Tips, Tools, and Strategies for Supporting Teacher Practice
The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) traveled across the state to learn from pioneering principals who have adopted the State Model Evaluation System and brought back their most powerful tips, tools, and strategies, including:
- How to creatively schedule and protect time to conduct multiple observations of all teachers
- Tools for conducting efficient walk-throughs
- Strategies for delivering frequent feedback tied to the Colorado Teacher Quality Standards
Download all of the tips, tools, and strategies.
Over the last three years, CEI worked with 13 districts in the Colorado Integration Project focused on implementing new standards, assessments and evaluation. Through this work, we found that principals are the linchpin of the new teacher evaluation system and are essential for the success of the system as well as the professional growth and development of teachers. To support their role in this process, principals must have the necessary tools and strategies for implementation.
In focus groups, teachers report that they primarily receive feedback and support from their principal, but the frequency and quality of feedback are limited by principals’ time, coaching ability, and content knowledge. In a recent survey of educators, teachers were asked what sources of information made them feel more invested in initiatives related to evaluation, standards and assessments. They were more likely to select principals than any other source, including other teachers, their union representatives, district staff or state agencies. This finding suggests that teachers view their principals as a trusted source of information and that principals really do have the power to ensure sound implementation of the new evaluation system.
Despite this trust, however, teachers still report inconsistent opportunities to grow and learn from their principals. In fact, only 32 percent of teachers report that they receive feedback more frequently under the State Model Evaluation System than they did with their prior system. One in five teachers reports not have meaningful opportunities to confer with the school principal about teacher practice. Although teachers receive feedback and support from multiple sources, principals are on the front line of the effort to help educators grow professionally. Therefore, we must support principals in this endeavor so that they can have the greatest impact on teacher practice and, ultimately, on students in classrooms.
CEI’s selection strategy focused on principals from the 13 Integration Districts with varying size and location that piloted the State Model Evaluation System. To identify the principals from this pilot group, we used teacher focus groups; recommendations from administrators, Integration project managers embedded in districts and the San Juan BOCES, and teacher leaders from 27 pilot districts; our our partners at CDE; and our own experience working in the field. The principals chosen represent elementary, middle, and high schools, and one principals leads a K-12 district.
Curtis Garcia is the principal of all K-12 students in Centennial School District, which has 187 students, 18 teachers and no assistant principals.
Lanny Hass is the principal of Thompson Valley High School (TVHS) in Thompson School District. TVHS has 1,250 students, 80 teachers and 30 additional staff, including three assistant principals.
Chris Hinger is the principal of Pagosa Springs Middle School (SMS) in Archuleta School District. PSMS has 423 students, 30 teachers and one assistant principal.
Laurie Kloepfer is the principal of Florida Mesa Elementary School in Durango School District. Florida Mesa has 350 students in grades PreK-5, 31 teachers and certified staff, 12 classified staff and no assistant principals.
Karen Lunceford is the principal of Bayfield Middle School in Bayfield School District. Bayfield Middle School has 325 students in grades 6-8, 21 teachers and three additional staff.
In Colorado, principals are expected to be instructional leaders and to evaluate all teachers every year, which places great responsibility on the principal to ensure teachers are improving. The implementation tips, tools, and strategies document how principals manage their time to observe teachers more frequently and provide feedback and support. These resources are meant to provide principals with increased awareness and access to ideas, tools, and connections to colleagues as they seek to better support teachers.
While the principals featured are experienced with the system, they are still learning and practicing new strategies. These strategies provide a starting point for other principals beginning this work and serve as a complement – not a replacement – for high-quality training on the evaluation system, leadership, management, or any aspect of a principal’s multifaceted job. They do not cover the 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation focused on measures of student learning simply because principals’ practice with this aspect of the work is less mature.
Frequency of Observations Tips
In the first semester, Chris Hinger and the assistant principal conducted unannounced 15-minute observations of each teacher once every week or two weeks. The frequency decreased in the second semester as Hinger conducted formal, hourlong observations of teachers and the school administered state tests.
Tip#1: Complete formal observations by March, leaving enough time for the principal to aggregate all data, compile an initial effectiveness rating, conduct conversations with teachers, and then adjust and finalize ratings before the end of the school year.
Karen Lunceford didn’t schedule informal walk-throughs with teachers, instead she used 30-minute blocks of unscheduled time during the day to observe three classrooms. Lunceford observed every teacher eight times during the school year for approximately 10 minutes each time or until she saw evidence that aligns to one of the Colorado Teacher Quality Standards.
Tip #2: Don’t limit classroom visits to informal and formal teacher observations. Quick “stop-ins” go a long way toward building a culture that supports observations. Lunceford believes this helps to create and maintain good working relationships with her staff by building rapport with individual teachers and supporting a culture of open doors and feedback.
Curtis Garcia’s goal was to observe each teacher four times each quarter (16 observations during the school year).
