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Episode 4: What Happens When Leaders Visit Classrooms 500 Times A Year

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Welcome everyone to the Instructional Leadership Show. I’m your host Justin Baeder and this is Episode 4: What Happens When Leaders Visit Classrooms 500x a Year? The Instructional Leadership Show exists to help you confidently get into classrooms every day, have feedback conversations that change teacher practice, and discover your best opportunities for school improvement.

It is no surprise, I am a huge advocate and fan of getting into classrooms a lot because some pretty amazing things happen. And I say that a lot—I say that throughout the year, I’ve said that in my book, I say that on webinars—and I wanted to do something a little bit different today and share with you some of the actual words of school leaders who are getting into classrooms a lot and actually seeing the benefits. And you know it’s one of those things that we all think we’re supposed to do. We all know we’re supposed to get into classrooms, but there’s there are some things that happen when you reach a certain threshold. And I think these things these benefits kick in well before the 500 mark, but the 500 mark is my recommendation.

If you get into classrooms 500 times a year you are guaranteed, my friend, to see some amazing things happen and I’m going to guess that you will see these amazing things happen well before the 500 mark. But if you’re thinking about the upcoming school year that is what I want you to shoot for—500 classroom visits a year. And that may sound like a lot but it’s really not that big a hurdle and in fact a lot of days you’re probably on track for that, a lot of days you probably are getting into three classrooms but, if you’re anything like me, those days are just not as frequent as we would like them to be, right? We know, okay I’m gonna get into classrooms today I’m gonna have to set aside some time I’m gonna have to work with my admin team to run interference for me and maybe keep someone waiting in the office for a minute so I can finish what I’m doing in classrooms. We know it’s possible to get into classrooms 3 times a day. Where we really struggle—or at least where I really struggled—was with the consistency. It was not that this was an unattainable goal that. You know, there was never a day when I could get into three classrooms it was just that those days by default tended to happen about once a week.

And three classrooms a week is obviously only one-fifth of what we’re shooting for here. We’re shooting for three classrooms a day, every day. So I’m going to give you a brief model in case this is a new idea to you, in case you haven’t seen the book or gone through the Instructional Leadership Challenge. The model is pretty simple and it’s really centered around the idea of getting into classrooms every day. And the target that I want you to shoot for is 3. That doesn’t mean you set aside 3 times it might mean you set aside 6 times. Maybe you try every single period to get into classrooms and you hope to successfully make it 3 times a day. We try to keep that bar achievable we try to make the visits not so long that they take the entire period. You know, we’re not talking about formal observations here. We’re talking about brief informal visits to classrooms that get you in there, that build relationships, that give you a sense of what’s going on and give you the opportunity to have an influence to make a difference in teaching and learning.

Now the difference that I suggest making through these visits is not like drive-by feedback. This is really much more conversational and much more about getting the information that you need to make effective decisions as a leader. So obviously observing, paying attention, seeing what students are doing, looking at their work, talking with students if it’s appropriate, seeing what the teacher is doing, talking with the teacher if it’s appropriate—you know those are the main things that you can do to gather information and get a sense of what’s going on and what you might need to do next as a leader.

The way to raise the bar on that, you know, a lot of people think, “Well, I need to give a suggestion if I’m going to raise the bar and not just kind of smile and wave.” You know, we don’t want to devote a lot of time to just smiling and waving we want this to be substantive so the way to raise the bar and make these visits substantive is to use the language of your instructional framework in those conversations. So if you are a Danielson district—if your school uses the Charlotte Danielson’s system for teacher evaluation—don’t just say, “Good job.” Look at the rubric and figure out what a good job with whatever the teacher was doing that day looks like according to the language of that rubric and work that language into your conversation.

Another way to raise the bar is to ask evidence-based questions and I’ll share some with you in just a moment so that it’s not just chitchat, it’s not just you know, “good job.” It’s not just, “Have you thought of this, have you thought of that?” But it’s actually an evidence-based discussion and we’ll get to those questions in just a moment. I’ll show you where you can get my list of 10 Evidence-Based Questions. And then the last element of my plan for getting into classrooms, and this is a plan that—these days we’ve kind of stopped keeping track—but more than ten thousand people have gone through the Instructional Leadership Challenge in more than 50 countries around the world. And I think what really makes the difference for them is the consistency. When you get into three classrooms every day and not just like the three classrooms of the teachers that you like the best, who are nicest to you, who never do anything wrong, but get into every classroom on a consistent rotation—that is what makes the difference.

All right so here is a tool that I have created to help you achieve that consistency. These are my classroom visit note cards. I believe we need to keep on track to stay on track. If you are going to make a habit and devote the time to getting into classrooms, it is worth the tiny amount of effort it takes to actually keep track of which teachers you’re visiting. And I don’t know if your tendencies are the same as mine were as a principal—I noticed that if I wasn’t intentional about it, I tended to walk right across the hall from my office and start with the lovely teacher across the hall. She had been in the classroom for probably thirty years at that point—between 25 and 30 years which was also my age—and when I say she had been in the classroom I mean in that particular classroom and this classroom was just dialed in. She had it exactly the way she wanted it— everything was optimized, everything was beautiful, everything was perfect. She was always super nice, her kids were always happy to see me. It was just a wonderful place to visit.

So that was where I always went first if I didn’t keep track. And if I didn’t look at my list and say, “Okay how many times have I already been in Pam’s classroom this year? Oh, I’ve already been in there 27 times. I better go visit some of the teachers upstairs or out in the portables or some of the teachers who always give me a dirty look when I visit their classroom.” We’ve got to keep on track if we want to make a rotation that reaches everyone. I promise you will not do this accidentally you will only do it on purpose. So if you would like a low-tech but bulletproof way to make sure that you visit every teacher in order, you can print out these note cards. You can get them at PrincipalCenter.com/notecards.

And if you are a member of the Instructional Leadership Association and you’re listening to the audio podcast version of this episode, go to and we will also send you a link so that you can very easily print those out. And then what you do is, you simply copy them onto cardstock, cut them up—and have your office staff do this prep for you—you write each teacher’s name on the card. You write the schedule that that teacher has on the card, especially if you’re in a secondary school and teachers have a prep period and they’re teaching different subjects during different periods. You want to note their schedule so that you don’t try to stop by when they’re not there and also so you don’t visit the same class over and over again—you want to mix that up. There’s an additional degree of intentionality that you can apply here. And then simply put these note cards in a stack and visit the top 3 teachers every day. Whichever cards are in the top of your stack, take those three cards, go visit those teachers. Keep the card in your hand and jot down the date when you successfully get there and then when you get back to your office put that card on the bottom of the stack.

And however, you want to involve your admin assistant your office staff your secretary whomever in running that system, if you want them to give you the three cards in the morning that is a great way to give yourself some additional accountability. And then I said I would give you some questions that you can ask when you’re in the classroom and you know depending on your model depending on your purpose you may or may not be taking any kind of notes or providing any kind of written feedback, but at least in the conversation that you have the brief chat that you have with the teacher you know for some teachers maybe this is an email that you send afterward but I recommend that these are mostly face-to-face conversations. On the back of those notecards, you will find these ten questions. And I’ve got the template designed so that every note card has these questions printed on the back you just photocopy it two-sided onto cardstock and you’re in business.

So these ten questions are context, perception, interpretation, decision, and so on. And you’ll notice that in each of them there’s a space for evidence. And in the interest of time, I’m just to read a few of them here. So like number eight says intuition, “I noticed that blank. how did you feel about how that went?” Well, the blank is where you put in something that you saw. You put in some specific evidence so you’re not just saying, “How’d you feel it went today?” You’re saying I noticed something specific and then you’re asking, “How did you feel that that went? What was your intuition about that?” So you can get those at PrincipalCenter.com/notecards.

And if you’re a member of the Instructional Leadership Association we should have already sent you a link to those if you’re listening to the podcast version. But that’s enough of my thoughts, that’s enough of my words for today. What I want to do now is share with you some of the impact that our members—that our subscribers—have shared with me. I asked earlier this week, I said, you know, who is a Deputy Head of School in China said, “I had a better pulse on the building and the teachers! I knew what was happening. I could speak to how a teacher teaches and relationships with students from personal experience. That’s Eileen continues, “Also the students would talk about my being in classrooms and it changed them and their behavior.” So thank you very much, Eileen, for sending that in.

And it’s just so reinforcing to me to hear that in all kinds of different contexts. And again, Eileen is in China. And, you know, people from around the world are getting into classrooms and they’re getting to know their students. And especially if you’re an international educator that can be a little bit of whiplash to go from one context, you know, if you’re in sub-Saharan Africa one year and then you’re in China another year and then you’re in Atlanta the next year—it can be a little bit of cultural whiplash to move contexts like that. But what rescues you from that whiplash is relationships, is knowledge of your students. Knowing what they’re dealing with, what they’re learning, who they are and there is no better place to build those relationships and build that knowledge than in the classroom.

And if you’re having any kind of trouble with building relationships with teachers, building relationships with students, I promise, spending more time noticing what they’re doing you know not going in to correct them or to fix them but just understanding them—understanding their work, understanding what they’re working on—is huge. So again thank you, Eileen. Next, I want to share some comments from Jay—thanks so much for sending these in.

Jay says, “When you get into classrooms regularly, the teachers and students expect to see more of you.” It becomes an expectation that they have of you. “The teachers also expect that you will give them more feedback, about curriculum, classroom management, and their tendencies.” And I love this sense of mutual expectation, right? Because most administrators are swimming upstream to get into classrooms, you know, we get into classrooms and everybody’s kind of like, you know, “What are you here for? Can I help you? What do you need?” And they really are uncertain and ambivalent about why we’re there and what we want and how long we’re gonna stay and it just makes everybody uncomfortable. So if you’ve tried this before—if you’ve tried to get into classrooms and you’ve found it uncomfortable and your teachers have been kind of, you know, “I’d rather you not be here. What’s going on?” Just know that that’s normal and know that that goes away as you get more consistent, as you get into classrooms more and build those relationships and people see that this is not going to be punishment. This is going to be a positive learning experience for you and a positive experience for them where hopefully they will get to give you some feedback and they will get to ask for feedback on specific aspects of their practice. I promise it gets easier.

So the more you’re there the less it’s weird for people and more people will reinforce your being in classrooms. And if they know you’re coming anyway—I think this is kind of what Jay is getting at here about expecting feedback—teachers will start to ask for feedback that they want, right? If you’ve never been in classrooms before or you’re only there once or twice a year getting feedback from an administrator or from an instructional coach is just something to endure, right? You just kind of smile and nod and wait for the person to leave and then that’s it for the year. You’re good so there’s no real reason to engage in any deeper way. But if teachers expect that you’re going to show up week after week. You know, in our model I think, in most schools, visiting three classrooms a day gets you around to every teacher about every two weeks. So if teachers know, hey you know she’s gonna stop by today. If she’s gonna stop by a week after next this is gonna be a regular thing. They don’t just decide to sit there and smile and nod and wait for you to leave— they actually invest. They say, “Hey, if we’re gonna spend this time anyway, if I’m gonna have to have this conversation with you, I’m gonna make it a good one for me.” So they ask for feedback on things that they actually care about and they actually strive to implement that feedback because they know that they can count on you to come back and support them and to follow through.

So thank you very much, Jay, for sharing those comments. And the last comments I wanted to share were from Andrea who is an instructional coach in Texas. So Andrea thanks so much for sending in these detailed comments. And Andrea shared a lot with us from a coaching perspective that I love a lot of our members of the Instructional Leadership Association are instructional coaches who are kind of in that admin world but not technically administrators but I think have some great insights on actually changing teacher practice.

