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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

New Leaders: APPR Is a Year-Long Process

By Peter DeWitt — May 19, 2013 4 min read
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Evidence-based observations and other multiple measures give educators and leaders the opportunity to showcase the professional growth they have always strived for from year to year.

Teacher observations are vitally important for the principal as much as the teacher. Unfortunately, there are observation tools that offer teachers no insight into how they could improve their own practice. Even in these days of increased accountability, some school leaders use checklists. Checklists, without any real post-observation conference, are a waste of time and should be thrown away.

Leaders really need to see, and understand, what is going on in every classroom. They need to be in touch with their students and staff. Observations should never be something to get done. But let’s face it, they are often seen as something to get through. That’s unfortunate because observations can offer leaders so much good information when they are added to the other things they see during the year.

The observation process should start on the first day of school before the formal paperwork begins. Before a formal observation is ever completed, the school leader should have stepped foot into the classroom numerous times. Depending on the level the school principal leads, and the size of the building, they should get into the classrooms every single day.

From the first day of the new school year, school leaders should be establishing a presence. Not one that scares children and makes staff nervous that they are lurking around every corner. Leaders should be establishing a presence that tells staff and students that they care...about behavior, relationships, academics, instructional practices, and school climate.

Observation is just one piece in the much larger accountability puzzle. This year, the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process is new for many educators across the country. There are multiple measures, student learning objectives (SLO’s) and state assessment scores, which all have point values. The point values are mindboggling and are tied to multiple measures and state assessments, which should not be happening.

However, there is a much more positive side to multiple measures. Multiple measures that require evidence can lead to great professional conversations, and many teachers are not only doing it with integrity, they are doing it with creativity. This was happening already in many schools long before APPR turned to point scales. This process is done with integrity because of the people involved.

Multiple measures may include:
Teacher reflections - teacher reflections can help leaders understand what teachers have done over the year. Teacher reflections can be an example of a teacher’s honest feelings about grading, communication, professional growth, but also about what worked in their classroom and what didn’t.
Student portfolios - The portfolios contain student work. Not just the work of students who excel, but the work of students who struggle. All of the work is a span of a year and shows student growth. I love reading the thoughts of the students. Some of the teachers really encouraged students to write about things they struggled with during the year. They made sure that they encouraged student voice.
Peer coaching - This has the potential to be a waste of time if it is not done with integrity. However, true peer observations can help teachers learn from one another over a school year. In the best cases, it also can bring about an honest reflection of what is working and what is not. The key is to choose the right peer to do the observation with during the year.
Goal setting - Teachers choose a goal at the beginning of the year and work on meeting that goal all year long. It’s a learner-centered project based learning at its best.
Community service - Most teachers are civic minded. Working in their school community or their home community is important. There are so many benefits to community service, especially if teachers include their students in the process.

In the End
Like many school leaders, I work with over-achievers. They don’t want to just hand something in. They want to hand in something that will truly capture what they want me to see as the school leader. It helps me get a better picture of the classroom environment, and it’s something that has been happening long before our increased accountability.

There are teachers who took pictures of evidence with their iPads and used Evernote to keep organized all year. It made it easier for them to provide me with a compilation of evidence from throughout the year. Other teachers reflected on how they incorporated poetry slams or “open mic” days in their classroom so students could provide free expression.

Another teacher completed a video with her students that compared one instructional model over another. It was creative and took a great deal of courage because no one had done that before. It paid off and captured what happened in her classroom.

Evidence-based observations and other multiple measures that are done with integrity can provide leaders a window into the classroom of the buildings they lead. Doing it for points has not made teachers and leaders take it more seriously. Points can be given without much integrity at all. Evidence-based observations and other multiple measures give educators and leaders the opportunity to showcase the professional growth they have always strived for from year to year.

Questions for leaders to Ponder:
• What do you notice?
• What are the students doing?
• How is the teacher stretching the thinking of their students?
• How is the teacher helping struggling learners?
• Does the teacher feel like they can take a risk during their observation? If not, does that have something to do with you or them?

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.