Evaluating Instructional Leadership: Recognized Practices for Success
Publication Year: 2015
Improve Principal Evaluation And Create Highly Effective Leaders! Even with great teachers, student achievement hinges on an effective principal. Behind every high-quality principal is an airtight system of leadership evaluation that consistently rewards excellence and remedies deficits. While teacher evaluation methods have improved, instructional leadership evaluation has often stood still—and student learning and achievement have paid the price. This book identifies the major problems in this process and articulates clear solutions. The result is a blueprint for ensuring the best person for the job is occupying the principal’s chair. Content includes: • Extensive data, presented in a user-friendly manner • Clear connections to the new ISLLC Standards for School Leaders • A suite of interactive tools including sample self-assessments, mid-year and final evaluation forms, and ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: The Challenge
- Chapter 2: The Architecture of Instructional Leadership Ability
- Chapter 3: Element 1: Establishing a Shared Vision/Mission, Goals, and Expectations
- Chapter 4: Element 2: Strategic Resourcing
- Chapter 5: Element 3: Ensuring Teacher and Staff Effectiveness
- Chapter 6: Element 4: Leading and Participating in Teacher/Leader Learning and Development
- Chapter 7: Element 5: Providing an Orderly, Safe, and Supportive Environment
- Chapter 8: Feedback for Learning
- Chapter 9: Deliberate Practice in Theory
- Chapter 10: Deliberate Practice in Application
- Chapter 11: Putting It All Together
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[Page ii] For every school leader who bravely embraces the leadership challenge, for every family member and friend who unconditionally embraces our educational passion.
Four years ago we decided to mount a new course for school principals. One of the requirements from the University was that we had to first hire a marketing company to survey prospective clients about what they would want in such a course. From close to 3,000 senior teachers and school leaders the marketing company found that they wanted six features in any course they would undertake: how to handle accountability, how to improve (particularly given changes in technology), how to cope with personal challenges such as “wearing a number of hats,” how to be an administrator, and how to better use infrastructure in their school. When asked for the major reason they would engage in a university degree the conclusion was that they wanted “to gain a spectrum of skills, particularly team development and management skills, innovative approaches and the ability to communicate with staff students and parents.” They were also asked for the specifics within courses, and the top 20 included topics such as leading a learning community, managing difficult people, leading self and others, managing personalities, assessment and development of staff, leading the management of the school, engaging and working with parents and the community, managing diversity in a school, and curriculum leadership and management. Hardly at all was there reference to enhancing the instructional impact, leading the debates about what “impact” meant in this school, or building a coalition of success in the school about learning.
Needless to say, we did not listen to the market and call the degree Master of School Leadership, or offer many of the courses and topics listed above. Yes, leaders need to be good administrators, yes they need to be good at people management, and yes they need to be good at ensuring an orderly flow and sense of fairness in the school — but these are baseline conditions and they are not the main game. The primary function of school leaders is none of these. It is instructional leadership — it is ensuring that there is a collective collaboration of all the adults in the school to have an [Page viii]agreed understanding of what impact means in this school (and certainly hope it is not just a narrow impact on test scores), agreed understanding of the sources of evidence about the magnitude of this impact, and an equity focus on ensuring all students share in this impact. An efficient administration and high levels of management is merely the base for doing this instructional work. The course is called Masters of Instructional Leadership and has a dominant component about how to have debates about impact, how to know what impact looks like and how it can be evaluated in the school, how to build a coalition of success around those who have maximized impact and then invite all others into this coalition, how to coach teachers to know their impact and plan lessons based on evidence of impact, and how to engage students in these processes.
This book — along with Jim Popham’s Evaluating America’s Teachers: Mission Possible?—could well be the text for this course. It not only highlights the key messages about the role of the leader, but it is does so in a way that is engaging and practical and reflects the Smiths’ long history of being school leaders, teaching school leaders, and seeing the effects of their own teaching. I have seen the Smiths in action, separately and together, and they know how to lead and how to teach, they have a strength of purpose they do not waver from, and these attributes come through this book.
