Developing a Vibrant Faculty Culture: Step 2 of the Evaluation and Growth Cycle

Developing a vibrant faculty culture is the most important initiative to foster improved student learning at any school.  Many factors contribute to this culture.  The last post focused on 1) setting expectations, and this post on 2) observing performance.  The next few post will explicate 3) evaluating performance, 4) developing individualized teacher improvement plans, and 5) supporting professional growth and renewal.  The process is infused with regular coaching and mentoring surrounding these five steps and with hearty E) leadership and a supportive F) financial plan any school can emerge on a path toward more robust fulfillment of its mission

 B) Observing and Evaluating Teacher Performance

An intentionally designed and diligently followed system for faculty observation, evaluation and feedback should be exercised in every school.  The following principles and system design is a way to successfully carry out the objective of improving teacher performance.  If a school has a good system, I suggest using it as a foundation and then incorporate the missing elements to make it work better.  Before proposing a particular system, here are some general principles of evaluation from one of the foremost experts in the field.

“Focusing on the evaluation segment of this process, we [ISM] believe that effective teacher evaluation in 
the 21st century: 1) involves regular and timely feedback, coaching, and mentoring throughout the year (i.e., it is not a one-time event); 2) is anchored by an annual written evaluation that serves as a summary of the year’s coaching and mentoring conversations and guidance; 3) is seen as being predictable and supportive by faculty; 4) leads to identifying skill enhancement needs and growth opportunities; 5) helps identify mission-inappropriate, mediocre, toxic, and/or incompetent teachers; and 6) provides the school with legal protection (i.e., serves as “documentation” should a lawsuit or discrimination claim develop).”  (See Ideas & Perspectives, Vol. 37 No. 2, Independent School Management.  I recommend that each school subscribe to Consortium Membership with ISM to access articles like this and much more.)

Case Study

 The process at the combination of a couple of schools I have consulted works something like this.  The division head is the main point of contact for the coaching/mentoring process that involves a lot of skill and time.  S/he 1) meets weekly with each new teacher beginning the first week of school.  This meeting begins the communication and feedback needed to improve teaching and forms the foundation for future coaching and mentoring.  2) The division head conducts formal observations of each new teacher 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarters while continuing teachers are formally observed in 1st and 2nd quarters.  Ideally the process includes: a) a pre-observation meeting of 15 – 30 minutes with the division head for new teachers; b) a scheduled observation from 30 minutes to as much as a full class period of teaching; c) the division head fills out an observation form that should reflect clearly articulated expectations; and then d) conducts an interview and feedback discussion for teacher formation of about 30 minutes in a scheduled meeting.  Additionally, the division head performs 3) the informal observation in which s/he intentionally attends to unannounced periods of observation of a duration sufficient to follow up with less formalized feedback a few times per quarter.  Each contact should be briefly recorded in writing.  This process provides an excellent foundation for continuous coaching and mentoring within the evaluation and growth cycle.

Prior to offering contacts for the next school year the division head performs 4) a summative evaluation.    It should also include direct contact with the teacher for the purpose of coaching, mentoring and preparation of an individualized professional improvement plan.  The vibrant faculty culture fosters an attitude of enthusiasm for every teacher to improve every year.  Timing is important because the entire observation/evaluation process informs the decision about whether to continue with a teacher and a performance informed salary setting process.

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2 Responses to “Developing a Vibrant Faculty Culture: Step 2 of the Evaluation and Growth Cycle”

  1. Judy King
    June 1, 2012

    Mr. Marshall,
    I agree that developing a vibrant faculty culture is critical to a school and thus critical for the success of students. I have been trying some different methods of scheduling observations and have discovered that the most effective for me has been the short, but frequent, observation. I follow this up with a short informal meeting with the teacher to discuss my observation. It has given me the opportunity to build relationships with the teachers and to let them know that I care about what is going on in the classroom. Time is the stumbling block for me. Any suggestions?

    I enjoy reading your articles.
    Many Blessings,

  2. admin
    June 2, 2012

    Thank you for the comment Judy. I certainly agree it is a challenge to find the time to commit to the observation/feedback/improvement cycle. Here is a future installment from a larger paper I have written on the subject that directly pertains.

    The Responsibility of the School Principal or Division Head Must Adjust
    The primary responsibility of the division principal needs to move from mechanical operation of the school day/quarter/year to that of “leadership of adult faculty in a manner designed to enhance the capacity of the faculty to deliver the mission with excellence. As evaluating, coaching and mentoring faculty are crucial elements of enhancing faculty capacity they are integral to the administrators role and exactly the place in which significant effort and focus is worthwhile and required. Less essential tasks need to be pushed to the margins or delegated.” This requires rethinking the administrator’s job description, matching the right people with the job and making the necessary adjustments to the operation over time.

    The Case-Study School has an evaluation/feedback approach in place that takes much principal time. But it has achieved limited results, first because of weak professional teacher expectations and second because of a mechanical execution of the process. Rather the process should be full of a vibrant enthusiasm for growing teacher performance by applying best practices. The School needs to power up through the professional development of principals and make sure they have more time and support to execute it.

    Principals need to have the time to emphasize faculty leadership. ISM recommends that administrators directly supervise no more than fifteen teachers to maintain an effective coaching and mentoring relationship with each. This has several practical implications regarding time, money and other resources. In one school I consult I found principals with about the right span of control over full time teachers to allow time for coaching and mentoring but loaded with so many part time teachers and coaches and other duties that in reality they did not have the time. One principal also served as the admission director. Another principal handed curriculum acquisition and most school compliance issues. Another principal also serves as athletic director over four dozen competitive sports teams and has an effective span of control over fifty nine people – many of whom are part time or volunteer coaches. Needless to say to affect significant change in the school management culture to emphasize teacher development systemic change must occur over time.

    If The Case-Study School really wants to develop and sustain vibrant faculty culture it will need to develop or retain principals that lead faculty, reduce the span of control to give time for coaching and mentoring and fund professional development. This would require time to for the supporting financial plan to roll out the necessary support.

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