So Andrea says, “I’ve found that it’s so easy to get weighed down by the paperwork and administrative tasks that HAVE to get done to run a school or a special program, like ESL. With your tools,” Like the note cards that we just talked about, “I was able to develop an instructional leader mindset that valued classroom visits, PLC collaboration, and instructional coaching. While I definitely didn’t get into classrooms every day, nor did I get into all of my teachers’ classrooms multiple times, I spent more time in classrooms this year then I have any other year.” And she continues that, “These are some of the things that happened,” And she sent me a pretty detailed bulleted list here. I love this.

So again, Andrea, thank you for sending this in. She said, “I got to know teachers better. (At least those whose classes I visited frequently.) Again, as a coach, she wasn’t working with everybody but even so that intentionality made a difference. She says, “I found more opportunities to coach teachers in less invasive ways. I learned more about content areas that I’m not familiar with.” And for my secondary people, this is huge, right? Or for secondary people who become elementary principals as I did, this is huge, right? The more time you spend in classrooms, the more you start to understand and get comfortable with those subject areas that you didn’t teach. And that’s true for all of us right? Like you’re always going to be supervising people who teach things that you did not personally teach. So this is critical for us as a developmental task as leaders. Andrea continues, I have more context to apply the ESL instructional knowledge that I have and feel more valuable contributing to my district ESL team.”

For me, this is Justin speaking again, I love that term context. So much of what we try to get people to do in our profession you know, applying models teaching curriculum using strategies that we try to push into the classroom, we push in without an awareness of the context that we’re trying to change, right? So if you can get into that context and understand it, you’re going to be much more effective at changing it.

All right, last couple of things from Andrea here, “Students saw me more, and I was able to build my relationship with them. I developed more confidence in myself as an instructional leader.” And Andrea says, I also found that, somehow, I still got the most important administrative tasks done and probably more efficiently.” And that’s the cool thing to me and I’ll comment on that now there’s a principle called Parkinson’s law. Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So if you have been feeling like you just don’t have time to get into classrooms— you’re already so busy you’re already slammed you’re working 60 hours a week how could you possibly make time to get into classrooms? I don’t want to say this is magic because really it’s not magic. It’s about your brain prioritizing with the time that you have left.

But Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So if you say to yourself, “I’m going to commit to getting into classrooms. I’m going to commit to visiting three classrooms a day. It’s only going to take me 30 or 45 minutes total and that’s going to come out of that time that I have been spending in the office or that I have been spending on discipline or that I have been spending doing,” you know, the many other things that you’re asked to do in your school. You’re going to find that you don’t have to tack that 30 or 45 minutes to the end of your workday. The most important things still get done.

It’s kind of like if you ever had a day where your secretary makes you go home because you’re sick and you didn’t think you needed to or you didn’t think you could, but your secretary just looks you in the eye and says you look like death go home and you say—I remember very distinctly a day where I said to my secretary okay okay but first I have to get a couple of things done and I was dragging, but I knew there were three or four things I just had to get done before I could go home. So I said, “All right I’m gonna get these things done as soon as I can and then I’m gonna go and I’ll take your advice. I’ll go rest and we’ll get somebody to come in and cover the afternoon duties and things like that.” So that’s what I did and I found that those tasks that I had thought were going to take me all day had them done by 11:00 AM. And I realized that was an instance of Parkinson’s law at work. Work had expanded to fill the time available for its completion when I was planning to stay all day those tasks were gonna take me all day, and then when I was forced by an insistent secretary to go home and that time available for completion compressed down to, you know, 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. I still got it done. So it’s not magic, but it does happen that way. You will get the most important things done if you get into classrooms first. So a couple of takeaways—thank you very much to Jay and Eileen and Andrea for sharing their insights from getting into classrooms this year. A couple of takeaways—first of all, this is not easy.

Getting into classrooms 500 times a year is not easy but it’s worth it. It is worth the effort that it takes and the intentionality that it takes to get into class. My second takeaway for you today is that this is doable for everyone. And if you’re telling yourself that you can’t get into classrooms because of circumstances in your school, you know, not just things that are within your control but things that are outside of your control that are keeping you from getting into classrooms I’m here to tell you there are people in much tougher situations than you who are getting this done. Now it might mean that for you to get into classrooms three times a day requires you to schedule eight or nine-time slots. I’ve talked to some people and said hey what’s your ratio like when you try to get into classrooms what’s your success rate and I say about 33 percent and I say okay well then you need to schedule nine visits and you’ll make it to three of them and it’ll work out. And it does my third takeaway for you is that as a leader you know more and you’re known more as you get into classrooms more. And this increases your influence and your impact.

So if you’re dealing with resistance to a particular change—if you have teachers that you are trying to help improve but they’re not wanting to improve—knowing them more and being known more goes a long way. That relationship makes a big difference because they know that you understand where they are when you’ve been in their classroom. You know what they’re dealing with—it makes a big difference. My fourth takeaway for you today is that it’s never too early or too late to start visiting classrooms. You may be listening to this at the very end of your school year. You may have a month left, you may be in the southern hemisphere and just be starting a new term or might be right in the middle of things. There is no bad day to start visiting classrooms. You can always start. And the way to start, my fifth takeaway for you today is just to start low-key.

Now I have a specific model for that in my book. There are some chapters in Now We’re Talking! 21 Days to High- Performance Instructional Leadership that will guide you through the process of getting started, but you don’t even need the book to get started. Just get into classrooms. Be low-key, be nice, pay attention. Be curious, ask interesting questions, show respect for the work that teachers are doing. Don’t bring a clipboard with you—this is not hard it is not complicated. I did not have any particular model to follow and in fact I actually started to do a better job of it when I said you know what I’ve been trying to make these elaborate forms, I’ve been trying to collect data, I’ve been trying to fill out all these different fields on this checklist that I made my job got much much easier. When I just said I’m just gonna show up. I’m gonna pay attention, I’m going to know more and be known more through this process of getting into classrooms, and I’m going to focus on consistency. So that is what I want to encourage you to do. Whether you have school again tomorrow or you’re already on summer break when you’re listening to this, I want to encourage you to get into classrooms every single day. Do what it takes. It is not easy but it is worth it.

And if you are looking for a little bit of guidance as to where to focus, if you need a little bit of help figuring out, “Okay, I think I get it but I still feel like it’s not clicking for me,” I want to encourage you to take our self-assessment because there are six stages to this. And sometimes people have different pieces from different stages, but I really think these build on each other. And it goes from the productivity foundation to getting into classrooms consistently to having feedback conversations to having a common vocabulary for those conversations, to really being consistent over the long term that’s the fifth phase and then the strategic phase is the last. So if you’d like a copy of that rubric—the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Roadmap—you can download that and take the self-assessment. It’s kind of an automated quiz that will guide you in reflecting on your practice and figuring out where you are and where you need to focus next, and I’ll even give you a little video with customized recommendations after you go through that quiz. And that is at PrincipalCenter.com/ILSA which stands for the Instructional Leadership Self-Assessment and that will give you a place to focus to help you get into classrooms more consistently in the coming months.

And that draws on some concepts from our flagship program the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification and a lot of that is also mapped out in the book, Now We’re Talking! 21 Days to High- Performance Instructional Leadership. That is recently on Audible, so if you think you know I don’t have a ton time to read more books or I’ve already got my shelf full of books I know there are a ton of great books published in education every year so I wanted to make my book available in audio format as well, just in case your shelf is already crowded and you have some time when you’re in the car or away from the office when you could could be listening to something. So you can find that on Audible. And if you’re a member of the Instructional Leadership Association, you do not need to buy it on audible we have it in the Members’ Area if you can’t find it let me know and we’ll get you hooked up. If you’re a member of the Instructional Leadership Association you should have that as well. So this has been Episode 4 of the Instructional Leadership Show: What Happens When Leaders Visit Classrooms 500x a Year? I’m Justin Baeder and I will see you next time!

Episode 3: How Savvy Leaders Implement PBL

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Justin: Welcome everyone to the Instructional Leadership Show. I’m your host Justin Baeder—and our purpose in The Instructional Leadership Show is to help school leaders confidently get into classrooms every day, have feedback conversations that change teacher practice, and identify their best opportunities for school improvement. And today a very special guest is joining me to talk about one of those best opportunities for school improvement. Join me in welcoming to the show Dr. Amy Baeder of the Project-Based Learning Network. Welcome, Amy.

Amy: Thank you, thank you for having me.

J: So we are here to talk about how savvy leaders implement school-wide PBL and I think it’s the case in many schools that there are one or two teachers—there’s maybe kind of one superstar person or one early adopter person who’s been maybe exploring PBL for a while they’ve been kind of the guinea pig—they’ve tried things out in their own classroom, their enthusiasm has kind of driven things but it has also kind of proven that this is what we want to do with our students, right? And I think leaders often are in the position of, you know maybe not even generating the idea in the first place but of implementing and of saying, “Okay, this is what we’re doing as a school. This is what we’re going to guarantee for all of our students.” So Amy, just to kind of kick things off I wonder if you could talk a little bit from the schools that you’ve worked with that have been successful, from the schools that have been able to take just that one superstar teacher and turn that into the norm across the school. What has worked? And maybe we can even start with some of the mistakes. What’s the biggest mistake that you see school leaders making when they’re trying to do that—when they’re trying to take things to the whole school level with PBL?

A: Sure, one of the things that I see leaders do quite a bit is get super excited about project-based learning. They see it at a conference, they see the power of PBL— maybe they read an article, read a book, attend a webinar and then go back to their school and say, “We’re gonna get this kicked off. We’re gonna get this started and you have this much time to do it and go.” And then they might schedule a one-shot PD that teachers attend and then expect that teachers have the tools and the requirements met to make that happen in classrooms without building in that continual support—that continual time to plan together—which is really what teachers want and need to make PBL happen.

J: Yeah, I think it’s it’s so powerful and important to hear that. Teachers might always be asking for more time, but with PBL that’s not just asking for something to see if you can get it. It really is an essential ingredient of success because of the…I don’t know what…talk to us about what teachers do with that time. Is it curriculum? Is it their own kind of understanding of PBL?

A: Right, so initially I think that the main thing that teachers need is a vision for what this could look like because not many of us get to experience project-based learning ourselves as students. So it’s critical for leaders to help our teachers see what that looks like, what that feels like, see lots of examples, experiencing that kind of learning and a workshop. And then when teachers have time to plan together it’s really critical because PBL is not just a one-dimensional thing that can be learned and then immediately implemented. It’s not a simple task—I’m not saying that that keeps anyone from being able to do it—but it’s multifaceted. When teachers are planning this they’ve got to think about how their standards fit in—they’ve got to think about what their product might look like, how they might integrate experts and community members into that work just all the different pieces how their students will collaborate with each other—just all the different facets of PBL makes it necessary for teachers to take that time to plan with each other and see what that can look like. Especially if they’re in a co-teaching environment or if they’re doing interdisciplinary PBL.

J: So again, one of the big pieces there is time and kind of making sure that teachers have the planning time, the collaboration time they need and not just treating it as a “Well if we set aside one PD day over the
summer that’ll kick things off—that’ll get us going.” And it’s interesting the phone calls that you get from schools that have done that already. They’ve done like a one-shot, you know, bring somebody in do a one-day or two-day or three-day training. What do they tend to need after that? Because certainly, there is a value in that upfront training—that baseline training. What are some of the things that teachers need in terms of support beyond that?

A: Absolutely. So a lot of times that baseline is just enough to get teachers either willing or to give them the vision of what it could be, or to give them a sense of, okay what is this PBL thing? But that’s just the first layer, right? So there’s so much more to it than What schools often need is just a sense of “How will you work with my context?” As a teacher who started out in an alternative school, I was always curious about how does this training speak to my students in particular? How does this speak to my context in particular? Because each school is so different and working with different schools—either if it’s an IB school or a preschool or a school for students who are deaf and blind—there are those needs that having a school leader who understands the context and who is able to provide teachers with each other to have that time to plan together is really necessary.

