- Nobody Really Knows What They’re Doing. I remember when I was a new superintendent and I attended the “Sullivan Superintendents Monthly Meeting.” This was a meeting held at the Sullivan Country Club hosted by the Sullivan superintendent and the monthly attendance included 30 to 50 area superintendents. There were two rules for this meeting: first was that whatever was said in the meeting could not be repeated outside the meeting, and you had to be a superintendent to attend. One of the reasons for the great turnout was the delicious fish sandwich the country club prepared for the lunch. As a new superintendent, I sat back and listened to the questions and comments from the veteran superintendents and learned how to handle many superintendent job responsibilities. I also learned that some problems did not have standard answers and we all learned from each other. We talked, we laughed, we commiserated, and we celebrated. Most of all, I discovered that I was not the only one who did not have all the answers, and learned to listen and learn. Later in my tenure I discovered the Bloomington-Normal area and Lake County instituted similar meetings for local superintendents. The Lake County group even called it the Sullivan meeting.
- Building Relationships Is Essential. This is one lesson I valued more and more as I became more experienced in my role as a superintendent. Relationships with board members, community members, education staff, students and others help leaders know the community better and learn what the community wants its education leaders to do. One recommendation I have told many new superintendents is that you do not own the school district like a business person owns a company. As a superintendent you are the CEO and the board consists of seven elected board members. These board members are the representatives of the community. You need to listen to their desires for the educational system.
- You Cannot Control People. This lesson took me awhile to learn. I thought just because I said something, everybody would do it. I really learned this as a principal when I would make suggestions to teachers and find that they only demonstrated the skill, if they demonstrated it at all, when I was observing their class. Adults need to believe in the change to incorporate the change into their daily routines. It is an art to get employees to do what you want them to do and persuade them to believe themselves it is best for their own performance.
- Leadership and People Management are Different Skills. I like this author’s description of leadership vs. management: “Leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organization, while management is the process or responsibility of running an organization.” In my opinion, leadership is more important than management. How much time do you spend on leadership functions vs. the amount of time you spend on management functions? When I am working with building level administrators I talk about this all the time. Leadership is working with people; management is doing the routine functions such as supervision, student discipline, student attendance, scheduling and the like. For superintendents, budget and school finance, transportation are management functions. Leadership is working with and developing skills in employees.
- Leadership Is About Letting Go. Superintendents need to get the correct people on the right seats on the bus. This is much harder than it sounds in the education arena. Superintendents have all kinds of roads to navigate in regard to moving people around. Teachers have tenure, administrators have contracts, support personnel are protected by unions, community norms and values dictate rate and type of change that will be supported, and relatives of employees often block change. Leaders need to look at the most important positions that can effectuate change in others. Getting the right people in central office leadership positions, developing building leaders to lead with conviction, and working with the school board to support the changes that need to be made, are vital for success. After getting the correct people in these positions, developing these leaders and then letting them lead and do their job is the most important function for the superintendent.
Embedded Principal Development Works Better
Most of us would probably agree that “one and done” type of professional development for either teachers or administrators does not work well. The next obvious question to ask is why do districts continue to provide this type of training for teachers or administrators. It would be much better if the initial training was followed up with specific one-to-one coaching that would actually change practice.
Every Illinois administrator must take one ISBE-approved Administrators’ Academy credit each school year. IASA has encouraged districts to tie this professional development to district goals and invite presenters to train all the administrators in the district at the same time. This type of training offers several advantages over each administrator choosing their own training. They include 1) matching the training to district goals; 2) all administrators receiving the same training; 3) the district central office staff making the decision on the training topic; and 4) less expensive than sending all administrators to separate trainings at a per person cost and also paying for travel and possible lodging expenses.
In addition to the above-mentioned advantages, it would be best practice if the initial training were followed up with additional individual or group actual practice incorporating the training into the administrator’s daily work. IASA offers this exact form of training. Many districts have contracted with IASA to provide teacher evaluator training. The latest edition of teacher evaluator training is titled “Advanced Danielson Teacher Evaluation Training” and includes instruction on 1) proper documentation of classroom observations; 2) concentrating on specific domains and components based on a research-based protocol; 3) conducting a reflective conference with the teacher to improve the teacher’s performance; 4) coaching practices that result in changed teacher practices; and 5) having difficult conversations with teachers who fail to improve.
