Administrators: Let's Talk about Performance
How often do you talk about performance with staff, both professional and non-certified? Even if this is in your comfort zone and wheelhouse as a principal, what follows are a few more tips connected to the Leadership Trinity: getting to know your people, talking about performance, and leading for results.
Talking about performance is an essential part of school leadership. Communication in this area ought to be two-way to encourage a free flow of information back and forth about the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Those looking for an affirmation of a "top-down" style of leadership may be disappointed with this approach.
Leaders do not automatically become smarter or more intelligent about teaching and learning when we become principals or superintendents. What we do have is an opportunity to help staff align in practice to achieve the core mission of our schools. It also affords us an opportunity to "get smarter" about the research and evidence to help with alignment and to achieve results connected to higher-level thinking skills and applications.
Keep the focus on future performance
Often, after a walk-through, leaders tend to focus on past practices and issues. Unless the issue at hand involves some form of corrective action, it is more effective to engage the professional staff observed in conversation. Feedback ought to focus on future performance, not on past mistakes.
Talking about the past serves no purpose and can be perceived as antagonistic. Ponder the "middleman principle" -- how would you, as a principal, respond to similar types of criticism from the superintendent or central office supervisors? Many of us would consider this as being unhelpful and antagonistic. This does not mean that feedback cannot be pointed, but that it addresses practices that can and should happen in the future.
Tip 2. Keep the focus on "Right Things"
The work of Dr. Richard Elmore can help to inform about performance. An example would be to discuss the level of cognitive demand in the class. Another source is the work of Costa and Kallick on
Habits of Mind. If a leader is expecting higher level thinking and habits of mind in a classroom, discuss performance on a similar level. We, as leaders, need to ponder our own knowledge, skill and disposition in these areas, among others, when engaging with our staff on classroom performance.
Tip 3. Provide Support to "Make it Happen"
There is a saying that "Talk is cheap --actions speak louder than words." This applies to the follow-though necessary to help the professional staff to be more effective with achieving aligned, higher level performance leading to improved learning for all students. This is where Concordia's core value of Servant Leadership comes into play.
As servant leader, it is imperative to find and provide the support necessary to help teachers and other professional staff to address the advice provided in Tips 1 and 2. This may mean providing professional development, implementing and/or refining a professional learning community, addressing the schedule, arranging for release time, writing a grant, and doing whatever is necessary to build faith and trust in the overall process of continuous improvement of teaching and learning.
As noted in the previous article, follow-through failure is a limiting factor in many schools and organization. It erodes trust and breeds cynicism, whereas engaged follow-through contributes to what it takes to have an effective, higher functioning school.
Contact me by email, phone or Twitter with comments, questions, or if you would like to have professional development on the leadership trinity for school effectiveness.
-Dr. Mike Dietz is the Director of Innovation and Global Outreach at Concordia University Wisconsin. He can be reached at
If you have a staff member who you think is ready for a leadership role,consider our Master's Degree in Educational Adminstration. Program Director Dr. Elliott Moeser would be happy to talk with you. He can be reached at 262.243.4213 or