J: And one of the things that are so fun to watch in terms of those individual school contexts is how the curriculum itself is developed with those factors in mind, right? It’s not just like this is a predefined kind of scripted or canned program that we’re bringing in and wedging into our school context. You’re having teachers actually develop a curriculum specifically for their context and from the ground up.

A: Yes and that’s so necessary to really think about the needs of the community; to think about the resources within the community that can be built into that project-based learning unit; to think about your students in particular and how you might group them, how you might have them collaborate; the kinds of things that they would be interested in. And I think that that’s why building a PBL unit in your school is so necessary.

J: yeah and in terms of what like successfully having launched PBL looks like, obviously if we’re talking about something that’s a more traditional curriculum adoption like a math textbook obviously you know that teachers are using that textbook that you know they’re teaching from and students are doing problems from it so it’s pretty obvious what the transition looks like. In terms of PBL, I know you have schools on a spectrum where perhaps they’ve done one PBL unit or perhaps they’ve gone kind of all PBL all the time. What is a good first step for a school that wants to do PBL school-wide? So they don’t want it to just be that one superstar teacher, but they also don’t want to bite off more than they can chew in year one—and they want to be successful with it. What’s a good kind of first, okay we’ve actually done this—this is our milestone?

A: Well the recommendation that I like to give teachers is to take a unit that you have that has PBL potential and then turn that into a full-blown PBL unit. Teach one in your first semester and then you can build on that as time goes on. But it really depends on if a school is used to doing PBL teaching and learning and how far they are from that in their classrooms. Another thing to just consider is if you’re the school leader, giving yourself some time to plant the seed of the idea project-based learning, of sending out those emails that kind of say, “Hey, this is what’s on the horizon here’s a school that’s really rocking it.” Taking some key teacher leaders— maybe even mixing in some that aren’t currently teacher leaders but have a lot of influence in your school in one one way or the other—to visit schools that are doing this and just have those conversations and start them early so it comes as no surprise. It’s not dropped two weeks before school starts that we’re gonna do this. You’re really being intentional with how you’re rolling this out and thoughtful so that your teachers have the buy-in that they need as well as the skills.

J: And that vision I think it is so essential for something that a lot of us never experienced as learners, right? like I think most of the approaches that we’re trying to get teachers to adopt, you know, in some way we experienced that as students, right? Like maybe most of our teachers did not grade our work with rubrics, but we’ve at least been exposed to that idea over the years. In almost any curricular area the content is not completely new—we all experience that but this is something that because PBL is you know a fairly recent innovation in our profession and because it’s fairly ambitious it’s not something that hardly any of us experienced as kids. And that can be a little bit scary for us because we’re not exactly sure what we’re pushing for. So you mentioned that schools are doing site visits schools are you know I think Edutopia has done a pretty good job of sharing some great videos and I know you share those on your page when they come up about you know this is what it actually looks like. And I’m struck by how often it’s very context-specific it’s like we have a pond behind our school so the project relates to you know like there’s some sort of local aspect. So let’s talk about that that kind of local context a little bit more, because I think it’s one of those great examples of both a constraint and a spark for creativity that this is you know there’s no PBL curriculum that you can just buy you know that’s for everybody and that you can just bring in. It really is something that teachers develop for their students, for their context, and that’s what’s you know a big part of what’s so powerful about it. How does that play out? What have been some good examples of that and that kind of context-specific PBL?

A: Well I think as part of the course that I have teachers go through they are able to do that inventory in their own community of what kind of resources they have. I mean, for example, we have a river and a lake in our community. And so anything around that would make a lot of sense for a teacher to build around that natural asset. But you’re talking about how PBL is a relatively recent innovation and I think, you know, it has been around for a while it was kind of put on the back burner as standardized testing moved in. And I think what’s new about this PBL 2.0, I guess we could say, is that what we’re really trying to do is make sure that not only are the units around the community and the community resources, but also around the new standards that have rolled out for a lot of teachers. And I think what a lot of teachers are grappling with when there’s that resistance is that, yes I know that we can go out to the lake and the pond and do water testing. and I know we can figure out what kind of animals might be out there or whatever, but how does that fit with my standards? And how can I make sure that this is a standards-driven thing just like my regular units might be? And I think the resistance that some teachers face is just not knowing what that looks like or feels like having experienced it themselves and having not had maybe PBL units with standards at the core.

J: Right, right. And that standards foundation, you know, the idea of starting with standards I think is a surprising one to a lot of people because in our experience maybe as students or our experience early in our careers as teachers, projects in a lot of cases were kind of fluff, right? Like they were the thing that your teacher would make you do if you finished too soon like on your other work or if you had time left at the end of the semester maybe you could squeeze a project in? And a lot of people say well that that never happens we never have extra time. But you’re talking about an approach that actually starts with the project that starts with the standard from the very beginning and allows that to drive things. So I wonder if we want to jump to the Teacher Roadmap a little bit and then jump back. And by the way, you can download these at AmyBaeder.com/roadmap. And there’s a version for teachers and version for administrators. But you mentioned starting with kind of local assets—various things that exist in the community or that are relevant to students that kind of spark their interest and then that make it an authentic project. So in The Curriculum Developer Certification Program, you actually take people through a lot of reflection and brainstorming about what they’re starting with what they have to work with. Because a big piece of it is standards but there’s a lot more around what talked about what else is there.

A: Sure, so one example of some teachers that have gone through this program and picked something that was really relevant to students but also at their community and also the standards they needed to hit, we had a first grade classroom that did one on habitats for animals and deforestation in their area was a big deal but it happened to also be a standard they were interested in and made they made that relevant to their students and embedded a lot of student choice in that. So for me starting with the standards and then kind of figuring out well where does this hit with what kind of community resources we might have or interests of students? We kind of match those together and then figure out a project that relates to there. So starting with the standards here is key and then moving into, well what skills do I want to develop in students? What concepts will I really be hitting on in this unit? And what knowledge will I be building through the process of this project-based learning unit and then coming up with an age relevant product, an age relevant project that students can work on and kicking that off from day one?

J: Yeah and that whole idea of day one—of not making this an afterthought and of really making it central to helping students master those standards, really, I think is a big difference between true PBL, you know, what you call high-performance PBL and just doing projects. And I think probably most teachers have tried to do a project and have thought like, “Okay, that was hard. It did not go exactly the way I thought it would and I can’t imagine doing everything that way—much less teaching my most important standards that way.” So one of the big ideas that you introduce to teachers pretty early on is this idea of, again leading with the project and the standards, but not front-loading all the content. And I think that’s where people start to think, “Well wait. How am I going to have time for this if I have to teach all my content and then do the project?” And you say no it’s not that way at all. Why don’t you front-load the content? And how do you actually teach the content through a PBL unit?

A: So one great thing to remember is that you’re working hopefully through some sort of a real-world problem which piques students curiosity and gets them thinking, well yeah, why do I need to know this? And what’s great about talking to teachers when I hear about how their PBL units went, as I said students start trying to figure this out right away. So as soon as this phenomenon is introduced to them as soon as this problem is introduced to them they have ideas they have excitement. Some kids who have been like this at the back of the room the whole time are now excited and wanting to learn. So right away students are intellectually engaged in solving that problem so by the time you issue the challenge for your unit, students have a list that they’re going to be making and they’re gonna be doing this anyway so might as well formalize it then having your knows and your need to know list that you’re collecting about what students know about this already and what they need to know in order to be successful on their project. And ideally, as you’ve planned your unit those will unfold in a way that you know is pedagogically sound. You’re not going to teach super complex concepts to them from their need to know list right away. You’re going to be you know building on those ideas but as you build on those ideas and you do a little bit of teaching and inquiry and things along the way they’re chipping away at parts of their project. They’re looking at stellar examples of the kinds of things that they’ll be creating they’ll be doing pieces of it, they’ll be doing research along the way as it relates to their part of the problem. And maybe doing some storyboarding some script writing whatever it is that relates to the end product along the way. So it’s not you’re not saving it to the end and you actually have a better product as a result of that. And you’re making sure that there’s some peer review built in but you’re getting to those concepts first you’re getting to that skill. You’re teaching what you need to teach along the way but they’re working on the project along the way too.

J: I think a big aspect that is powerful this time of year is that demonstration of learning that comes through completing an authentic project. And if we can kind of contrast that to what I think of as kind of maybe my feeble attempts as a new teacher to have students do projects. Sometimes we think ok at the end of a unit we want students to show what they have learned so one way to do that is a test and other ways you know we might have them do a poster, do a presentation— we used to joke a lot, I don’t know why this is such a big thing, but we used to joke about interpretive dance all the time. You know, whatever way you want to kind of show your learning to us. That was a project and that was a great way to you know to give students an alternative to just taking a test. But that’s not really what we’re talking about with high-performance PBL here. And you talked about the idea of kind of prize wheel projects where you spin the wheel and say, “Okay, do you want to do a poster, a PowerPoint, a presentation, a skit.” You know, that’s not really the kind of format that you’re talking about Can you talk a bit about why that is and why you avoid that kind of prize wheel choose your own projects.

A: Sure and if you want to think about this in a metaphor format you might think about the prize wheel as you know an elective day trip. Like let’s say you spontaneously decide, hey let’s go let’s go somewhere we have a day let’s just go drive someplace anywhere you guys want where we’re gonna go doesn’t take a whole lot of planning, but you might not also get the kind of outcomes that you would if you were planning a two-week international destination. That’s going to require a lot more planning a lot more foresight a lot more thinking through the processes. you’ll have to get your passport you’ll have to figure out we’re going to stay. you might have to learn the language a little bit and that’s the same case with high-performance PBL. is you there’s really a lot more that goes into it but that’s something that the kids are going to remember for a long time as a result. So the other piece about the kind of prize wheel thing that you’re talking about is that although it has a lot of student choice involved, if students don’t have a very clear sense of what’s expected of them, in the end, you make a very very different levels of output and that may not be what you’re wanting. You’re probably not wanting to teach students how to rap or write a poem or do an interpretive dance, but if you’re going to be assessing that then you need to be teaching the aspects of it. So if you say kids you can make a video about X Y Z then you better teach them how to write a video about X Y Z so that, if you’re assessing it, you get that you know what you’re wanting out of it.

Additionally, I think that if you have too much choice your rubrics are going to have to be very complicated or too simple to work. So unless it’s a lot of choice that you’ve embedded as a result of, okay you’ve taught these four units in PBL and your last student includes formats that they’ve done in the first four you’re going to maybe not get the outcomes that you’re hoping for. So a lot of inequity can come about from doing the prize wheel approach just because the expectations may not be clear either on your end or the students, and you may not be able to get the richness of their knowledge depending on which of those outcomes they choose. So I’m not a fan of that approach as you can tell. And I think teachers go to that place because they think, oh differentiation I need to do that! That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” I’m really not sure where that initially came from but I know that teachers are now rethinking that approach to project-based learning.

J: It almost seems to me like the kind of thing that came out of the problem of one kid finishing early and they want to know, “Can I go to the computer lab and do a video or a PowerPoint instead of what you’re having the rest of the class do?” But again, there’s that inequity— like if that’s our plan for the whole class, we’re gonna realize a lot of kids don’t have the skills to do that if we haven’t taught them. So the whole point is actually to teach the skills throughout the unit on a just-in-time basis for them to take those next steps in their project. And I think on the other end of the spectrum from the prize wheel approach where everybody is doing a different format is the problem where you get 30 projects that are identical. Where everybody does a project and it was a good idea but you didn’t really need 30 different kids to do it because they’re all the same. How do we avoid that problem?