Their message is unequivocal — leadership is about managing the conditions of schools to impact on student learning. The book is about how to evaluate this impact. They are quite dismissive of many of the current leadership methods. If you were a man from Mars or lady from Venus, and read the principal-evaluation systems around the United States, you would think that principals spent all day ticking boxes, observing others to then tick boxes, and spending much time ensuring the right boxes were available to be ticked. It is hard to find research literature showing that observing teachers and completing the typical evaluations make much difference to much anything — except we get more reliable at ticking boxes. Does this type of activity affect student lives? Hardly. Certainly, many of the evaluations of teachers, particularly classroom observation, have low impact because the observations are of the teachers, not the impact of the teachers on students. Indeed, I argue (too strongly perhaps) that it is a sin to go into a class and watch a teacher teach — as all that happens is that we tell the teacher how they could have taught more like us. The primary purpose of classroom observation is to observe the impact of the teacher on the student (whoops, there go many of the current observations out the window).
The Smiths point to the research that shows that leaders who focus their attention on evaluating the impact of teachers on student learning are more likely to be successful at enhancing that impact. Such a leader focuses his or her attention on such practices “as relentlessly pursuing clear goals, aligning and allocating available resources to the pursuit of those goals, planning, coordinating, and evaluating both the teaching as well as the curriculum, encouraging and joining in teacher learning and [Page ix]development, and ensuring an orderly and supportive environment is likely to have more positive impacts on student achievement and well-being than other leadership practices.”
But doing all this is not enough — as it can be done at various levels of excellence. Throughout the book there is focus on distinguishing between evaluative actions that do not meet expectations, progressing, proficient, and exemplary. This is progression we are all on, and every day we need to match our actions to these standards of excellence. This is why school leaders continually strive to enhance their performance. This is why we get new cohorts of students and often new teachers every year to challenge us to again be exemplary. This is the challenge of school leadership that is not as common in many other businesses.
One of the greatest powers of a school leader is that they have the power to create the narrative in their schools. Is it a narrative of curriculum, tests scores, bus timetables, tracking — the peripherals of schooling that need sorting; or is the narrative about the impact of all the adults in the school on student learning — learning in its widest sense? The Smiths suggest that that narrative should be about knowing the quality of the impact of the instructional programs in the school (and all else serves this narrative). Hence they place much reliance on the presence of excellent evaluation of these programs.
Their evaluation plan is quite focused. It follows a “backward design” approach that has been found to be successful in many parts of the teaching and learning process. That is, it asks leaders to start at the end; what are the impacts you want to achieve, what it would look like in this school when the school is “successful,” what are the skills that we would expect principals to know and be able to do, and what sources of evidence would be demonstrating that we have this impact? This can be an iterative process (including learning at the end for the next round of evaluation). But these questions precede the management, the deciding about resources, the choice of evaluation methods, the collection of evidence, and the weighting of these sources of evidence.
Our experience in our Masters course mentioned above is that there is an additional core skill — the proficiency to interpret the evidence we collect. Too often, evaluation is seen as collecting data, and indeed schools are awash with data. But the skill is interpretation; that is, making sense of the evidence to then make consequential decisions and actions. This is among the hardest skills to learn, and often it requires multiple interpretations, triangulating the first set of interpretations, sharing and seeking critique of the interpretations — and this takes much character as well as skill. You may be wrong!
This character strength is based on inner convictions, and they outline the major mind frames that school leaders need to develop: the conviction or mind frame to start with the question, “My role as leader in this school is to evaluate my impact,” to then deliberately activate [Page x]change, to relentlessly focus on learning and the impact of teaching, to see assessment as feedback to me as teacher and leader, and to engage in dialogue. To do this, the leader needs to embrace the challenge, build relational trust, advocate the vocabulary of learning, and never shy from the hard work that is leading learning.
