October 2, 2019
Maybe We Are Doing Evaluation All Wrong
Recently I read an article titled “ To Pursue Excellence, Focus on It .” This article was written by Jim Furman, Executive Director, The Danielson Group. Furman started the article with “What if praising a teacher’s performance wasn’t just the first few minutes of a feedback conversation? What if it was the entire reason for the conversation?” Furman goes on to quote a suggestion from the book The Feedback Fallacy by Buckingham and Goodall. One of their suggestions was the following: “Excellence is an outcome, so take note of when a prospect leans into a sales pitch, a project runs smoothly, or an angry customer suddenly calms down. Then turn to the team member who created the outcome and say, ‘That! Yes, that!’ By doing this, you’ll stop the flow of work for a moment and pull your colleague’s attention back toward something she just did that really worked.”
In my opinion, teacher evaluation needs to change. In my training of teacher evaluators, I emphasize that evaluators need to pick out one performance issue about the teaching that needs attention and see if the teacher will develop their own method of improvement. While this approach is much better than telling the teacher what they did wrong and then telling the teacher how to correct the deficiency, it is still a negative way of working with people.
I love the idea of observing something great in a teacher’s performance and saying “That! Yes, that!” Reinforcing positive behavior is much more likely to change performance than constantly pointing out areas of deficiencies. I will acknowledge that not all communication between evaluator and teacher can concentrate on the positives, but I do agree we could do a much better job pointing out the great things teachers are doing in the classroom.
This thought process concerning feedback (I wrote about this in my blog last week) and being positive brings me to my next point for school administrators to consider. After 48 years in education, the one thing I can say that is unequivocally true is that every administrator who has ever observed teachers now says they themselves would be better teachers because of all the great teaching practices they have witnessed. So, if this is true, why don’t we work true professional learning communities into our teaching staffs and have teachers visit other teachers who are doing great things?
I believe that if buildings have true professional learning communities implementing the following practices, student achievement will increase:
  • Common guaranteed curriculum for all students
  • Common lesson planning for teachers in the same grade level or subject area
  • Common formative and summative assessments
  • Common grading of some summative assessments whereby teachers do not grade the work of their own students
  • Analysis of the student achievement data of the summative assessments
  • Professional development led by the teachers with the highest student achievement so those teachers can teach the other instructors what they did
Principles from the Book The ONE Thing
It seems we all are getting busier in both our work and personal lives. I picked up these six tips from Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s book The ONE Thing (Bard Press, 2013) that you might benefit from by incorporating into your everyday work.
  1. According to behavioral experts nobody can “multi-task” but most of us think we can. Reflecting on my work, I notice that I allow myself to be interrupted by either my phone or computer message notifications, and I immediately attend to the text or e-mail. Sometimes I do not even get back to the work I was doing before I was interrupted. To address this issue, I have turned off automatic notifications on both my phone and computer. This stops the interruptions and allows me to concentrate on the work at hand. At certain points in the day, usually when I arrive at work, before I go to lunch or before I leave work for the day, I select the email and text apps and they refresh all the messages that have been sent to me throughout the day.
  2. Willpower – In this context, it is doing the most important work first and spending the most time on the most important tasks. Tasks such as writing this Update to you often keeps getting moved down on my schedule of tasks to do. If I think these Updates are valuable to you then I should make these a priority and complete the task early in the week.
  3. The 80/20 rule – “By the numbers it means that 80 percent of your outcomes come from 20 percent of your inputs.” We need to concentrate and make good decisions about the work we are doing. For example, I have a project on my “To Do” list to schedule the first Lunch to Learn Webinar for this year. I just got to this task today and invited the first presenters.
  4. Another tip related to Work – Life Balance. I have been leading administrative academies on this topic and the participant evaluations have amazed me. A metaphor I use to illustrate work-life balance is the following: Imagine trying to keep four balls in the air at the same time. These balls represent work, health, friends and family. Work, health and friend balls are made of rubber. The family ball is made of glass. What happens if any of these balls are dropped? The rubber balls bounce back, the glass ball shatters. We need to remember that family will always support us and be there for us while the other balls can bounce back.
  5. Tip 5 revolves on “Parkinson’s Law”—the idea that the work required for a task will expand over time allowed to complete the task. I remember when I had completed all my course work for my PhD and just needed to complete my dissertation. I remember thinking I had several years to get this done, then one day my advisor informed me in January that he was retiring in June and if I wanted to complete this project under his direction I had to be finished by June. This jump-started my research and sure enough I not only completed the dissertation by June, I was finished by May 1st.
  6. Replace your “To Do” list with a “Success List.” The reasoning behind this tip is that we should work on projects that are doable and will be successful. When I was a superintendent, we had differing board and community opinions on the district’s gifted program. We spent considerable time researching the various ways school districts were implementing gifted programs. We developed what I thought at the time was a great plan to modify the existing gifted program into a program we thought both sides could support. In retrospect, we wasted our time. This was totally a political decision that was not decided on what was in the best interests of the majority of students. The decision was made by the majority of board members who favored a particular gifted plan.
My Main Observation of Teachers
I observe many classrooms in my role as a coach for principals in their work with teacher evaluation. In the vast majority of classrooms, the teacher does most of the talking and the students are passive in their own learning. This is especially true in classes that have a large number of challenged learners.