A: I think, you know, one aspect is just really building in choice throughout the unit in a meaningful way. So you don’t have to save the choice until the end. If you save the choice until the end, you end up with what you’re talking about. but if students are able to pick different things to study within the unit you can have different perspectives on—let’s go to the habitat example in deforestation of the first-grade students. They might be examining that for different organisms within that habitat. So you get what deforestation looks like for this particular animal and this particular animal rather than the same thing over and over. And what that does is it makes it each student feel like what they’re doing is really worth doing, because they have new information that the group over here didn’t have. But the teacher still is able to assess how would they understand this principle and how it plays out through what the student is sharing. So it saves your sanity as a teacher because I know having taught high school, you know, I didn’t want to see a hundred and fifty of the same thing over and over all day. I wanted to see some difference emerge. So building in that choice earlier on rather than saving it to the end. And then you can also have them have differences in how they show their work, but just limit those choices a little bit depending on your students’ needs.

J: And it seems like they’re there’s a sweet spot there between structure and choice, right? There are some parameters to make a manageable project. Like if you don’t know where your lot line is it’s very difficult to build a house, you know? But at the same time, you want there to be some flexibility so that you don’t get thirty of the same thing. Not intending to make kind of a subdivision metaphor there, but that might actually kind of work. So let’s jump back to the district and school leadership level and again we have a roadmap that you can download at AmyBaeder.com/roadmap to walk you through the kind of big picture. And again I think most schools are starting with maybe one or two teachers or maybe a team or department that’s highly motivated, that’s been dipping their toe in the water for a while on PBL. When we’re at that point where we’re saying okay this is no longer something that we just want to allow that one teacher or department to do, this is actually something that we want to do as a part of our core educational mission and guarantee for all students. Let’s jump back to the roadmap for that. Where do we start and how do we succeed with that? and what’s a realistic timeline? Because as you said earlier, I think this is a really good point the timeline can’t be I went to a conference in July and I’m announcing to you in August at our professional development day that you’re gonna spend the next day and a half writing your unit and then we’re gonna be a PBL school. Like that’s not a realistic timeline. So what does it look like in the schools that you’ve worked with—schools that have been highly successful in implementing PBL, how do they roll that out?

A: I think it starts with just doing your work, doing your homework, understanding what PBL is—how it’s different from problem-based learning, and how it’s different from doing projects—and how the other initiatives in your school would fit in with this. I think one thing that was really sometimes frustrating for me as a teacher is when there were a whole collection of initiatives that seemed to actually be at odds with each other, and some of the most successful schools are actually starting with things maybe like implementing STEM, implementing collaborative grouping, or implementing something that actually feeds in really well to PBL and then taking that to the next level. Maybe standards-based grading or you know really thinking about how do the things that we’re choosing—how are the things that we’re choosing to do actually fit? Because if you maybe started with block scheduling and then PBL is a nice natural thing to do alongside that because if you’ve got a schedule that only has 45 minutes for each class period or if you’re in a school that has particular required curricula that are taught at the elementary, that leaves very little space for PBL to be done well. So thinking about what is PBL? How does it fit in with what our initiatives are, and what problem we’re really trying to solve, and why would we use this approach? Understanding that for yourself helps you to be able to talk about that with other people and then figuring out what that looks like with your teacher leaders, your other leaders within the building. And then maybe just dropping some hints dropping some vision casting I guess for a lack of a better word for your teachers like, hey look at this cool school look what they’re doing sharing those resources examples of PBL so they can see what quality PBL looks like to make them want to say, hey yeah I do want to do that. That’s what I want for my kids. And then discussing, the why of PBL with staff and how it’s going to impact student learning. How it will make sure that you can do what needs to be done as a teacher and also do PBL because otherwise if you don’t have the why, if you don’t have a common why, teachers are gonna be resistant to that. And they should be if you don’t know why you’re doing it.

J: You know and I think that resistance is a really important thing for us to understand when it comes to PBL in particular because, I mean, as school leaders we all experience resistance to just about everything. Like if you start to tell people that their computers have been upgraded from Windows whatever to Windows whatever there’s gonna be resistance to that. You know people will naturally resist any kind of change, and as leaders we’ve got to understand that and empathize with that and plan for it and figure out how to work through it. But with PBL in particular, some of the resistance is not just going to be, you know, whiny foot-dragging “I don’t like change” kind of resistance. There are understandings here—there are skills here that most teachers again did not experience as students as we said earlier and have not had the opportunity to experience as working professionals —we really are asking people to do things new. But it’s not that every piece is new, it’s just sometimes that we’re starting from a different place. And again like I said, not necessarily front-loading the content and tacking on the project at the end but starting with the standards and the skills that we want students to develop and designing a project around that. So I wonder if we want to talk about a timeline for one unit. Like if we say okay we would love to be a wall to wall, all PBL, all the time school. We’re starting mostly from zero. We have that one teacher who’s been doing this for years and is great but most people are starting from almost zero. What is a realistic plan for getting every teacher to do one PBL unit?

A: That’s a great question and I did want to address about the foot-dragging just before we move on. Teachers will think if you’re trying to start something new, they might wonder well what’s wrong with what I’m doing? Do you think that what I’m doing is wrong? So I think really honoring the things that they are doing by having them embed those pieces. Like hey, you’ve got a really great idea about when you brought that person in to talk about hydroelectric dams. Like totally bring them in and maybe make a unit around this and really honor what they do well as you start to move into this. So I wanted to say that first. As far as a timeline, I think it really depends on where your teachers are on that spectrum of willingness and readiness. So you know if you’re already maybe a STEM school and you’re already doing standards-based grading, you might be able to take teachers maybe in June/July and have them develop a PBL if they’re given that time to work together and maybe implement something. if they’re given time, maybe each week— some common planning time to implement something in the fall—but it really depends on where they are and the kinds of training that they need and where they are in that continuum of readiness. So if they’ve got all summer I think to move the needle a little bit and some time to plan to tighten things up they might be able to kick something off for the fall, maybe after school gets down the road a little bit. So building a unit is so doable if the teachers are given the tools and the time to work together in that training that they need—so that’s the three T’s right there.

J: Tools. Training. Time. Yeah, good deal. So that one unit you said it doesn’t have to be the very first unit. It doesn’t have to be the way you start the year and often people want to kind of hold on to something familiar to start the year but one unit is kind of how you know the aircraft has taken some flight, right? Like if teachers can teach a whole unit with a project, you know, starting with that project in mind teaching their standards through that unit, then they have that under their belt at that point. And one of the things that you say to people in the Curriculum Developer Certification program is that, you know, the first one is the hardest one and that after you have gone through that process once, you’ve developed a skill that you can use over and over again. So the momentum is there and the momentum can build. You know, you might not choose to roll straight into a second PBL unit for your second unit of the year you might say actually I spent most of the summer on that first one and I’m just gonna buy myself a little bit of time here. But you have worked with a number of schools with very peculiar constraints in some cases that have done that full kind of wall-to-wall PBL. I wonder if we want to talk about that a little bit because some of the, you know, the constraints about you what technology we’re using and who is working together and which classes they’re working on the project it might give people some really good ideas for where they could do PBL. You know and you might think, oh this is too complicated for PBL we need to keep it much simpler, but PBL is actually a really nice integrator for some of that complexity and some of those constraints that you know might feel like things are competing with one another but, with a little bit of thought about how to integrate them, that can happen. Do you have some examples for us?

A: Sure I can talk about that. I did want to say that let’s back up to teaching that one in the fall. I think the the main idea about teaching one in the fall is helping the teacher during that time of implementation or those teachers at that time of implementation, being there when they need you to be there for the presentations, helping them get experts scheduling that time working around them and then really unpacking that experience—what went well? what support could you have used again what did your students experience? and really spending that time reflecting supporting and celebrating the teachers so that you have a better sense of when they go into round two what they’re facing and what their needs are. so I didn’t want to neglect that before you move on to the next piece. so yes I do want to speak to how you know a lot of people think that PBL is only for a certain type of teacher in a certain type of school who has a certain type of parent group and support from a school. so first of all take that throw that of the window because I’ve seen teachers from every walk of life in every kind of school in every country that you can imagine do PBL with every group of students you can imagine so it’s totally doable it’s about willingness and it’s about having the tools the time and the training to get that done. so actually having constraints can make what you’re doing even more creative than you thought possible so those constraints actually give you some creative territory and I think that some of the greatest outcomes that we’ve seen our teachers that have had to teach sometimes very obscure standards, sometimes with very specific requirements for what kinds of tools that they needed to use or didn’t have access to. I used to teach in a building that I was a science teacher, but I didn’t have a sink in my classroom you kind of need that and teachers are facing those circumstances all the time so working with another thinking partner can help you make sure that your PBL unit is as creative as it needs to be and in spite of those constraints. and in my CDC program, I have teachers actually think through what are those constraints that you’re facing and then what do you have control over? and if you were to coach yourself from the perspective of someone else what would you tell yourself about what you need to do in this moment? and that helps teachers kind of really figure out how they can come up against some of those obstacles and work through them. now let’s talk about the certification program because you have people all over the world—I think we counted up the number of countries and just the subject areas and the students. You know again, we think there’s this kind of like perfect context where PBL works and everybody everywhere else it’s a struggle. I mean you have schools that are in lots of different countries K-12 and beyond. Let’s talk about some of those and what you’re seeing as teachers are developing their units in those contexts.

A: I think you know a lot of times folks think that you’re very very advanced students, if they’re in an AP classroom or an IB classroom, that PBL is not for them because they don’t need that motivation—they do. and also we’re really preparing them for the real if we’re having them experience what those projects look like. so we’ve had someone who recently went through the certification who teaches an AP US history class and IB physics class so these classrooms the teachers in these classrooms are really trying to figure out what will get students beyond just trying to get that grade. what will get students beyond the point of just learning the content for that end of course tests that they have to take? and I think that can actually be super motivating for the students who are excelling at that level. and on the flip side of that, I think often maybe teachers who have students with special needs or students they might have students who need some motivation they think, “well, that’s for someone else’s kids that’s not for my kids.” Well those are exactly the kinds of students who need this kind of enriched learning and this access to really excellent teaching and learning. So all across the spectrum, I think it’s super important for teachers to be embracing project-based learning not only to up the motivation but also to provide everyone with high-quality teaching and learning.

J: Absolutely yeah it’s it’s it’s been inspiring to hear some of the different you know contextual factors and you know what we might think of as constraints—I was almost gonna say constraints but then you know you see their unit and you think wow they didn’t really treat that as a constraint they just couldn’t you know treated it as a design factor and that’s part of what makes the unit amazing. So I know a lot of times people have very specific circumstances that they want to talk about. Talk about when you know when you kind of you know answer the phone and consult with people just briefly. If they say I know here’s where our school is what do you kind of talk them through. and we’ve got a link on the screen here AmyBaeder.com/call if you do have a situation in your school where maybe you’ve been doing some things for a while with PBL or you’ve explored some things or maybe you’ve had some training but it didn’t get you to where you want to be. you can set up a call with Amy. And then, Amy, what do you typically ask on those kind of consultations with schools?

A: I like to know if they’ve been trained previously. How many teachers are relatively new to PBL or new to the school. What student population you serve and what your goals are with doing project-based learning in your school. I like to think about what your timeline is for implementing and if you’re thinking about piloting with a small group or if you’re planning to start with a full-fledged—you know let’s everybody just let’s do it. So you know I have a list of questions I like to reference and think about with you. You sometimes might not have the answers to all these questions, but it’s these are things that I like to think about. And these are all from that roadmap so we could try to figure out kind of where you are in this roadmap and what your next step might be.