I commend the chapters about how to achieve these lofty goals. Indeed the first set of skills relate to establishing shared goals across the school. To do this, the exemplary leader has to have good management and person-management, hence chapters on strategic resourcing, how to lead, and how to create an orderly, safe and supportive environment. These are the bases of excellent evaluations of impact. And all this does not happen in a haphazard or random manner — it needs to be deliberate. This skill of deliberately charting the voyage is a fundamental skill of leaders. The Smiths provide many case studies to exemplify how to be deliberate.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this book is that it emphasizes that evaluation is for a purpose and not an end itself. The aim of evaluation is to discover the worth, merit, or significance of the programs that we implement in our schools. The aim is to learn and empower those who deliver the programs to adapt, replace, or continue. It is about identifying where exemplary practice is occurring, and often such success is all around us — if only we knew. And that is the point of this book.Director, Melbourne Education Research Institute Melbourne Graduate School of Education University of Melbourne
The more leaders focus their influence, their learning, and their relationships with teachers on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater their influence on student outcomes. (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009, p. 40)
In his book Assessing Educational Leaders, Doug Reeves (2009) convincingly argues that “leadership evaluation systems [are] the ‘perfect storm’ of failure” (p. 1), with the confluence of many different variables at the same time creating a particularly destructive series of consequences. The first variable is a growing national shortage of educational leaders, which is joined by the second force, “A leadership evaluation system that simultaneously discourages effective leaders, fails to sanction ineffective leaders, and rarely considers as its purpose the improvement of leadership performance” (Reeves, 2009, pp. 2–3).
Specifically, Reeves supports this highly critical view of principal-evaluation systems by suggesting that three issues plague effective principal-evaluation systems. First, many of these evaluation systems contain poorly defined, ambiguous standards replete with educational jargon that tends to be substituted for clearly expressed language. The second problem involves undefined standards of performance. That is, even if the evaluation system has removed confusing educational jargon and ambiguity from its standards, it fails to adequately distinguish performance that is making progress but is not yet proficient from performance that is exemplary. Third, at times, these documents hold principals responsible for the actions of others without the authority to compel those actions in others.
The first two forces are joined with a third commanding force, the expectations of local, state, and federal authorities, that requires a rather dramatic change in the role as well as the performance of education leaders, extending well beyond prior definitions of administrative responsibilities. Clearly, the responsibilities of education leaders now exceed what individual leaders in schools and school districts can be expected to carry out alone (Reeves, 2009).
[Page xii]Specifically, here is what a state education agency (SEA) and its local educational agency (LEA) must do with their principal-evaluation programs in order to successfully obtain flexibility approval from the Elementary and Secondary Recovery and Reinvestment Act Flexibility Program. To receive this flexibility, an SEA and each LEA are required to
Develop, adopt, pilot, and implement, with the involvement of teachers and principals, teacher and principal evaluation and support systems that: (1) will be used for continual improvement of instruction; (2) meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three performance levels; (3) use multiple valid measures in determining performance levels, including as a significant factor data on student growth for all students (including English Learners and students with disabilities), and other measures of professional practice (which may be gathered through multiple formats and sources, such as observations based on rigorous teacher performance standards, teacher portfolios, and student and parent surveys); (4) evaluate teachers and principals on a regular basis; (5) provide clear, timely, and useful feedback, including feedback that identifies needs and guides professional development; and (6) will be used to inform personnel decisions. (U.S. Department of Education, 2012, p. 3)
In brief, while high-quality management within a school is necessary—where children are happy and well behaved, the school is orderly, the facility and property are well cared for, and the finances are under control—it is not a sufficient condition for leadership effectiveness. Why? Because it requires, in addition, that the school’s management procedures ensure high-quality teaching and learning for all (both students and staff). If effective leadership is about improving instruction and making a bigger difference to adult and student learning, then the SEA and LEA need trustworthy advice about the types of leadership as well as the specific sets of leadership practices that are most likely to deliver on those outcomes—the primary basis for summative evaluation.
The good news is that, while the last half-decade has produced a wealth of thinking in the area of leadership but a scarcity of research in leadership evaluation, we still have—thanks to the efforts of a few educational scholars (which we will explore shortly)—improved clarity about the practices of highly effective principals and the components to effective leadership evaluation systems. The bad news is that states across the nation appear to be compelled to follow the same path with principal evaluation as the one that they have pursued with teacher evaluation by constructing summative leadership evaluation documents that have far too many performance indicators to effectively keep track of or measure accurately when evaluating principals. What is needed is a principal-evaluation procedure that focuses solely “on [those] aspects of leadership [Page xiii]that are most critical for student learning” (Seashore-Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, & Anderson, 2010, p. 215) and let go of the rest.
