School & District Management

Teacher Evaluations: The Role of Principal Leadership and Trust

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 04, 2016 2 min read
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When there’s so little consensus on what makes a good teacher, it’s critical that teachers and their principals, at least, see eye-to-eye on instruction.

Teachers were 2.5 times as likely to say they were satisfied with their evaluation systems when they thought their principal was a strong instructional leader, according to a new study by Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at the Education Development Center, Inc.

Researchers Natalie Lacireno-Paquet and Candice Bocala of WestEd, and EDC’s Jessica Bailey analyzed data from the federal Schools and Staffing Survey on more than 2.8 million teachers’ satisfaction with their evaluation systems.

Nearly 4 out of 5 teachers in the survey said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their evaluation process in the 2011-12 school year, when many districts were implementing new systems.

They were less likely to be satisfied with evaluation systems that incorporated student test scores, but the effect of so-called value-added measures was not as important to teacher satisfaction as whether they trusted their principal’s instructional leadership.

For every point higher teachers rated their principal on a 4-point scale on a series of questions about instructional leadership, those teachers were 2.5 times as likely to say they were satisfied with their evaluation. That’s a stronger effect than any other factor studied, as the chart below shows:

Source: REL Northeast and Islands.

“I think we were pleasantly surprised that principal leadership was such an important factor,” said Lacireno-Paquet, a senior research associate for REL Northeast and Islands.

She suggested that leadership is particularly important when teachers are adjusting to a new evaluation system. The researchers hope to follow up on the findings using later staffing survey data to determine what happens to leadership trust or teacher satisfaction in districts that have implemented new evaluation systems for several years.

In a Commentary on rethinking teacher evaluation, Charlotte Danielson, the author of Framework for Teaching, argued that teacher learning “can only occur in an atmosphere of trust. Fear shuts people down. Learning, after all, entails vulnerability. The culture of the school and of the district must be one that encourages risk-taking.”


A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.