Ever had a sinking feeling in your stomach while meeting with a supervisor? I had only been a principal for a couple of years and it was time for me to meet with my then superintendent, Mr. Bob Watson. He spent what felt like two hours working through an evaluation instrument using a 1-7 point scoring scale with 7 as the highest.
I was scoring fairly high on a number of areas and was feeling pretty good until he got to instructional topics. Those scores were lower. Mr. Watson gave good explanations of the instructional leadership needed. He must have seen the despair in my face because he expressed confidence that I would be able to focus on instruction and make it better.
And focus I did! I became obsessive about teaching and learning. I visited with and observed teachers who were masterful in their craft and tried to determine what made them successful. I found myself drawn to principals and school leaders who were focused on instruction. I visited some of their schools and copied their practices as best I could. I started spending lots of time in classrooms.
My reading habits changed as I became more interested in teaching strategies. My secretary at the time often laughed at the titles of my book purchases when they shipped into the office. She thought they must be very boring. It wasn’t long before I heard her telling parents on the phone how important it was to be on time because of missed instruction. My focus on instruction was contagious and was becoming a priority for teachers and even our secretary.
I had a new purpose for my involvement in professional organizations and I eliminated those that didn’t further growth in understanding of teaching and learning. The AAEA (Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators) became a hub for my professional learning. Those were fascinating times of discovery. This often bumpy and uphill path of learning continues through the present but it all goes back to that very difficult conversation my superintendent had with me about my need to improve as an instructional leader.
I recently pulled that early evaluation from my file and was astonished to learn that I hadn’t accurately remembered my scores. As I looked at the form my superintendent held that day I realized that the scores were not nearly as important as the conversation and the on-going support I received to pursue my learning and improve my practice as a principal.
Fast forward a few years and we are now scoring lessons observed with detailed rubrics describing various levels of practice. The rubrics for teachers and administrators are challenging but clear and add observable evidence to levels of performance.
If implemented in an environment of trust, these new methods of evaluation hold the possibility of being catalysts for improving instruction and school leadership. Professional learning and trusting relationships are the essential ingredients. While the scores do matter, the conversations and relationships are where real improvements in practice occur.
On a personal note: Thank you to Bob Watson for being willing to have that “courageous conversation” with me so many years ago. You set me on a positive path of learning that I still find challenging and exciting.
Written for the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators Newsletter, July 2013