School Climate & Safety Opinion

Supervisors Carry the Dual Purposes of Evaluation

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — December 17, 2015 5 min read
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The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) recently published the Model Principal Supervisor Professional Standards 2015. Principals have been evaluated using the ISLLC Standards, which provided the basis for principal evaluation methods during the NCLB era. Now, for the first time, the standards for those supervising the principals have been described and defined.

Here is the problem. Principals have been supervising teachers for years. Central office staff have been supervising principals for years. The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) offers a report that said, in part:

This report examines our pervasive and longstanding failure to recognize and respond to variations in the effectiveness of our teachers. At the heart of the matter are teacher evaluation systems, which in theory should serve as the primary mechanism for assessing such variations, but in practice tell us little about how one teacher differs from any other, except teachers whose performance is so egregiously poor as to warrant dismissal.

The failure of evaluation systems to provide accurate and credible information about individual teachers’ instructional performance sustains and reinforces a phenomenon that we have come to call the Widget Effect. The Widget Effect describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. This decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts. In its denial of individual strengths and weaknesses, it is deeply disrespectful to teachers; in its indifference to instructional effectiveness, it gambles with the lives of students.

So, we are left with attempting to measure the immeasurable quality that is exchanged daily between adults and students in schools. What is it that causes a child to be seen, to be heard, to ignite curiosity, inspire leaning and build confidence and competence? How much subject mastery, how much teacher ingenuity, how much teacher creativity and commitment, and how much the whole person who is teaching? Add to that the limitation of language we use as we evaluate and rate those who teach and lead. Hopefully, the next generation of those evaluating and being evaluated will have a more refined manner to accomplish this delicate and essential dialogue of growth and improvement and acknowledgment. We hope so.

Improved Evaluation or Improved Performance?
Has all the supervision and rating made a difference in teacher performance and student achievement? Now the suggested standards for those supervising the principals will guide the task of central office leaders. Will that improve the principals’ evaluation process or improve their performance? Will it lead to another accountability level, which is very important, certainly, or will it lead to a coaching system rooted in personal and professional growth and improvement? Both aspects would benefit our work but it is often difficult for one person to do both parts. But in many schools, the possibilities of having a coach for teachers and principals may be slim.

The impossible task of motivating people to change their practice while evaluating them (rating them) is now not only expected of the principals, but of their supervisors as well. The ideal is to separate the functions, to provide coaches who are not the evaluators. Without the fiscal resources to do that, evaluators must try to serve both functions.

We recently wrote “Does Evaluation Motivate Teachers?” and asked whether during the observation and evaluation process if teacher supervisors engaged in dialogue that asks questions, accepts answers, makes sure there is an understanding, reframes, uncovers, helps, supports, offers inspiration, and includes humor. These, taken from the work of Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran, are essential considerations when in conversation with teachers about their work. Now, for principal supervisors and their work with principals, we ask the same question.

The work of the CCSSO underlines the value of principal supervisors in that they are intended to help principals grow. It also acknowledges that teachers and principals live and work in a larger system, the district. And, it suggests that the job of the principal has radically changed, is more complex, reaches beyond the work within the building, and may be unfamiliar to the supervisors, who themselves may have been principals, but in another day and time. The same is true of teacher supervisors who may have been teachers in another day and time. Evaluation is difficult enough to do and it may not have yielded improvement, however, there is undeniable value in the accountability of public systems. But, moving forward, perhaps the time spent in evaluating for accountability is best eclipsed by spending time improving leadership practice.

The links to the value of the leader’s affect upon student achievement are being confirmed as these standards were developed. Everyone in the chain of command has a role in student achievement. These standards make that ever more clear. That is a good thing. The responsibilities are becoming clearer too.

Accountability AND Development
But, now we have learned a lesson or two from the years of experience we have with teacher evaluation and its affect on student achievement. Let’s not enter the principal evaluation arena the same way. We need to decide about the duality of purpose for evaluation processes and resolve the competition between them by holding them both equally. This is a tall order. There is a cultural tendency to lean in one direction or another; it varies person by person and evaluator by evaluator. But, we are convinced that the accountability side is a professional obligation and the development side is the part that keeps the profession alive and growing. We cannot be successful without both. The journey is best traveled if we all enter open, honest, reflective, judgment-free conversations about the work we chose and the lives we touch every day.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

Photo by Oleg Dudko courtesy of 123rf.com

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.