J: So yeah so again if you’d like a copy of the PBL roadmap for school and district leaders as well as for teachers you can download that at AmyBaeder.com/roadmap and you’ll get a PDF that has both of those in there. And again if you’re interested in actually getting that kind of training or even doing some online training and then getting some on-site support you can go to AmyBaeder.com/certification to learn about the Project-Based Learning Curriculum Developer Certification program and that’s actually what I’ve been holding up this entire time is the the unit plan book that’s included with that program that walks people through the process of developing their unit and then I think you’ve got a copy of the workbook there that guides people through some of the exercises for figuring out their resources, figuring out the designs factors. And then you’re talking about the different circumstances and whether people want to go all PBL you know. In some cases the people you’re hearing from are people who are designing new schools or re you know reconstituting schools with a vision you know from the ground up can we build you know build the school around PBL. And then of course in other cases it’s one of many options and but it’s something that leaders are starting to get serious about seeing the potential of and see the success that teachers are having and want to scale that up to the whole school level. So the Curriculum Developer Certification program is one way to do that and then on-site work is also a possibility and I would say people should probably set up a phone call if they’re interested in getting some feedback on their current situation, talk about a plan for rolling that out. Any other recommendations as we wrap up?

A: I would just say take a look at the roadmap really think about what your “why” for PBL is and thinking about how you can utilize this summer to really get your teachers ready to roll if you’re hoping to start this in the fall because it’ll be here before you know it.

J: Absolutely, it’s a great opportunity, a great time of year to really to do some thinking and to do some planning for the coming school year so if you’re on Amy’s email list keep an eye out for upcoming webinars and other trainings and you can make sure that you get on that list by downloading the road map can go to AmyBaeder/roadmap to download that but Amy thanks so much for joining me on the Instructional Leadership Show!

Episode 2: Finishing Evidence-Driven Teacher Evaluations Fast

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Welcome everyone to episode 2 of the Instructional Leadership Show I’m your host dr. Justin Baeder and our topic today is finishing evidence driven teacher evaluations fast. Our focus on the Instructional Leadership Show is on helping you confidently get into classrooms every day, have feedback conversations that change teacher practice, and discover your best opportunities for school improvement. And of course, when it comes to the final evaluation process the more you’ve been doing those things all year long the easier your job is now at the end of the year. I think the administrators who really struggle to get their final evaluations done often are the ones who don’t have much to work with because they haven’t been in classrooms very much. But if you’ve been in classrooms a lot throughout the year, if you’ve kept up with your formal observations but also made informal visits and had a lot of conversations with teachers, you just have a much better sense of where people stand and you have much more to say about them beyond your formal written notes that you took during your formal observations. So our topic today is getting those evaluations done quickly and any time we talk about efficiency, anytime we talk about optimizing anything in the name of speed or in the name of efficiency we get a little bit nervous, right?

As educators, we are people who are about quality over efficiency I think most of the time so this topic makes us a little bit nervous. and I totally get that. We don’t want to cut corners we don’t want to take shortcuts we want to do right by everyone in this process. And sometimes that leads us to feel like we have to make this our whole life for the second semester of the school year or you know we just have to put in hundreds and hundreds of hours in this evaluation process—and I do believe that instructional leadership is your top responsibility—if you’re a school administrator, if you’re an instructional coach, if you’re a district administrator. I am all about instructional leadership. But I have some more specific views on teacher evaluation that, I think, give us a little bit of permission and give us a little bit of room to find some efficiencies here.

And I think finding the efficiencies starts with clarifying what our outcomes are. What are we really optimizing for? Because if we’re going to trim the fat we have to know what is the fat in this process so that we’re not cutting corners—we’re not cutting the part that really matters. So when I zoom in and think about the purpose of the teacher evaluation process and just boil it down to its bare essentials I come up with two goals for the teacher evaluation process. Goal number one is that each teacher evaluation should provide an accurate rating of the teachers’ performance, right? No surprise there—we want to evaluate teachers, rate them according to our rubric—according to our criteria—and we want that rating to be fair. We want it to be accurate. We want it to be reflective of the evidence so that every teacher is treated correctly by the evaluation process. We don’t want to ding people unfairly, we don’t want to underrate people. But we also don’t want to overrate people.

And you know I feel like personally I never thought I did that, you probably don’t think you overrate people. The statistics in our profession suggest that maybe we do overrate people. But at the same time you know we’re not looking for a bell curve here we’re looking for an accurate rating of each teachers performance. And if all of your teachers are above average—well that’s not possible for the overall profession—but if all of your teachers are above average, I don’t have any problem with overwhelmingly your teachers getting great evaluation ratings from you if they’re backed by the evidence. And I think that’s the key to everything we’ll talk about today is making sure that what we are saying, that what we are doing, is backed by the evidence and that we have the evidence on hand. The second goal that I believe the teacher evaluation process needs to accomplish is the initiation of appropriate next steps.

Now a lot of people are surprised to hear that one because they think, “well actually I thought the teacher evaluation process was supposed to yes, number one rate the teacher but number two help the teacher grow—help the teacher improve.” And I actually don’t have that as a goal for the teacher evaluation process, instead, we take a step back and say the teacher evaluation process is not what’s going to actually produce the growth but it is what will initiate whatever next steps are appropriate for that teacher to grow. I think depending on where the teacher is in their career and what they’re dealing with, whether they’re doing well or poorly and what the nature of their struggles is or their opportunities for improvement—what specifically the nature of that is is going to dictate different next steps for different teachers. And we tried to design these evaluation processes that are comprehensive and that meet the needs of everyone and that try to help everyone grow, but I really think the evaluation process is incapable of going that full distance because it goes in so many different directions there.

So I think the right role of the evaluation process—after that rating has been made— is initiating the appropriate next steps for each teacher. And that raises the question of growth. We’ve talked about growth a little bit and how that sometimes kind of worked into the teacher evaluation process. I personally was a principal in Seattle Public Schools and our process for teacher evaluation was called “the professional growth and evaluation process.” So in the name of making it feel like a good thing for everybody we actually baked that into the name of the process—we called it, “the professional growth and evaluation process.” The system and the tools that we used were called “the professional growth and evaluation system,” but I found that really those were two different things, right? Like you can take two things and stick them together and they can kind of stick to each other fairly well, but they really still are two different things, right? They don’t truly merge and blend together.

But I do want to address this idea of completing requirements because this is one that bugs us a little bit, you know, this idea that all this work that we’re doing is just a formality—is just a compliance exercise. Like we don’t want it to be just that, but I would suggest that to a great extent more than almost anything else we do in terms of instructional leadership, the teacher evaluation process is designed to be a formality. You think well that doesn’t sound very great. No, nothing should be designed to be a formality that’s terrible. And I get that, right? I like I get the feeling that formality it feels pointless to us they feel like you know we’re just cogs in a machine and our you know our true beliefs and our true motivations and our true efforts don’t really get respected by that process, but we have to remember that the teacher evaluation process is not necessarily created for us and it’s not necessarily created for teachers. The evaluation process largely exists for the public and for the school district and for the superintendent and for the school board so that we and our teachers go through a process to demonstrate in an evidence-driven way that teachers are doing their jobs and that we are doing our jobs as their supervisors and evaluators.

And that process might not yield very great results for us—it might not help us grow very directly it might lead to some things it might be interesting—but often we are not the beneficiaries of the teacher evaluation process. I think ultimately the intended beneficiaries of the teacher evaluation process are who? Our students. We want our students to benefit from the process and a lot of that comes in the form of a formality, right? If we’re evaluating people that we already know are fine who we already know are good or especially people who we already know are great, what is the point of evaluating somebody who we already know is great? What’s the benefit for students? Well there might not be much change as a result of that process—students might not see anything different as a result of that process, but it’s part of how we guarantee that we are doing our job on behalf of students. It’s part of how we guarantee that there is a high-quality teacher in every classroom.

And again, if that feels like a formality, that is somewhat by design. Now again that does not awaken my soul, that does not stir me to rise early every day and go and be the instructional leader that I’ve dreamt of being for my entire life. That’s not great motivational speech stuff, but it is a big part of how we convey that confidence to our school district to the public to our parents and how we ensure quality for our students. But because it is a formality—a lot of aspects of this process are a formality— I am very happy to minimize the amount of time I spend on them, to zip through those formality parts as fast as possible and focus on the good stuff and, as Amanda said, focus on the growth and not dwell too much on the formalities—even though there are a lot of formalities. Now I am also a big believer that we’ve got to get those formalities right, right? It’s not okay for us as administrators to miss deadlines, in some cases, it is a crime like you’re required by law to get your evaluations done by a certain date, it just depends on your state and what kind of school you’re in if you’re in a public school. It may not be a very big deal to get your evaluations in by a certain date in some schools in some areas maybe, if you’re in a private school there might not be any rules at all about that. But I was a public school principal in Seattle and it was a big deal you get him in on time and I never you know decided to discover what happens if you don’t get them in on time, but I believe that we should meet those deadlines because in some cases bad things happen.

And one of the bad things that happen if you miss deadlines and you’re in a union area or place where there’s a very strong teachers contract—if you miss your deadlines then your ability to hold teachers accountable for their performance goes out the window, right? If you don’t do the required steps the teacher gets off basically scot-free no matter how bad they are. So we don’t want that to happen. It’s not okay to skip required observations and this is one that I think is kind of a dirty secret of our profession is that a lot of teachers are required to be observed and required to be evaluated, but they’re not actually observed—they’re evaluated without ever being observed. Has this ever happened to you where your boss gets busy and they’re like oh I know you’re fine so I’m just gonna come by when I can and I’ll write up your evaluation, I’ll put it in your box? And really they never actually come by, they just kind of have a sense that you’re doing fine so they just give you a good evaluation. I think this happened more in the satisfactory/unsatisfactory days—it’s happening less now that we are required to submit more evidence, right? Our profession is much more evidence-driven now—we have these four-tiered rubrics and principals are required to have more documentation now.

So this is common but I think it’s not ok, right? If you have not been in somebody’s classroom, it’s not right to evaluate them and basically claim that you have been in their classroom. Now I’m also a big believer in the power of informal visits, in fact, I wrote a book on informal classroom visits and the relationship that they have to the formal evaluation process. So I’m a big believer in the added value and the context that you get from informal visits, but I think we’ve gotta cross our T’s and dot our I’s and do those required observations—do things on time.

But this kind of stuff does happen— it is very common and I think it’s more common with stronger teachers right if you’ve worked with somebody for a long time maybe you feel more comfortable kind of skipping some of those steps but I think we need to really be diligent about this. One more thing that I think is not okay to do is to copy and paste from one teacher’s evaluation to another’s when the evidence doesn’t fit. Have you ever seen that and I’ve seen this before where something clearly was written about another teacher that was kind of like me in some way maybe like they were also a young man or maybe they were in my same department, I’m like I’m pretty sure this was not written about me because I didn’t do this particularly I think it’s in my evaluation but it’s fine so I’m not gonna throw a fuss.

You know, I think we owe each teacher and accurate rating of their performance and that rating needs to be based on real evidence, right? It needs to not be made up. Now having said that copying and pasting when the evidence doesn’t fit is not okay I want to share with you a couple of things that I think are okay and are actually a great way to save time in the teacher evaluation process. So this is my list of things that it’s okay not to do.

