Saturday, September 3, 2011

When You Fail, I Fail - Approach To Leadership

One of the top questions surrounding education is, “How can we develop a fair and effective model for teacher evaluations?” Is it fair or effective to include test scores, or is measuring student progress throughout the school year a more fair and effective approach? Regardless of the outcome, there are ways in which principals can work closely to ensure improvement in teacher effectiveness.

Supervision of Instruction occurs between 8:00 and 3:00 or it doesn't get done!

The power to change education, for better or worse, is and always has been in the hands of teachers. Therefore, principals as instructional leaders, must separate the managerial side of the principalship with that of improving teacher effectiveness. No longer is it acceptable to sit in an office, work on state reports, complete teacher evaluations, or engage in any other activity that can be completed outside the school day. An effective principal designates school hours for students, teachers, and parents, every day.

Try this:
  • Teach a class and model technology integration, differentiation, embedded interventions and other proven instructional strategies.
  • Seek opportunities for professional dialogue with your teachers to build collegiality. Social media can be an effective tool to think, learn, and grow together with your teachers.
  • Engage in a “Lunch and Learn” with an ineffective teacher to follow-up on his/her growth plan.
  • Cover a class to allow a teacher the opportunity to visit a colleague's classroom. Make sure to schedule a time for self-reflection with the teacher.
If your faculty refers to walkthroughs as “drive bys,” failure may be just around the corner.

One of the most important, mandatory, responsibilities of a principal is frequent classroom visits. Frequent informal visits with a purpose add up to a true examination of what's happening in the classroom. However, what's happening in the classroom differs between a good principal and a great principal. A good principal spends much of the time at the back of the room focusing on teaching. A great principal spends valuable time at the front of the room focusing on students. The primary objective is to walk away with meaningful information that will promote teacher growth and enrich student's educational experience.

Try this:
    Interview a student after class and ask probing questions to check for understanding. It's always good practice to ask questions once the natural forgetting process has begun. Don't be afraid to ask a question about last week's lesson to check for retention.  Always share with your teacher your findings.
If your feedback is sugar-coated, expect failure to be blunt.

Feedback must be as frequent and mandatory as classroom visits. As a principal, we must be courageous and provide honest, specific feedback that articulates the desired expectation. Instead of just stating a concern, provide a solution or strategy for improved performance. Every teacher, regardless of performance level, deserves meaningful feedback. Teachers feel unappreciated when the principal fails to provide any type of feedback.

Try this:
    To be courageous, simply say to yourself, “I must be honest, straightforward, and detailed because our students deserve the very best.” This significant act of being downright honest separates an effective instructional leader from an ineffective instructional leader.
Belief Doesn't Come First; Action Comes First

Talking about great ideas and actually putting ideas into action are two very different things. Many times, good principals passionately share their perspectives and points of view with a reluctant teacher, hoping this teacher will jump on board. Recently, Lyn Hilt explained to me that to change one's belief, we must first change one's behavior. We can do this by setting high expectations and developing a teacher growth plan.

Many principals are excellent at collaborating with an ineffective teacher to develop a well-detailed growth plan but fail by not following up. A great principal intervenes immediately to address a concern rather than waiting for a post evaluation. A strong growth plan includes strategies for achieving the desired outcome, contains indicators and measures of achievement, and a completion time. Effective principals work collaboratively to develop an individual plan for every teacher and provides support so that failure is impossible.

Try this:
    Embed professional develop into every day. As Eric Sheninger suggests, replace teacher duties with intensive, specific, professional development to move a teacher from good to great. Quit talking about such things as differentiation, technology integration, and interventions, and expect teachers to put these strategies into action. Once teachers experience positive results, they will undoubtedly change their belief. Remember, as an effective instructional leader, it's your responsibility to assist and provide support to ensure positive results. Otherwise, you both may fail!
Failure to build trust, sooner or later, will build failure.

The best way to build trust is honesty. It is important to be straightforward with every teacher and do for one teacher as you would for any other. Provide support, detailed feedback, and individualized professional development for every teacher. Stretch and challenge every teacher to grow and to put proven strategies into action. As principals, our first priority must be to move every teacher to proficient and beyond. How can we expect to get every student to proficient when we have limited knowledge or unsatisfactory teachers?

To build trust, principals must adopt the philosophy that 'when you fail, I fail.' If students, teachers, and principals all hold themselves accountable for student learning in some capacity, failure is impossible. 

ac·count·abil·i·ty - an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions

In conclusion, teacher evaluations can be fair and effective when the formal evaluation is not a surprise. By October, every teacher should know their area for improvement, strategies to reach proficiency, and frequent updates regarding progress toward reaching the desired expectation.  If the teacher has the desire to improve and enhance the educational experience for their students, they will.  If not, much data and evidence is documented to prove otherwise.  


