As a new school year begins and Lead Evaluators in schools prepare to work within the guidelines of the APPR plan to supervise and evaluate teachers, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of what is important. What are the components of our APPR plan that promote continuous improvement and a growth mindset? What are the parts of the APPR system that don’t?
First, not that we really need it, but here’s a reminder of what doesn’t contribute to continuous improvement and the culture we desire:
20 + 20 + 60 doesn’t help. We’ve seen that people set out to beat the system (and as the figures about teacher effectiveness suggest, we did). It’s not about points. It’s about being a good teacher (or principal) and it’s about getting better all the time. Just as we know formative feedback works (and summative feedback doesn’t). To the extent possible we should leave this calculus out of our conversations. Note: 20 + 20 + 60 is really 40 + 60 for some 4-8 teachers due to the legislation passed at the end of the session. This doesn’t help, either!
H E D I doesn’t help. HEDI is just one step removed from 20 + 20 + 60. Yes, there are potential specific consequences for teachers and principals with a summative score that falls within specific ranges. It certainly is important to have processes to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. Most of the drama about HEDI, however, doesn’t come from ineffective or developing teachers and principals. The drama comes from effective teachers who maintain that they are highly effective. HEDI doesn’t help, so to the extent possible we should avoid these labels.
If those things don’t help, then what does? What should we focus on as we work with teachers and principals toward the goal of continuous improvement? What does help? Consider these:
We must be able to have “crucial conversations” with each other. Such conversations are best when they occur outside of the formal observation and evaluation moments. You can expect to talk openly and frankly about teaching and learning if the only time you do is during the evaluation system. Talking about teaching and learning has to be a part of the school culture. When a school’s culture embraces continuous improvement and when the teachers and principals in the school share a growth mindset, we are better able to have these conversations.
We don’t have as many choices as we sometimes think we do or we sometimes portray that we have. When we have to have a difficult conversation or take difficult actions it might help you to initiate frank conversations and actions when you remind yourself that, in many cases, you don’t have a choice. It is your job and your responsibility. It is not optional nor is it a choice. By the way, procrastination doesn’t make it easier to deliver bad news!
Frequent, unannounced visits to classrooms for evidence collection are better than longer, extended observations. It helps me to think of a Super Bowl Pool. How do you increase the likelihood that you get a score “right” and win? Simply buy more squares! Everyone knows that. The corollary to this: How do you increase the likelihood that the evidence you collect from a classroom is “right?” Simply visit more often. More frequent visits translate into more conversations, too. When conversations about teaching, learning, and leadership are more frequent they are more likely to become a part of the culture. Which you want.
Planning matters. Having a plan before you start a growth producing conversation can greatly increase the likelihood that the conversation is a good and productive one. A plan doesn’t guarantee success but it dramatically increases the odds!
The conversations we hold about teaching and learning, about professional practice, and about culture are the ways we can get better at what we do. In the APPR process, don’t think of the evidence collection as the “work” or the focus of the process. Rather, think about the conversation about the evidence to be the “work” of the focus of the work. In Lead Evaluator Training and Principal Evaluation training it can seem like the evidence collection is the most important part because we practice it so often. That’s not right. It’s the growth producing feedback that we should practice more and that we should emphasize. Fair, reliable, and valid evidence collection is important and the gates to evaluation are real. These three factors, however, are not the point. They are the prerequisites.
As you launch a new year, make growth producing feedback your #1 APPR priority. Yes, follow the regulations. Yes, follow your district’s plan. Yes, collect good evidence. More important than all of these, though, is for you to have as many conversations about teaching, learning, and leading as possible. It’s the only thing that will make a difference.