All right, so we’ve talked about some things that are not okay to do now we’re transitioning to things that are okay not to do. Number one it is okay not to provide meaningful insightful feedback in your final evaluation. And I didn’t clarify that on my slides here but I’m talking about in that final kind of summative observation report, I feel like we feel this pressure to make that report meaningful and almost poetic and you know like we want the teacher to cry a little bit you know be touched at how much we really get them, and how much we really care about helping them grow, but we fall short of that, right? And if you fall short of that kind of truly inspirational final evaluation I want you to be okay with that, right? Like these are not designed to be meaningful and insightful things they literally are a formality so if your final observation reports you crank them up pretty quickly the teachers take a quick look at them, sign them give them back to you. If it feels kind of perfunctory and like a formality, again, that’s kind of by design, right? The meaningful conversations are not happening on paper right the meaningful conversations the insights about where to grow are happening face to face and I think that’s a very good thing and when we try to translate all of that into some Microsoft Word document or online application that your district uses you just lose that so I think the really useful place to have those meaningful insightful conversations is in person. The form is always going to feel like a formality.

Number two I think it is okay not to give the teacher something to work on in the evaluation. Right, an evaluation is a rating. And teachers do their own growing so as a result of your evaluation the teacher should be clear on where they can grow clear on what they might need to work on. But it’s okay if their actual working on that and their goal-setting and they’re planning for how they’ll improve in that area it’s okay if that is a subsequent step that happens outside of the evaluation process. And again it really depends on what has been bolted together in your growth and evaluation process.

Now for me as a principal in Seattle, we did have some kind of next steps specified in our form because it was designed to do both of those things. It was designed to be both an evaluation and growth tool so sometimes you will see that built in. But if yours does not have that built in that is totally fine. If you don’t give the teacher something to work on in the formal observation that is totally fine because there will be a time in the put in a place for that. And I think the time in a place for that is future conversations and goal setting for next year maybe you do a year-end reflection you know what are you gonna think about over the summer? What are you gonna work on over the summer? I think that’s fabulous Number three, it is okay not to write a unique “love letter” to every teacher. And I have “love letter” in quotes here because we’re of course talking about a professional love letter we’re talking about the kind of letter that you would use as a reference we’re talking about the kind of letter that you would use to nominate someone for an award. And I have read these when I first came into my school I read all the past evaluations that were still on file in teachers folders, and some of them really read like love letters you know Mrs. so-and-so is you know God’s gift to kindergarten teachers and the greatest who has ever lived and it is an honor to even have her shadow fall on me as she walks by. You know it’s like okay yes this person is great but like this is not a creative writing contest, right?

This is again a formality that should accurately rate the teacher and initiate the appropriate next steps so it is okay if you are not achieving that level of poetic perfection. Save it for when you are nominating the teacher for an award save it for when you are writing a recommendation letter for the teacher, because as much as that teacher might appreciate that unique love letter it takes a lot of time and they’re only going to read it once and they’re gonna sign it and they’re gonna throw it in a drawer and they’re never gonna look at it again. So please do not force yourself to spend four hours writing a unique “love letter” evaluation for every teacher. The fourth thing that I think it is okay not to do—and of course you’ve got to check with your district see what your specific requirements are— number four I think it is okay not to address every single evaluation criterion in detail.

When we first adopted the Danielson framework, we were terrified and overwhelmed that all of those you know twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six different criteria were going to have to be addressed in like a full paragraph or a full page. And we’re thinking, I’m not gonna write like a 25-page evaluation for every teacher, how can I possibly do that? But if I’m going to rate teachers in each of these areas and provide evidence, it is going to be like 25 pages. How do I do that? What we eventually came down to was kind of picking our battles and saying okay we’re going to address the four domains in Danielson, we’re going to have a rating and evidence for each domain, and we’re going to have a rating for each criterion and evidence if that rating was unsatisfactory or something like that. But we didn’t have a full page for every single detailed criterion. I think we’ve got to kind of set some expectations with teachers, with our human resources, with our Union, whomever your stakeholders are and figure out okay how can we make this a manageable process so that we’re not doing a 25-page evaluation for every teacher. So I really hope you don’t have to do that. If you do, hopefully, you’ve got plenty of evidence to work with but check with your district. So how can we free up some time? I believe that this process is inherently time-consuming, you know, even if you don’t do the four things that I said it’s okay not to do this is going to be a time-consuming process. So any time that we free up by being efficient, I think we need to use for those evaluations where we really really really need to focus on crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s.

And I like to mentally think about my staff and who is being evaluated this year and kind of what the issues are and divide people into kind of an 80/20 set of groups. And this thinking comes from a very old rule called the 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle. And it’s basically this idea that 80% of results come from 20% of efforts and 80% of efforts only produce 20% of results. Just kind of a rule of thumb that shows up in a lot of different areas of life. If you’re a classroom teacher you might have remembered that like 80 % of your discipline problems were from 20% of your students and things like that it this shows up all over the place just kind of a handy rule of thumb. And the way I apply it to time and teacher evaluations is to say that 80% of your teachers should take up about 20% of your time. And 20% of your teacher evaluations should take about 80% of your time.

So let’s consider a couple of numbers here—let’s say you have a hundred teachers just for the sake of simple math that means 20 of those teachers are going take up 80% of your time. And 80 of those teachers are going to get the remaining 20% of your time. That means you’re going to spend much much much more time—16 times more time—on certain teachers evaluations. And if we’re going down the road of an unsatisfactory evaluation with a really struggling teacher, I think there becomes kind of an 80/20 rule within the 80/20. So let’s say if you’ve got a hundred teachers 20% of them would be 20 and 20% of those would be 4 teachers out of a hundred, right? So if you have a hundred teachers, let’s say four are gonna be really in danger of an unsatisfactory evaluation in any given year I think that’s just kind of a good average. You know, at the end of the year there may be four people who are really struggling it need to be on a plan of improvement need to be on probation or something like that. Well if we apply that 8020 rule twice and say okay now that we’ve whittled it down to the 20 percent of the 20 percent and we’re gonna spend 80% of our 80 percent of our time on those four teachers, how much time is that? well, that’s 64% of our time. We’re gonna spend 64% of our time on just those four teachers. And that seems like a radical reallocation you know we’re not just spending an hour per teacher we’re talking about spending the majority of our time on just a small handful of teachers.

And you think well that doesn’t really seem equitable that seems kind of unfair to spend that much time on just a couple of teachers but I think to figure out if we’re being efficient if we’re achieving the right aims by allocating our time that way, we’ve got to go back to what those aims are. So I want to go back to the two goals for teacher evaluations. Number one an accurate rating of each teachers performance and number two the initiation of appropriate next steps for each teacher. If the appropriate next step for a teacher is a negative one— it’s one that is going to impact their employment history, possibly terminate their employment—it is going to take more time. Initiating the appropriate next steps for a great teacher is easy, right? We give them a top rating, we recommend them to be a mentor, or that’s easy, right? It does not take a lot of time. If a teacher is doing well but the appropriate next steps for a struggling teacher someone who maybe shouldn’t even be working with students that is an incredibly time-consuming process, and we have got to be willing to allocate the time. But we don’t have infinite time so what that means is we need to be able to reallocate that time from the rest of our evaluations. And we can do that roughly using the Pareto principle—the 80/20 rule. So where do we get that time that we can spend on those negative evaluations when we need to? We get that time by spending less on the teachers who are doing well.

And I call this the Anna Karenina principle and this is of course from Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina which begins with the immortal line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And what that means for us in the teacher evaluation process is that, when teachers are doing well, it tends to look pretty similar from classroom to classroom, right? Like good classroom management is good classroom management. Good practice is good practice. Good formative assessment is good formative assessment. And our summary statements describing that practice often can be ethically copied and pasted.

When the same description applies to multiple teachers we can reuse it we can ethically copy and paste we can literally say, “okay if I’m going to say that Justin is a dedicated science teacher, and his neighbor is a dedicated science teacher—and you know whatever the rest of that paragraph is— as long as it’s true for both of them it is perfectly fine and smart for me to copy and paste that. This is the most time-consuming part when it comes to the final evaluation writing process, right? Now you’ve already collected your evidence you’ve already gathered your notes you’ve already observed when it’s time to do the writing like this is the hard part of the writing, right? Because you can’t just copy and paste from your notes you have to come up with some statement that uses the language of your evaluation framework to fairly describe that teacher And if you do that and you discover that that same description applies to someone else, copy and paste and all you have to plug in is the evidence supporting that. And of course, that evidence does have to be unique and specific to that teacher. It’s not ethical to pull evidence from other people’s observations, but it is ethical to reuse any language that does apply to multiple teachers. We want to strive for reasonable fit and specific evidence rather than uniqueness.

Again we’re not writing a love letter here. We are not writing a unique you know Award nomination letter for every teacher in the evaluation process. All right so how do we save time with the Anna Karenina principle? This is what I call a kind of working hypothesis approach or kind of a bucket approach. When you have teachers who are doing well—they have a lot in common and they have a lot of similarities between them—what you can start to do, let’s say you have 30 or 40 staff members that you’re evaluating.

And you can do this with your admin team, so even if you have a hundred staff members whom you’re evaluating, the truth is you don’t have a hundred different classroom management styles and a hundred different levels of instructional skill and a hundred different collaborative styles that you’re commenting on. Your teachers are going to fall into just a few buckets or categories that you can kind of lump them together in. For example for classroom management, you might have some people that you characterize as warm demanders. You might say, okay Mr. so-and-so and Mrs. so-and-so and they’re all warm demanders. We have these other teachers that, you know, make your list who maybe are a little more loosey-goosey but they’re still effective you know they give students a lot of freedom, they give students a lot of ownership.

So whatever the categories that you come up with are, make a list if that those categories don’t fit someone and not something that person is still doing well, make another category. And for most people you know for most schools you can do this with just a couple of categories in each major domain or area. What’s not going to work though is the teachers who are not doing well, are not going to fit into those categories because again the Anna Karenina principle says that happy families are all alike, right? Good teachers who are doing well have a lot in common. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. And we’re applying that to say that when teachers are doing poorly they’re doing poorly in different and very specific ways that we have to document. So they’re not going to fall into these buckets.

Now if you get a lot of experience with that you might also see some patterns in the negative evaluations, but often there’s just something very specific and weird going on when a teacher is really struggling so we’re not gonna be able to use this strategy with those teachers. This is really for saving time on the teachers who are doing well and have a lot in common. So you decide which domains are going to address, those are probably baked into your evaluation system, you’re going to decide on the buckets or categories or types of teacher within each domain, and then you’re going to reuse your writing when making the same claim about multiple teachers.

And this is basically what Heather Bell-Williams— one of our members from New Brunswick— said. She said, “Categorizing my evals into the folks who are all proficient and distinguished and simply using the language of the Danielson rubric repeatedly—I add some examples from walkthrough notes and it’s pretty quick and painless!” And again depending on your teacher contract you may be able to just use walkthrough notes, you might not even have to do any formal observations for more experienced teachers just, you know, depending on your contract. So you’ve got plenty of evidence from informals—by all means, use it and Heather is in classrooms hundreds of times a year and has a very small school so she’s got that evidence right at hand. And she says— this is really critical here—she says, So anytime you’re writing an evaluation that is negative that is going to possibly be contested or challenged, you want to make sure that you’re using very specific language from your evaluation framework in your description. And I’ll show you how to do that in just a moment.

Another comment that came in from Dr. Luther McDaniel in Georgia he said, “I generated a spreadsheet with feedback from each observation conducted during the school year, organized by standards.” Fabulous. “When writing a summative (annual) evaluation for a teacher, I use elements of the actual evidence and feedback from their classroom observations and combine them into concise statements. This makes the feedback on the annual evaluation meaningful and familiar.” And what I love about that, Luther, is that there’s no surprise, right? They’ve already seen that evidence because you’ve already given them that feedback, so the final evaluation doesn’t come as a surprise.