If there is one suggestion I would recommend for almost all teachers, it is to talk less and have the students talk more.
Another suggestion I have is for the teacher to prepare the questions he/she will ask the students before teaching the lesson. This should be part of the lesson preparation. The teacher needs to print a copy of verbs as related to the level of knowledge from DOK or Bloom’s taxonomy. The teacher needs to make sure that the majority of questions have verbs in upper levels of these scales. For example, verbs to use that represent evaluation include argue, choose, defend, explain, predict, summarize and support. These verbs will require full sentence(s) replies by students. This is opposed by low level verbs such as define, list, name, recall and state.
I was working with one principal who required her teachers to prepare questions before teaching a lesson. The principal required no more than 25% of the questions from Level 1 and at least 25% from Level 4. Thus, the teachers were using verbs such as appraise, create, judge, prove and synthesize instead of defining, recite and report.
How Often Do You Acknowledge Important Employees?
I was reading an article recently that reminded managers to acknowledge key employees. Often what occurs is that a key employee decides on his or her own, without the manager knowing, to seek employment elsewhere. The manager finds out when the employee turns in their termination letter.
At that time the manager is shocked and tries to talk the employee into staying and tells the employee how valuable they are to the organization. The message from this article is to tell employees on a regular basis how important they are to the organization, or you may risk losing them.
We all know that money is not the only or even the primary reason employees stay with an employer. It is the self-worth the employee gets from the organization and from his or her supervisor. Spend time each day talking to employees and tell them how important they are to the organization.
I made it a practice as a superintendent to write a positive note to at least one employee, student, parent or community member each and every day. I wrote the note with a pen, not a computer, and mailed or gave the note to the person. This practice pays great dividends later and might stop the exit of great employees.

Principals as Instructional Leaders
We all know that principals should be instructional leaders and the Illinois School Code even requires principals to spend the majority of their time as instructional leaders. If a trained observer followed your principals around for one week and recorded what your principals were doing every five minutes, what do you think the results would be?
The Wallace Foundation did this for several principals in schools throughout the United States and the results were: 66.7% on management and 29.7% on instruction. Management was defined as dealing with student discipline, student supervision, employee supervision (not teaching related), employee discipline, office work/prep, building management, dealing with parents, and attending management meetings. Instruction is defined as working with students, observing teachers, conducting classroom visits, providing feedback to teachers, talking to parents about student learning, teaching/modeling, participating in professional development, planning, curriculum and assessment.
We need to support principals in their roles as instructional leaders. Some school districts are hiring additional support staff for the principal to free up time for the principal to do instructional activities. Of course, this is a local decision, but if you want the principal to be a true instructional leader, then you must find ways to give the principal the time to do this important work.
Tip of the Week
Start getting your plans set for calling off school due to “adverse weather.” You never know when bad weather will hit, so meet with your secretary and the person responsible for bus transportation for your school district. If you own your buses, this could be the head mechanic or transportation director, and if you lease buses, it is your point person with the bus company.
In rural areas, it is a good idea to obtain the names and phone numbers of the township road commissioners. These are the people responsible for clearing the rural roads. In urban areas you probably will rely on IDOT or county officials. Know who to call in your area to get accurate travel information on bad weather days.
Obtain a list of the phone numbers for all media outlets you will need to call. This usually includes local radio and television stations. The media outlets usually provide school districts with passwords to report school closing information. Obtain home and work phone numbers for neighboring superintendents. Your schools may develop some type of calling tree and you will need to have phone numbers of principals so the phone trees can get started. You also may want to work with your technology people and see if you can remotely access your district website so you can post school closing information on the website in “real time” format. Put all of this information on a small card that you can carry in your wallet or purse so you have access no matter where you are. You may also want to save this information in your smart phone or electronic planner. Many school districts now have a system to call parents via a “call out” system. If your district has this system you will need to determine if you will use it for this purpose and if your district does, then review the procedures to make the outgoing calls.
It is very difficult for you to make all the phone calls, so you should design some type of protocol for making these calls. The following procedure might work for some: 
  1. Start your phone trees or other method to notify staff. Remember to include support staff phone trees as well. Bus and food service personnel are usually the earliest to arrive at school so they should be notified first.
  2. If you have a means to notify the public via the district web page, you would do this early in the process. Some districts now use an embedded Twitter icon on their district website, so this is an option as well.
  3. Call the media outlets.
The hardest part of this whole process is making the decision to call off school. It has been my experience that superintendents talk to neighboring superintendents to find out what they are doing. Usually if one district calls off school in a local area, the other neighboring districts need to look seriously at calling off school. Sometimes it is a “no brainer” and everyone calls off school. However, sometimes it is a very difficult call. You will need to know what time your buses leave to start picking up students. This is the time you need to make the final call. However, on one occasion, I made the call for buses to return students to their homes when a blizzard hit late.
As I “seasoned” in my role as a superintendent, I learned to make these decisions on the side of student safety. Almost all complaints I heard about whether to have school or not, came from the decision to have school, not to cancel school. You have emergency days worked into your calendar and they should be used if you think students will not be safe traveling to and from school.
For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
Follow me on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/rvoltz