sure none of the data is identifiable. At no point should individually identifiable data be shared publicly with the group.

In situations where it is possible, you might share the data with a group without sharing your ideas for change. This allows the group to examine the data and work as a team to determine the need for change.

In cases where a small number of teachers need support for the same change, it is most effective to begin by meeting with each teacher individually. Present the data, describe the desired change, and offer the option to work independently (if that attempt has not already been made) or with a group to develop skills to implement the change. When this approach is used to form the group, the first session can begin with an atmosphere of working together for growth rather than one of punishment for poor performance. (If a teacher chooses to work independently, the effectiveness of their efforts can be enhanced by at least sharing with a group periodically.)

After a work group has been formed and a specific change has been identified, the group works to design a goal.

A PEERS goal provides a good framework for this process. Jim Knight in The Impact Cycle defines a PEERS goal as the following.

  • Powerful: A powerful goal is one that will make a real difference in students’ lives.
  • Easy: Easy does not mean goals are set with a low bar but that they are not complicated to implement and track.
  • Emotionally compelling: Teachers will work more diligently to achieve a goal that motivates them emotionally.
  • Reachable: Teachers must have hope of reaching the goal. It is important that teachers have specific strategies to use that they believe will move them toward a recognizable end goal. The goal should include a way to measure teacher success.
  • Student-focused: The goal should be stated in terms of what students will do rather than be focused on teacher actions.

Create a Plan

With a PEERS goal developed, administrators and teachers can create a plan for learning.

The plan should identify:

  • The resources that will be used to support teachers in learning. Resources could be books, videos, materials available in a professional resource library such as EdHub, in-district or outside experts, peer observations, workshops, and courses.
  • The format of the learning experiences. The learning experience could take place on an individual basis, in small groups, or among the whole faculty. If the plan includes individual learning, make sure to plan activities to share reflections with the group.
  • The timeline. Regardless of how the learning is presented, time for practice and evaluation should be built into the timeline.

Provide Learning

Everyone works the learning plan that was created. Books are read, videos are viewed, peer observations take place, online trainings are completed, and workshops and discussions are held.

Although it is important for all involved to honor their commitments, it is also important to continually evaluate the process and remain flexible. If the desired learning is not being accomplished, it might be appropriate to adjust the plan midstream.

Conduct Practice

It is important for teachers to conduct practice during the learning process. Practicing allows teachers to reflect, evaluate, and refine their skills and strategies while simultaneously building their knowledge.

The practice period is another good time for teachers to observe another teacher who can model the effective use of the strategy. Observing others allows teachers to see strategies in action and analyze their use in a classroom. Teachers from the learning group might benefit from conducting peer observations to learn from each other and to provide feedback to their colleagues. Even if peer observations are not used in this phase, teachers should continue to check in with the group and discuss their experiences.

Also during this phase, administrators should conduct walkthrough observations and meet with the teacher after each walkthrough to provide feedback. The feedback sessions are a great time to review the teacher’s progress in achieving the goal for instructional change and to provide support and direction for further growth.

Evaluate and Reflect

At the end of the learning plan, teachers should evaluate and reflect on their success, particularly on how the work impacted students. An evaluation can be conducted by the whole group but should also be addressed by the administrator with each teacher individually during feedback conferences. Celebrate efforts, progress, and successes. The evaluation might lead to new goals, or you might revise and extend the current plan.

The Instructional Change Cycle Begins Again

It’s worth repeating that instructional change is a cycle. After evaluating and reflecting on one goal, it’s time to begin anew.

Educators work throughout their career to increase their effectiveness as teachers. As educator and author Fred Ende puts it, “We want our educators to be lifelong learners, and the best way to do that is provide professional learning that is cyclical – that doesn’t end.”

It’s the administrator’s job to provide support through this process and ensure teachers have the resources they need for success.


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.