So here is a resource that I wanted to make available to you—this is my evaluation organizer spreadsheet you can find it at PrincipalCenter.com/eval and if you are a member we’ll send you a direct link to that so that you can download that. PrincipalCenter.com/eval will take you to that spreadsheet and you can upload it. It’s an excel file but you can upload it directly to Google sheets if you use Google sheets, and it looks great you’ve got different columns there for your process steps like your observation dates as well as columns for the different domains or areas in which you evaluate each teacher. So customize those fill those in and then to use the Anna Karenina strategy, you simply write in the names of your different categories or buckets you see I’ve got under classroom management: warm, loose, student managed, strict, and so on. You make up your own categories and then any writing you do for teachers who are warm demanders you can copy and paste from one to the other and then edit it as needed and add the evidence that you may need.

And the last major thing we’re going to talk about today is CEIJ. Now, this is from a book written many years ago by my esteemed colleague Jon Saphier of Research for Better Teaching— one of the giants in our field came up with this idea of CEIJ in his book How to Make Supervision and Evaluation Really Work. I’ve got a copy on my bookshelf and this is just kind of one or two pages out of his book, but I love this acronym, CEIJ. CEIJ stands for claim, evidence, interpretation, judgment. And it’s a way of writing an evidence-based argument that is bulletproof. When you write a CEIJ argument the person reading it is going to agree with you and if for some reason they don’t agree with you if they think you are wrong in your assessment, they are going to have a tough hill to climb in proving you wrong because you have provided a strong claim backed by evidence, clearly interpreted and turned into a judgment. And very quickly I just want to run through each of those elements so that you can use them as you write your final evaluations.

So for each area in which you’re required to evaluate teachers, you can use CEIJ to make first a claim. The claim is a summary statement describing the teacher’s typical practice in a given area. And the key phrase in the claim is, is characterized by. So Justin’s classroom management is characterized by whatever put in your claim there. The E in CEIJ stands for evidence. The evidence is multiple, specific, documented incidents and instances that support the claim. And the key phrase for evidence is, for example on such and such date and then you fill in your evidence. For example, when I observed Justin on March first, fill in your evidence. The I in CEIJ stands for the interpretation. The interpretation is a clear articulation of the consequences of the teacher’s typical practice, for example on student learning school culture or other relevant outcomes. The key phrase for the interpretation is, “as a result.” So you might say, as a result of Justin’s classroom management students are able to blah blah blah, or students are not able to whatever.

The J finally in CEIJ stands for the judgment, and the judgment is simply the final rating of the teachers overall practice in a specific area, using the language and scale of the evaluation framework. And the key phrase there is, “therefore so-and-so’s practice in whichever domain is best described as level whatever.” So you can fill in the blanks there as far as the domain and the rating within that domain. So that is CEIJ we’ve done some webinars and more in-depth trainings on that in the past that you may have seen but it’s great for any claim that you think might be challenged and you want to make sure that your argument is tight, that your argument is backed by evidence, and if anybody disagrees with you they’re gonna have to put up a very good fight to prove you wrong because this really is a bulletproof format. And I’m thankful to John Saphier here for sharing that with the profession.

All right that is what I have for you today on the Instructional Leadership Show. If you’d like to see how some of this fits together I want to encourage you to take our Instructional Leadership Self-Assessment and this is simply an about a six-question quiz to kind of rate yourself according to the criteria on the high-performance instructional leadership roadmap. You can take that quiz and get a copy of the roadmap our full rubric for instructional leaders at spelled like the woman’s name Ilsa, which again stands for instructional leadership self-assessment. And what this can do is give you a focus as an instructional leader—give you a place to concentrate your efforts so that you have the evidence you need from getting into classrooms, you’re on top of the evaluation process and you’re able to use all of that not just to help individual teachers grow but to make decisions on behalf of your school overall because you are so informed from being in classrooms, from talking with teachers, from using the language of your instructional framework and just making all of that a regular habit like some of the people that I quoted today such as Heather.

For more on evidence-driven teacher evaluations feel free to check out our flagship program the high-performance instructional leadership certification program if you are a member of the instructional leadership Association we will be happy to upgrade you to that program and if you have a group of administrators in your school or district we’d be happy to give you a group quote and you can learn more about that at PrincipalCenter.com/certification.

You can also learn more about classroom walkthroughs in my book, Now We’re Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership which is available on Amazon as well as Audible, the audiobook is now available on Audible.com if you are not a member of Audible and you want to give it a try, you can do that at PrincipalCenter.com/audible I’ve been a member for probably the better part of a decade now— a very long time. I’m a big fan of audiobooks so I wanted to make mine available that way if you’re a member of the Instructional Leadership Association we’ve also granted you access to the audiobook in the members’ area so that you don’t need an Audible account. And if you’re not a member you can learn more about the Instructional Leadership Association at PrincipalCenter.com/join.

That’s it for today’s episode of the Instructional Leadership Show. This has been episode 2: Finishing Evidence Driven Teacher Evaluations Fast. I’m your host Justin Baeder and I will see you next time!

Episode 1: Go and See: Toyota’s Lesson for Schools

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Show Transcript

Welcome to the Instructional Leadership Show, Justin Baeder here from the Principal Center and the Instructional Leadership Association. Hope you’re doing well today, leave a comment and let me know that you’re here—just say hi in the comments and I’ll keep an eye on those. Love to see people tuning in live because this is the live recording of our members only podcast, so you get a little bit of a behind-the-scenes look into producing the Instructional Leadership Show for our members of the Instructional Leadership Association.

So thank you so much for being here. Please leave a comment to let me know that you are here and we will kick things off with Episode 1—Go and See: Toyotas Lesson for Schools. There it is. All right, so this is the Instructional Leadership Show, and our focus on this show is helping you confidently get into classrooms every day, having feedback conversations that change teacher practice, and discovering your best opportunities for school improvement. And those three things go together very well. I am a firm believer that getting into classrooms and having feedback conversations with teachers is the best way to change their practice and the best way to improve your school.

And this is an idea that I have to give credit I think to Toyota for really helping me understand why this matters—why this set of practices fits together so well why they fit together to make a book—that I think comes together very coherently as a plan for your instructional leadership. These three things fit together so well because they give you information that you need to do your job effectively. Now speaking of what your job is if you are joining us live leave a comment here on Facebook and let me know, what is your role in education? What do you do? Let me know where you are and let me know what the weather is like today where you are. I’m looking out the window and it is a beautiful sunny day I think we’re gonna have a thunderstorm later but it is gorgeous now I think our temperature range is like 67 to 72 which is just incredible that it’s gonna be in such a nice range today. So let me know where you are joining us from and let me know what your role in education is.

Once again welcome if you are just joining us today’s topic is Go and See: Toyota’s Lesson for Schools. And I got this insight or I got this idea from a great book by Jeffrey Liker called The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. And Toyota is known as the world’s leading auto manufacturer, you know, in terms of quality, in terms of profitability and You know Toyota has been a very very steady company for a very long time by pursuing a very disciplined focus on quality. and Jeffrey Liker’s book talks about the management—the kind of leadership—that allows that sustained focus on quality. And it’s very different in a lot of ways from what you might expect. It’s very different from the ways that we typically approach things in education. Thanks so much, Sandy for being here great to see you tuning in how’s the weather today in Chicago? Sometimes we get similar weather to Chicago, sometimes Chicago gets a colder version of our weather, and sometimes you get it first and then we get it. So let me know how things are today in beautiful Chicago—and welcome Sandy thanks so much for being here.

And if you are lurking please leave a comment. Let me know that you are tuning in and I’d love to see your questions and comments as we go along. So this idea of a management philosophy that allows a sustained focus on excellence was very interesting to me but it was a little tough to get my head around it because the idea of management I think has taken on a negative connotation, right? The idea that we should manage our schools has become subordinate to the idea that we should lead our schools, right?

And like good leaders are leaders bad principals are managers right like that’s that’s the false dichotomy that’s been set up. But reading The Toyota Way and learning about leadership at Toyota, I started to appreciate why management really is a key aspect of leadership. It’s not the mundane, it’s not the low importance low priority stuff you know, and it’s not that leaders do the important thing as while managers merely maintain the status quo like I think that’s a very bad misconception that we have in our profession. So I want to acknowledge the importance of management, but I also want to acknowledge what may be kind of the elephant in the room whenever we’re thinking about learning from an organization like Toyota.

And if you read the book—if you read The Toyota Way—you will appreciate that Toyota really is a learning organization in the way that we aspire to as schools. You know, I wish our schools were learning organizations to the same degree that Toyota is a learning organization. Like if we can live up to that we will be in terrific shape. But there’s a discomfort that we naturally have when learning from an organization like Toyota and that discomfort stems from the fact that schools are very different from factories, right? We really don’t like thinking about what we do as in any way similar to what an auto manufacturer does, right? We are not in the business of making cars; We are not in an assembly line kind of industry. We’re not doing assembly line kind of work with students and the very idea is kind of offensive to us, right?

Welcome, Becky from Arkansas Department of Education. Great to see you tuning in here right down the road in Little Rock. I’m right up the road in Heber Springs. And we’re talking today about this idea of learning from Toyota and learning from how Toyota leads and manages in order to produce sustained quality. But of course we know we’re not producing widgets, we’re not producing widgets with robots. You know, we’re having human teachers—human educators— work with human beings to develop them and educate them and help them grow. And of course, there are some big differences so I would like to ask you to reflect on this. If you’re joining us live, feel free to comment in the chat here. Leave me a comment so I can see that on Facebook. And if you’re listening to the members-only podcast version, hit reply. You’ve got an email about this in your inbox, hit reply and let me know your thoughts on this. How are schools different from factories? And how our schools similar to factories? I think if we press ourselves to really think about some of the similarities we do have a lot in common with factories even though the work we do is very different—the product is very different—the way that we produce the product is very different. And you know even to the point that we’re not even comfortable calling education a product or calling our students a product. I don’t think we should treat our students as the product, but we do need to deliver whatever it is that we do with a high degree of quality. And one thing that you might be surprised about if you start to read a lot of books about manufacturing and I probably read about six or seven books on manufacturing specifically because quality is a very big deal in manufacturing, and they’ve thought a lot about how to get quality in the long term, right? And I think about manufacturing you know my initial way of thinking about manufacturing was to just assume that manufacturing is about doing the same thing over and over again, you know? The machine runs and it stamps out apart and it goes in a box and that’s the end of it. But reading about some of the nuances of leadership in manufacturing I’ve learned that manufacturing is all about change. They are constantly having to make new things having to incorporate new machines, new processes, redesign processes that are not producing results the way we want, redesign processes that are not working well for the humans that are involved in them. For example, I met somebody one time who was his whole job was to redesign manufacturing processes in order to make them safer, you know, fewer repetitive motions fewer repetitive stress injuries that kind of thing. So I was impressed with the amount of learning and the amount of change and the human aspects that go into manufacturing. So you know I hope it’s no surprise by this point that I reject that false dichotomy that schools are one way and then factories are another way and we have nothing to learn from each other. We have a ton to learn especially from Toyota. And one of the things that I think is most critical for us to learn—and I checked today and it’s actually the very first phrase in my book— is this idea, this management philosophy that Toyota has called genchi genbutsu. And I apologize if you are a native speaker of Japanese or if you have any kind of training in the Japanese language—I’m sure I’m saying that poorly. But the idea here is that leaders must go and see the work that’s being done. Another translation of genchi genbutsu is “Go to the real place.” And the real place they call the “gemba” the place where the work is being done and when I read that idea in Jeffrey Liker’s book, The Toyota Way this idea of the real place I thought we have that in education, right? We have that in our schools; we have a real place and that real place is the classroom. We have classrooms where the real work of teaching and learning is being done and whenever we think that the real work is being done in the principal’s office—in the superintendent’s office, in the school board office. We need to go back. We need to go back to the real place the classroom where teaching and learning are taking place and see and understand what’s going on there. If we want to be effective leaders, if we want to be effective decision-makers if we want to drive improvement, we have to go to the real place and see what’s being done. Now of course in Toyota, the real place is the factory floor the assembly line. We’re not going to assembly lines; we’re going to classrooms. But in Toyota, they really, of course, do go down to the assembly line and see what’s going on. So if there’s a manufacturing problem—and again leadership in manufacturing is all about dealing with problems and implementing change and raising quality, so there are constantly things to talk about and things to figure out— leaders at Toyota have figured out that it doesn’t work for just the leaders to put their heads together and talk about what to change and how to fix problems. No. If they are going to improve, if they’re going to solve problems they have to go and not only see the problems firsthand but talk with the people who are doing the work. And I thought that’s such a basic sign of respect for the work and a basic sign of respect for the people who are doing the work—how crazy would we have to be in our profession to not do the same thing? And to not extend the same professional courtesy and not exercise the same degree of wisdom by talking with teachers? So this is at the heart of everything we teach in the Instructional Leadership Association the idea that in order to improve we have to talk with teachers about their work we have to get into classrooms and see what’s going on and have conversations about practice in order to bring about improvement. And that probably sounds a little bit obvious, right? Nothing about that is especially controversial, but what we tend to do in our profession actually is quite different from that. It actually conflicts with that go and see philosophy—what we do too often in our profession is we “go and fix.” We go and figure out what’s wrong and then we tell people, “here’s what you need to do differently,” without really taking that step of seeing—of paying attention—and of getting feedback, you know, having a conversation with the person who’s doing the work about how to improve or how to fix the problems. So that’s I think the basic that we need to understand. You know the core thing that we need to understand is that when we’re getting into classrooms and helping teachers solve their problems, you know, we’re not there to solve the problem for them. And at Toyota—I found this very interesting— managers actually consider it a form of theft for them to go and tell their employees what to do differently they see that as stealing the employees’ opportunity to think and to learn and to develop.