For example, the Minnesota State Model for principal evaluation consists of five performance measures in which 31 indicators are nested, the Colorado State Model Evaluation System for Principals and Assistant Principals is made up of six quality standards supported by 25 elements, the Washington State Principal Evaluation Model is made up of eight criteria buoyed by 28 elements, the Massachusetts Model System for Educator Evaluation comprises four standards and 20 indicators that are sustained by 42 elements, and the Florida Model School Leaders Assessment entails 45 indicators that support 10 standards of practice within four domains, to name a few.
In brief, while all of these models of principal evaluation imply a desire to formatively develop principals, in many cases the formative, improvement-oriented virtues of these evaluation systems may, due to the number of leadership practices being assessed, diminish the practicality of providing principals the formative as well as the summative, evaluation-focused dividends of the strategy. As a result, these “fat” documents lead some within our field feeling as if current evaluation systems are too time-consuming, contain too many items, and include too many redundant concepts to effectively evaluate the impact of leadership on student learning.A New Vision of Principal Evaluation
Whether it is the celebrated Italian artist Michelangelo sculpting the statue of David, or the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designing The Guggenheim Museum, the renowned Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright Ayn Rand penning Atlas Shrugged, or, in our case, two educational authors and researchers devising a way to effectively assess school leaders’ instructional leadership ability, all successful endeavors begin with a vision. In other words, just as the sculptor envisioned the beautiful figure of David trapped within the block of marble and the novelist scrawled John Galt to life on blank pages of her manuscript, each needed a clear vision of what he or she hoped to accomplish and so too did we as we visualized what an instructional leadership assessment system could and should look like. In reality, “all things are created twice” (Covey, 1989, p. 99). For all things, there is a mental (first) construction and a physical (second) construction. The physical follows the mental, just as the school’s collective improvement efforts follows the school’s school improvement plan development.
Although many authors have addressed the topic of vision development, perhaps the most insightful efforts in this area come from the writing of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last. Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (1994) studied several high-profile exceptional and [Page xiv]long-lasting companies (e.g., 3M, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney, Boeing, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard) to answer the question, “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from their competitors?” Throughout their research, the authors kept “looking for underlying, timeless, fundamental principles and patterns that might apply across eras” (p. 17). In the process, they discovered that one of those timeless, fundamental principles was the interminable value of a good vision. Vision, they state, “defines what we stand for and why we exist . . . and sets forth what we aspire to become, to achieve, to create” (p. 221).
With these thoughts in mind, our vision for an effective process for growing and assessing school leaders’ instructional leadership ability can best be presented using the format of a resolution. In general a resolution in the context of debate by an assembly is a formulation of a determination, expression of opinion, etc., submitted to an assembly or meeting for consideration. That is, a proposal is put to a meeting, the proposal is debated, and a resolution is adopted. In a similar manner, we are proposing to you, the reader, the need for a new principal-evaluation framework, which we intend to discuss over the course of this book in hopes that, by the time you finish the book, you will be compelled to adopt our new vision as your own. What follows, then, is a series of arguments for a new vision in the form of whereas statements that culminate in a therefore statement, or our vision. In brief, by “employing a point-by-point whereas-based analysis” (Popham, 2013, p. 34), we intend to establish a clear rationale for the basis of this book. At the conclusion of our analysis, a description will be provided regarding what an instructional leadership ability evaluation should look like—our vision, which is described in the remaining chapters.
