By Rhonda Roos, IPLI Mentor, Cohort 5 and Educational Consultant
It’s that time of year again. As a
principal, I remember that feeling in my gut each semester when it came time
for teacher evaluation conversations. I knew from my own experience that these
conversations could be invaluable, or they could be tremendously disappointing.
And for some teachers, a conversation with the principal might not even occur –
like the year my principal stopped by my English classroom to say, “Hey, I put
your evaluation document in your teacher mailbox. Everything’s good. Just sign it and get it back to me by the end
of the day. They’re all due tomorrow
morning.” That was it. That was all the
dialogue I received during one semester of teaching my heart out. It felt
Teachers need and deserve a real and
meaningful dialogue with their principal at least twice a year. This dialogue should be 40-45 minutes of
reviewing the current semester and looking ahead to the next. Specific areas of instructional strength are
discussed and specific areas of growth are determined. I firmly believe that
every single teacher (all staff members, honestly) deserve this from their
leader. But I struggled to develop a
plan for these conversations to make them meaningful and to nudge teachers
forward in their instructional practices. One thing was certain: the developed plan had to be simple, timely
and monitored. When a teacher sets one
or two things to work on for the semester, that work can be extremely complex
and difficult. One goal might be plenty!
Principals must make certain that the goal(s) is appropriate and exactly on
target for student needs. If the teacher selects a mediocre goal, then the
principal must have real dialogue with the teacher to explain why the goal is not
appropriate and guide the teacher to a more specific and essential goal. The easy thing to do here is to allow any
goal the teacher selects. That’s not brave leadership.
For example, one year a teacher
shared with me her goal of having students bring their school planner to class
each day and complete the homework section at the end of each period. She wanted to increase the percentage of
students doing this. This goal had nothing to do with her instruction, and many
of her students weren’t doing the homework because it was pure drudgery! (You know, the homework assignment of doing
the “odd” numbered math problems on page 118.) I knew I had to be clear and
tell her that was not the goal we would use for the upcoming semester. She could certainly discuss her concern of
kids not bringing their school planner and completing the homework section, but
I was concerned about her students completing complex problem-solving problems
in her math classroom. We set the following goal: Students in Ms. Smith’s math
classes will complete a problem-solving problem every other week. Our math
coach will provide the math problems to Ms. Smith that align with our Math
Pacing Guide. Ms. Smith will track her
data for periods 2, 3 and 5 and will be ready to share two things: the percentage of students achieving the
correct answer and the interventions in place for students who continue to
struggle with the math concepts for that problem-solving cycle.
The goal was clear. It was simple to understand, but not so simple
to put into place. Ms. Smith had to
teach the math concepts, practice the problem-solving poster procedure,
implement the strategy every other week, keep track of the data, and develop a
plan for struggling students. We both knew exactly where we were headed. She knew exactly what I was expecting. She followed through and achieved each step
of the goal. In fact, she went way above
anything I had expected for developing interventions. She met with other math teachers and exceeded
my ideas for what could be done for our students.
Brene’ Brown in her most recent book Dare
to Lead says it best – Clear
is kind. Unclear is unkind. She discusses the fact that brave leaders
operationalize goals into behaviors where people can be held accountable for
demonstrating them. Brave leaders work
with each team member to make certain each of them is focused on the right
work. She states, “clarity absolutely
reduces stress and story making,” so that team members aren’t wondering what
their leader expects.
“Not getting clear with a colleague
about your expectations because if feels too hard, yet holding them accountable
or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to
them is unkind,” Brene’ writes.
So let’s be clear with the people in
our schools doing the most important work, our teachers. Let’s set meaningful and worthy goals with
each of them. Let’s facilitate valuable
and real conversations during our evaluation meetings. Let’s be clear. Let’s be kind.
My very best to you on this journey! If you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear from any of our IPLI principals who are reading Brene’ Brown’s work. You can reach me at [email protected].