Ever since the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative began in Hillsborough County, Florida, Robert Kriete’s professional learning community has taken a more targeted, and more productive, approach to improving practice.
Kriete, an 8th grade English teacher at Eisenhower Middle School outside Tampa, began to discuss with his PLC each week specific indicators on the district’s observation rubric, paying special attention to the areas where they scored lower on their own evaluations. “We looked at what we would do to be the most highly effective in each of those areas,” he says. Kriete used these conversations with other 8th grade English teachers to become more adept at grouping students, asking them high-quality questions, and using technology in the classroom. Since this work started, the group’s evaluation ratings, as well as their students’ test scores, have gone up.
In districts from Tampa to Denver to Portland, Oregon, teachers and administrators like those at Eisenhower use the multiple measures that are used to gauge teacher effectiveness in new evaluation systems to fuel frequent, honest, and specific conversations.
In Portland, teacher leaders in the David Douglas School District work with school administrators to make sure teachers are well informed about the various components of the teacher evaluation process. Last year, when the teacher leaders began their work, they focused to a great extent on understanding the observation rubric, says Stephanie Myhre, who oversees the district’s educator effectiveness grant. This year they will look more closely at student learning and growth goals.
Teacher leaders are the point people for effective teaching in each school building, Myhre says. Because of their efforts, teachers are talking to each other, coaching each other, and interacting with administrators about what works in the classroom. The upshot, she says, is that teachers are taking more ownership of their own evaluation, “so now it’s about how you elevate your own profession and your own practice, and that’s been really exciting.”
In a similar vein, Horizon High School in the Adams 12 Five Star Schools in suburban Denver has created a culture of collaboration that starts with the principal and reverberates almost constantly with every teacher in the school. The teacher observation rubric serves as a guide for conversations and interactions that take place throughout the school day, whether it’s in the classroom, in a committee meeting, or simply on a walk down the hallway.
English teacher Jessica Keigan, for example, is a member of several committees, including the instructional leadership team, and these settings provide an opportunity for school administrators to observe her leadership skills and how she interacts with her peers. Administrators in her building are very visible, she says, and just about any conversation — formal or informal — can be an observable moment.
“My principal has treated this new system as an opportunity for conversation and interaction,” says Keigan. It’s not just an observation rubric, “but a rubric that everyone can use to stimulate collaborative thinking about the practices of teaching.”