- Whereas most principal-evaluation instruments measure far too many domains of leadership practice that outstrip both the time and energy of evaluators, thus they lack depth and focus on those leadership practices that research has shown to be significantly related to the impact on student and teacher performance, and
- Whereas many principal-evaluation systems fail to focus on the critical behaviors principals perform to influence student achievement, and
- Whereas many principal-evaluation systems currently in use consist of ambiguous standards or the performance expectations are unclear, rather than operating on clear definitions of performance levels and precise rubrics that allow evaluators to effectively measure aspects of leadership performance, and
- Whereas an axiom of good evaluation as well as a lesson in common sense suggest that multiple, not single, sources of evidence be utilized when evaluating a principal, and
- Whereas significant variations exist in not only in the quality of principal-evaluation evidence, but also in its relative importance when appraising a specific principal, the evaluative weight of all principal-evaluation evidence sources must be judged individually and then tailored to the particular principal’s school level, context, and to the principal’s level of experience; and[Page xv]
- Whereas principal growth plans tend to be utilized as a way to mitigate less-than-proficient leadership performance, rather than be used as a continuous improvement tool with all principals from the most novice to the most veteran within the school system,
- Therefore, principal-evaluation systems should be based on weighted-evidence judgment in which principal evaluators initially select, richly describe, and weight a parsimonious number of leader-quality criteria that focus on the most important behaviors and actions that improve instruction and student learning, use multiple sources of evidence, craft growth plans for all principals that address individual learning needs, determine whether to adjust those weights because of a leader’s distinctive school level, context, and level of experience, and, last, arrive at a coalesced judgment regarding a leader’s quality.
As a result of this analysis, its six supporting arguments are (1) principal-evaluation instruments distract attention away from those leadership practices that are closely linked to increases in student achievement and teacher performance, (2) they tend not to focus on the leadership practices that matter the most, (3) they are populated with vague and unclear performance expectations that do not allow evaluators to effectively measure leadership performance, (4) they should require that more than one source of evidence be used to evaluate a principal, (5) the evaluative weight of multiple evidence sources first must be determined separately and second must be individualized to the particular principal’s school level, context, and level of experience, and (6) growth plans are natural byproducts of principal-evaluation systems and are useful tools for continuous improvement for all principals, regardless of their prior level of leadership performance.
Evaluating Instructional Leadership: Recognized Practices for Success is designed both as a summative evaluation of leadership performance and as a growth model to improve leadership performance, thereby increasing the likelihood that teacher and student performance will also improve. We have taken the position that district leaders can and in most cases must simultaneously fulfill two roles: that of a formative coach as well as that of as summative evaluator of school principals. With all due respect to our friend and colleague Dr. Jim Popham (2013), who argued that anyone who believes “that a combined formative and summative [evaluation effort] can succeed are most likely to have recently arrived from outer space” (p. 18), we came to the position that district leaders must serve two masters (formative coach as well as summative evaluator) not because we believe that these are the ideal roles but because we see this as being the most practical arrangement. That is, we rarely see school districts that [Page xvi]have the staffing luxury to hire both a central office administrator whose sole function it is to be a coach or mentor of school leaders and their professional growth and at the same time hire another district administrator who only facilitates the summative evaluation process for school leaders.
The book acknowledges the forces described earlier that have created this “perfect storm” in school leader-evaluation systems and describes a practical approach that school and central office leaders can take to create and successfully implement an evaluation of instructional leadership framework that will have a significant impact on leadership, teacher, and student performance. Moreover, the book utilizes the research that identifies the type of leadership practices that are most directly related to increases in student achievement and its related elements (Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008), with the principal and assistant principal of the school as the focal points. As we shall show, the book describes a process that will encourage schools and districts to
- move beyond an event that occurs once every year, long after any opportunity to influence leadership performance;
- provide frequent feedback for school leaders with multiple opportunities for continuous improvement;
- focus on remarkably specific, high-impact, research-based aspects of leadership performance in order to significantly increase student achievement;
- describe in specific terms the difference between performance that is exemplary and performance that is proficient, progressing, or not meeting leadership expectations thereby establishing clear, coherent, and fair expectations for present and future leaders;
- be used to improve the performance of a 20-year veteran as well as to coach the most novice assistant principal; and
- also be used to train new leaders and to identify and hire prospective leaders.
The audience for this book is threefold: First and foremost, this book is for principals and all school leaders who want to make a greater impact than they ever imagined they could; second, it is for central office leaders who are in a position to alter the educational system, thereby creating conditions for transforming the principalship into a powerful force for reform; and third, would-be aspiring leaders, teachers who are seeking opportunities to expand their impact beyond the classroom and move into entry-level school leader positions.