Tip #3: Use a shared calendar to schedule and conduct teacher observations. This tool allows administrative staff to protect the principal’s time as an instructional leader.
Laurie Kloepfer’s goal is to observe each teacher informally for 10 to 30 minutes three times each semester.
Tip #4: Establish goal-setting meetings early in the school year to set the stage for targeted coaching through the year.
Tip #5: Plan for the entire cycle of evaluation at the beginning of the school year and schedule big events or weekly themes early.
Lanny Hass and assistant principals of TVHS try to be in each of their teacher’s classrooms as much as possible. This year, the TVHS administrative team observed each teacher’s classroom anywhere from eight to 12 times, depending on the teacher’s needs and the need to collect evidence of effectiveness.
Tip #6: Record observations, questions for teachers and actionable feedback directly into a tool used for sharing feedback with the teacher. Don’t wait until after the observation.
Providing Feedback and Support Strategies
Hinger’s biggest challenge is providing teachers with timely feedback and support using the current technology.
Tip#1: Provide teaches and principals with quality training and frequent coaching for using the evaluation tools, including technology tools. Shared fluency with the evaluation tools will reduce confusion, apprehension To assign a final effectiveness rating and develop a professional growth plan for each teacher, Hinger will rely heavily upon walk-through observation data combined with artifacts of instruction and formal observations.
Tip #2: Before finalizing a teacher’s effectiveness rating, conduct a collegial, coaching conversation so the teacher has an opportunity to present evidence for practices rated lower than expected.
While Curtis Garcia has been challenged to observe teachers frequently, he has focused on providing all teachers, particularly novice teachers, with feedback and support.
Tip #3: Use the Colorado Teacher Quality Standards and rubric to guide every conversation with teachers. Garcia says this is one strategy for ensuring the principal is practicing instructional leadership.
Tip #4: Be very concrete when training teachers about the evaluation process. Have tools and processes clearly outlined at the beginning of the school year.
Laurie Kloepfer gives teachers informal verbal and written feedback using the walk-through tool after each observation. But Kloepfer stresses that feedback from teachers must come from a variety of sources, not just the principal. Therefore, she promotes a school climate that incentivizes teacher-to-teacher feedback and support.
Tip #5: Incentivize teachers to give each other peer feedback to achieve a higher evaluation rating. Kloepfer communicated this to her staff and made it easy to fulfill the requirement by simply self-reporting that they took part in peer observations and feedback related to instruction. Teachers are provided with a walk-through tool to encourage them to observe one another. The walk-through tool can also serve as an artifact to support teacher evaluations. Peer Observation Walk-Through Tool.
Tip #6: Give teachers a draft of their summative evaluation as early as February so they know which areas to focus on for the remainder of the school year. With CDE’s performance management system, hosted by RANDA Solutions, a teacher can see feedback and the evaluator’s rating throughout the year, including evidence and artifacts shared between evaluator and educator.
Tip #7: Demonstrate to staff that the evaluation process and, specifically, the Colorado Teacher Quality Standards are aligned to school priorities. Kloepfer emphasizes that like the Colorado Academic Standards for students, teachers should become well-versed in the standards and understand where they are on the standards at any time.
Goal Setting and Self-Assessment
At Archuleta School District, when teachers complete the self-assessment required of the State Model Evaluation System, reflecting on their strengths and areas for growth, they are encouraged to use sources beyond the obvious academic sources.
Tip #1: Encourage teachers to include nonacademic data sources when completing their self-assessment and creating growth goals. Teachers build professional growth goals based on their self-assessment, TCAP data, district assessments, Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, and SPS.
Assistant Principal Role in Teacher Evaluation
Chris Hinger, principal of Pagosa Springs Middle School, alone conducts formal hourlong observations once a year for nonprobationary teachers and twice a year for probationary teachers. Hinger and the assistant principal use BloomBoard, a technology tool offered as part of the evaluation pilot project to gather and share observation data with teachers and manage the principal’s evaluation workload.
At Thompson Valley High School, all teachers are divided into four effectiveness teams, each with about 20 teachers and created according to teacher schedules.
Multiple administrators might observe the same teacher, and administrators frequently review observation data together to ensure consistency and to identify teachers with common strengths and areas for growth.
User’s Guide: Colorado State Model Educator Evaluation System – includes useful forms and tools for principals
Colorado State Model Performance Management System – a technology tool, supported by RANDA Solutions, that helps districts implement the State Model Evaluation System. Evaluators and educators can use this tool to document the steps in the state model process, gather and align evidence of professional practices, document and monitor goals and performance plans, and set measures of student learning or outcomes for educators.
District and Principal Spotlighted
Number of Teachers Evaluated
|Archuleta School District|
|Bayfield School District|
|21||Colorado Teacher Quality Standards|
|Centennial School District|
|18||Professional Practice at a Glance|
|Durango School District|
|31||Master Checklist of Evaluation & Peer Observation|
|Thompson School District|
|80||Create Effectiveness Teams|