  1. Excellent post! Your teachers are fortunate to have a leader like you. From a teacher's point of view, I think you hit the key components of a successful principal; engagement, openness, trust, direction, purpose, and communication.

  2. Thanks for posting many ways that teachers and administrators can work together to develop craft and serve children well.

  3. Thanks for the post. While I'm not an administrator, much of what you say is true for the technology coach.

  4. Leslie, thank you for the nice comment. Excellent job pointing out the key components. I do feel these components are essential to effectively leading teachers to excellence.

    Maureen, thank you for the comment. You hit the nail on the head. It is all about serving children and do it to the best of our ability! To do it right, we must all work well together.

    An Educational Enthusiast, I totally agree with you. These key components are essential for any coach to be successful. In your case, changing one's belief is a very important step. When it comes to technology, the best way to change someone's attitude about technology integration is simply by expecting them to do it. During the first time, coach alongside them to eliminate any frustration. Once they see for themselves how technology can enhance instruction, they will soon be telling every one around them. No longer can we encourage teachers by talking about it, instead, we must expect them to put these ideas into action and provide a timeframe for implementation.

  5. Great post! One question though... I am an aspiring school administrator and have often been frustrated as a teacher leader by the reluctance of some of my peers to integrate technology into their practice. You state that you don't just talk about it, but expect it. What do you do, beyond working alongside them initially, to turn these teachers toward the effective use of technology? --Chris Ming

  6. Chris, thank you for commenting. By the way, I look forward to reading your new blog!

    We have been talking about technology integration for more than 15 years and we still have teachers who refuse to integrate. I often hear the phrase, "A great teacher can teach in a field with a chalkboard." I do agree with this statement, however, are his/her students prepared for the 21st Century? No longer can we teach the way we always have. I also believe it is irresponsible for any teacher that does so.

    To answer your question, "Mini Action Plans" is the secret to getting reluctant teachers to try new ideas. A growth plan is a plan developed mainly by the teacher. An action plan is developed by the principal. I meet with the teacher and provide a detailed plan that clearly states what I expect to see within usually a 2 week period. I usually meet with the teacher during plan time the very next day to help him/her get on their way. This eliminates procrastination. Let me provide an example.

    At the beginning of this year, I met with my geography/social studies teacher and talked with her about implementing more writing and about modernizing her assessment type. For two years now, much of her assessments has been quizzes or multiple choice unit tests. I wanted her to get a more accurate assessment of student understanding. So this is what I did.

    I presented an action plan in which required her to implement a type of social media tool that would allow students to collaborate with one another through a chat-like format. This tool would allow her students to be able to submit blog posts. The teacher would be able to post assignments in which the students would be able to submit their responses. I then provided a few web 2.0 platforms that I wanted her to research such as Edmodo, Diipo, etc...

    At the end of the week, I met with the teacher to check on her progress. She had researched and made her choice. At that time, we set-up everything and she joined the site as the teacher and I joined the site as a mock student. For the next three days, she would post an assignment, or chat, or a blog post, and I would respond as the student. We met one last time to reflect and to determine any problems our students may face. (Students catch on quick-They engage in this type of conversations every day.)

    After two weeks of implementation, the teacher is extremely excited about the learning that is taking place and how students who never turn in assignments, are completing assignments almost as quickly as she can post it. (I will have much more on how this has created an excitement for geography and social studies in my next post!)

    Since then, I have met with this teacher and I presented a plan on how to stay on top of the most current best practices in social studies. I then set her up on Twitter and introduced her to #sschat. She absolutely loves it and is doing extraordinary things in class. I can't put into words how excited the students are about geography and social studies not only at school, but even at home now!

    If you notice, there is not an option to not meet the expectation of the action plan because of two very important things. A deadline and follow through from the principal. I never just talk about it or handout a plan of action. I am consistently providing support and checking on progress to ensure success. If my teacher fails to meet the plan, then I fail! AND I HATE TO FAIL!

    Also check out "Technology - The New Non-Negotiable"

  7. Thank you very much for your thorough response. I am part of a technology committee at my school and we are tackling this issue right now. I will speak with them about your response and attempt to implement it.

  8. A great post Shawn. Lots of quality input and ideas. I am seeking to facilitate greater PD for the staff through learning lunches and mentoring (not necessarily by me/often others in the team who are best qualified in a given area). I know I need to get into the classrooms more, end of excuses - that is my challenge starting this next half term!

  9. Thank you for sharing your comments. It is easy in a large HS and all the expectations placed on assistant principals to allow other things to get in the way of instructional leadership. Thank you for the reminder of where I MUST be.