Writing a book is certainly a journey in personal growth. It has become very clear to us that writing is less about declaring what you know and more about being ready to accept learning coming your way. Over the past thirty-four-plus years, our leadership beliefs and practices have been shaped, challenged, and refined by some of the most influential educational thinkers in the world. We have had the great pleasure and privilege to learn from leaders such as Michael Fullan, John Hattie, Viviane Robinson, James Popham, Doug Reeves, Bob Marzano, Rick Dufour, Jim Knight, Larry Ainsworth, Brian McNulty, Art Costa, James Kouses, Barry Posner, Tom Peters, Stephen Covey, Larry Lezotte, Jim Collins, Donald Schön, Everrit Rogers, Tom Guskey, Warren Bennis, Chris Argyris, Roland Barth, Peter Senge, Thomas Sergiovanni, William Daggett, Liz Wiseman, Malcolm Gladwell, John Maxwell, and Todd Whitaker, who have all reinforced our belief that our ability to grow as a leader is based on our ability to grow as a person. The opportunity to coauthor this book with each other and to engage in spirited conversations to ensure that we upheld the integrity of our research and leadership beliefs has certainly caused us to grow as leaders and learners both professionally and personally. We are forever grateful for your lasting influence.
One of Professor Hattie’s mindframes is learning is hard work. Authors also know that writing is hard work. When it seemed impossible to find the time to write this book, we had our Corwin cheerleaders encouraging us to write just a little every day and to continually remind us that this was the right work. We would like to acknowledge the unconditional support of Kristin Anderson, Arnis Burvikovs, and Ariel Price. School and district leaders also know that leading is hard work, and the hard work of Sherry Bees, Tucker Harris, James Neihof, Keith Peters, Ted Toomer, and Rob Zook is showcased in our book; these individuals serve as role models for their peers and are powerful examples of instructional leadership in action.
Most importantly, it was our commitment to all of the school and district leaders we have had the opportunity and great fortune to work with over the years—there are far too many to mention—and to all the teachers [Page xviii]and assistant principals who will move into new school/district leadership positions in the next decade that ultimately inspired this book.Publisher’s Acknowledgments
Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:
- Kathy J Grover
- Superintendent, Clever R-V Public Schools
- Clever, MO
- Lyne N. Ssebikindu
- Assistant Principal, Crump Elementary School
- Memphis, TN
- Kelley King
- Educational Consultant, Author
- Head of Lower School, San Diego Jewish Academy
- San Diego, CA
- Marsha Carr
- Wilmington, NC
- Peter Dillon
- Great Barrington, MA
About the Authors
The five elements of instructional leadership ability that are outlined in this book are aligned to the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards (see Figure R.1). The crosswalk in Figure R.1 should not imply that the authors believe that ISLLC is spot-on with their thinking; rather, this alignment provides a degree of confidence that the five elements are soundly established on contemporary policy regarding the knowledge and skills that principals must possess in order to be effective. Moreover, if we are operating from the same research base and conceptual framework, then it makes sense that the two sets of leadership expectations would align.
Professor Hattie (2009) mused that “feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher” (p. 173). A strategy to make certain that central office leaders are receiving and using the feedback from leaders to alter leadership practices that we have seen used is for supervisors to use a Feedback Response Sheet with school leaders (Figure R.2). The Feedback Response Sheet enables the supervisor to provide descriptive feedback to the school leader based on the success criteria (i.e., the descriptions of proficient leadership behavior) and then have the leader comment on how he or she intends to incorporate that feedback into future practice.Figure R.1 Crosswalk of Instructional Leadership Ability Elements to ISLLC Standards[Page 164]Figure R.2 Feedback Response Sheet
An example of a Shelby County POP plan that James Neihoff is currently using with his leadership team is depicted in Figure R.3.[Page 165]Figure R.3 Sample of a Shelby County POP Plan
The Nine Theories of Practice are described in Figure R.4.[Page 166]Figure R.4 Brief Description of the Nine Theories of Practice
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