Several districts have contracted with IASA to offer follow up training/practice for their teacher evaluators. During this training/practice, I actually accompany the teacher evaluators as they collect evidence and have reflective conversations with the teachers. This is “real” professional development for the teacher evaluators as they get to practice their work with an expert evaluator providing input, guidance and coaching.
If your district is interested in providing either the Advanced Danielson training or the specific coaching of individual teacher evaluators, please contact IASA at 217-753-2213 or
for more information.
I Don’t Have the Time to Observe Teaching?
One of the six elements of the Voltz Protocol for effective teacher evaluation is “Observe More.” When discussing this concept with practicing administrators I often receive silent feedback. Practicing administrators are probably reflecting on their current workload and trying to determine how they can free up time to do more observing.
I sometimes follow up with a rhetorical question such as, “What do you do in your position as a school administrator that is more important than improving teaching and learning?” This is certainly rhetorical because there are various duties that parents, school boards and other educators would say are very important for school administrators, such as student, staff and school safety obligations. In these difficult times, post Columbine and Sandy Hook, the public views school safety as extremely important. For sure, in the days following the Sandy Hook tragedy nobody was worrying about teacher observations; everybody was thinking about how to make the schools safer.
There are many duties of school-based administrators, but
improving teaching and learning is at the top of the list. Administrators need to examine just how they are spending time while at school. I would recommend that each school-based administrator keep a personal diary of just what they are doing on a daily basis. This diary should then be reviewed and analyzed to determine which tasks are vital to the administrator’s leadership role and which could be dropped or performed by others, such as the school secretary, support staff and others.
As a building principal myself, I developed a teacher observation/evaluation system in which I observed every lesson of a teacher’s entire unit, including the day the teacher handed back the graded assessment. As a result of this process I discovered that the day the teacher handed back the graded assessment might have been the most important day of multiple observation visits. How many teacher evaluators schedule an observation visit for that day? It is a great day to see the following:
- How students actually performed on the teacher-prepared assessment;
- What the teacher did with the actual results – did the teacher address the need for some students to have remediation and continued instruction? Did the teacher address those students who scored very high to see if they knew the material before the unit?
- How the students reacted to their student attainment scores; and
- Discuss with the teacher in a reflective conversation about what the teacher learned from the graded assessments.
Many ask how I was able to observe a full unit of instruction. The answer is really simple – I scheduled the observations in my calendar and, barring an emergency, I always observed when scheduled. The teachers learned to trust that I would attend every class, they welcomed the daily feedback, and they trusted my input because I was putting the time and effort into working with them to improve their teaching.
In some schools, student discipline becomes an administrative chore. You notice I used the word “chore” and not the word “responsibility.” I think it is important that classroom discipline is a responsibility of the teacher, not the building-level administrator. My experience has taught me that only some teachers send disruptive students to the office. These teachers usually lack in traits related to 2a. creating an environment of respect and rapport with students, 2b. establishing a culture of learning, 2c. managing classroom procedures, 2d. managing student behavior and, most importantly, 3c. engaging students in learning. Administrators should hold teachers accountable for these components within the Danielson framework when teachers send students to the office.
In the end, the real issue is not that building-level administrators do not have the time to observe teaching, it is that they do not CHOOSE to spend their time observing teaching. What gets measured gets done; this counts for teacher evaluation also.
Levy time is fast approaching.
Important points of emphasis for the tax levy process include the following:
- “Each school district is required to certify annually and return to the respective county clerk(s), on or before the last Tuesday in December, its certificate of tax levy.” Thus, you will need the school board to formally approve the levy at a December school board meeting prior to the last Tuesday.
- You also need to have the Board approve an estimate of the aggregate levy at least 20 days prior to the adoption of the final levy.
- “Any district proposing to increase its aggregate levy more than 105% of its prior year’s extension, exclusive of election costs, must publish a notice, as prescribed by law, in a newspaper of general local circulation.” You will need to follow this procedure correctly. This notice must be published no more than 14 days nor fewer than seven days prior to the date of the public hearing.
Tip of the Week
As your school administrators start to get into the swing of conducting teacher evaluations, you may want to review a sample of the actual evaluations being written. When I was new to a school district, I would randomly read evaluations to get a feel for the way administrators were handling or writing evaluations.
My personal philosophy on non-tenured teachers was to recommend non-renewal for any first year teacher (in this school district) who had areas needing improvement. Experience taught me that we should only keep those teachers we thought would be “excellent” teachers. The year to make this decision is the first year, before that particular teacher has established connections with other teachers, the community and parents.