And it’s not quite a Socratic questioning method where it’s like guess what I’m thinking, but that conversation with the employee is designed to get the person who is doing the work to do the thinking about how to improve the work. And I think that is a lesson that we really need to take to heart. All too often we try to do the thinking for teachers—we take notes, we provide feedback, we provide suggestions—we say, “do this differently, do that differently. I’m gonna come back next week and make sure you did. Any questions? Ok.” And the teacher who is the one who should be doing the majority of the thinking and the talking in that conversation you put into a kind of a passive role of just smiling and nodding and agreeing and complying. And it shouldn’t surprise us that that doesn’t really bring about a ton of improvement. And I think the big step that we’re skipping there is what Stephen Covey in his legendary book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People called his 5th habit an interpersonal level, right? We have to understand other people but we also have to understand the practice that we are seeking to improve. We cannot improve something if we don’t first deeply understand it. And I’m convinced that often when we give feedback to teachers without really seeing, without really talking with them, we run the risk of sending teachers in the wrong direction with our feedback. One example that I’ve poked a little bit of fun at recently is this idea of higher-order questioning, right? And I see a lot of teachers expressing frustration that they’re going through their lesson it’s a very good lesson and they ask some questions at certain a certain point in the lesson and an administrator happens to come in at that point—or maybe an administrator was observing the whole lesson—and they notice that the questions are not higher order questions according to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or Bloom’s Taxonomy. So the teacher gets some sort of feedback from the administrator that says, “hey, you know, you were asking lower-level questions. You should ask higher-level questions.” And to me, that’s a very clear sign that the administrator did not seek to truly understand the lesson and the role that those questions played in the lesson and the teachers purpose in asking those lower-order questions, because the feedback of, you know, “just ask higher-order questions” is off base, right? Sometimes we should be asking higher-order questions, but sometimes we should be asking lower-order questions and what it comes down to is your instructional purpose, your lesson plan, you are intent for what you want to happen in the lesson as the teacher who’s responsible for making that decision. So I don’t believe that instructional leadership is all about second-guessing, I believe it’s about developing and understanding. Developing shared expectations and helping people move toward those high expectations together through conversation through different kinds of feedback conversations.

So there are basically three different roles that we can play in a feedback conversation and we have some articles on this if you’d like to check this out you can go to and you can download a PDF of this article, Three Roles for Changing Teacher Practice and I believe that we need to play each of these roles at different times with different teachers. But I’ve noticed that I’ve got lots of books on the bookshelf behind me here and a lot of the approaches that have been developed to helping teachers improve and having feedback conversations with teachers, a lot of them are either focused on the boss role and focused on providing directive feedback, or focused on the coach role and on providing reflective feedback. And typically books written for principals and assistant principals focus on the boss role and books written for instructional coaches focus on the coach role and providing that reflective feedback. But I believe that we all need to play each of these roles. Sometimes if you’re an instructional coach, the best thing for you to do is to listen to the teacher and say, “You know what? You’re right, you need something different. You need a resource. You’re doing the right thing, but it’s the school that needs to change. I’m gonna go talk to the principal and see if we can get that changed.” I call that the leader role and even if you are an instructional coach and you don’t have leader in your title—you don’t have administrator in your title—if you’re playing that leader role and saying, “Okay, here is what needs to change for this teacher to be successful, for this teacher to improve.” That is instructional leadership, my friends. And that is what we need to be doing if that’s what the teacher needs. And I call that reflexive feedback.

Reflexive feedback is a two-way feedback conversation where we’re giving the teacher ideas on what they can change, but we’re also listening to what we might need to do differently, what we can do to support the teacher or what might need to change in the school in order for the changes to be successful. Because teachers do not teach in a vacuum, right? Teachers are operating within an organization that itself needs to learn and improve and adapt in order to set teachers up for success and set students up for success. So one example that I like to give about this leadership role in this reflexive feedback that we can have is around time. One of the things that we wanted our teachers to do when I was an elementary principal was work together—write, collaborate, have a time every week where you sit down and plan together and you look at student work together—and we wanted to do some PLC things and some data team things. And one of the things that teachers told me right away in those conversations was, you know, Justin it’s actually pretty hard because in every grade level in this school there’s one teacher who has a different prep time from everybody else so we never have common planning time for our entire team. Two of us do and we have some great collaboration but the other person doesn’t and their schedules just all over the place and I looked at the schedule and I realized that they were right. And if I wanted teachers to be more collaborative the action to take wasn’t for the teachers to just be more collaborative the appropriate next action to take was for me to change the schedule and of course, it took a while to change the schedule. I think it was the following school year when we were able to create some common planning time by increasing the contract of our PE teacher and art teacher and librarian so that all teachers in the same grade level could have a common prep time and there was nothing teachers could have done you know to make up for that right like that was my job as principal to create that common planning and collaboration time for them so those three roles are going to show up in different conversations sometimes you’ll play the boss and provide directive feedback sometimes you’ll play the coach and provide reflective feedback but also be open to the possibility of playing the leader and providing reflexive feedback—having a two-way street, a two-way feedback conversation. A great question coming in the chat here Becky says it seems that factories consider products and can consider and control variables whereas we work with people. How many variables can we control? Right, that’s a great question because often we think we have less control, right? Because we work with people.

I think the important thing to understand about factories is that they also have very little control over things like what materials they can work, with what suppliers they can work with. You know, from the individual manager and employees perspective those things are out of their control too and I think about the things that are outside of my control as a principal. You know if I’m coming into a school I might get to hire a few teachers at the same time that I get hired, but most people are there already and they’re going to continue to be there and I don’t get to choose who to work with and I don’t get to choose what skills they already have. Like their skills their attitudes their dispositions who they are what they’re certified in, all of that is outside of my control, right? And you know how people behave how students behave the effort that students put forth is kind of outside of my control. But I think if we look at the school as a machine—not because it doesn’t have people in it not because it cranks out widgets—but if we look at the school as you know and if you prefer an organism if you like in an organic kind of metaphor if we look at it as a machine or a creature or maybe a cell that produces something. I love this classic quote from Paul Batalden perfectly designed to produce the results you’re getting and sometimes we try to get better results just by telling the people who work within that system that they need to give us better results. But often we’re frustrated that that doesn’t really work, right? We’re frustrated that when we try to get people to do better—When we try to get people to do different things— it doesn’t work and that’s because we’re not actually changing the system we’re only changing what we’re telling people. And if we have those conversations with teachers if we go and see if we go to the real place talk with teachers about the work that they’re doing, and see and truly understand it, we can start to get a sense of that particular part of the organization or why that particular person seems to be immune to change.

There’s a great book called Immunity to Change that’s also good for helping have these conversations about change and about improvement. But what I think it comes down to is you know good old Covey’s 5th habit, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” So what this means for us as instructional leaders is we have to get into classrooms and we have to talk with teachers. And you know that my recommendation in the book and in everything that we teach in our programs is to get into classrooms three times a day and have a feedback conversation with the teacher after every visit. And this is a time of year we’re recording this in late April at a time of year when principals are scrambling to finish final evaluations and to get those last formal observations done, to get the write-up done, have the meetings, to get everybody to sign off on things, and to get that final evaluation rating and report written. And it’s a time that it’s tempting to slack off on the informal visits. So my message to you today is to keep them up, don’t let yourself fall victim to the pressure to let your informal visits go by the wayside when you’re doing formal observations. Because when you do a formal observation if that is not supplemented by informal visits to classrooms and lots of conversations with teachers, you’re going to be like a horse with blinders on, right? like they put blinders on horses to keep the horse from getting distracted and from seeing things that are happening you know off to the side that might scare them and take them off course and I think that our evaluation processes are kind of designed with that focus in mind that we have rules like, you know, only things that happen during the formal observation can go in the observation report and then the final evaluation rating has to be justified by those formal observation reports. And we kind of intentionally put blinders on ourselves when it comes to the teacher evaluation process.

And I understand the fairness aspect of that like what’s fair game and what can actually be documented you know those things do matter. But one of the big reasons that I want to encourage you to continue to visit classrooms every single day even when you’re doing formal observations and putting a lot of time into that is that those informal visits give you context. Those conversations that you have with teachers clue you in on how the teacher is thinking, what they’re working on, where they truly are with things and they make it impossible for either one of you to bluff your way through the process.

So if you have a teacher who you feel like is kind of putting on a show for you when you show up for that formal observation getting into that classroom frequently—getting into every classroom frequently—and seeing what typical practice is like is going to give you much better context for properly understanding what you see in those formal observations. So that is what I have for you today I hope that you are able to keep up the good work getting into classrooms and having feedback conversations with teachers. Hit reply to your email let me know what you think about this if you’re listening to the audio if you’re listening on Facebook you can email me Justin@PrincipalCenter.com I’ll put that in the chat there in case we’ve not been in touch before. Feel free to reach out if you would like to learn more about changing teacher practice and playing the 3 roles to provide directive, reflective, and reflexive feedback.

You can learn more about our High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification program at You can also learn more in Now We’re Talking! 21 Days to High- Performance Instructional Leadership which I just found out last night is available on Audible. Now the book has been out for a while now, and I recorded the audiobook late last year and we’ve had it available to our members for the last couple of months. But just now it went live as an audiobook on Audible.com and Amazon. If you are interested in getting it on audible you can go to principalcenter.com/audible they’ll give you a free trial and I think Audible is like $15 a month. I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve been a member for many many years and love Audible. So if you want to get the book there feel free. If you are a member of the Instructional Leadership Association you don’t need to do that, I’ve already put the audiobook MP3 files—the player and everything— in our Instructional Leadership Association Members’ Area. So if you don’t have access to that and you are a member, just let me know. We can set you up with that and send you to the right place and you should actually have an email in your inbox today with a link to that so feel free to check out the audiobook either in the Members’ area or on Amazon or Audible.

If you are not a member of the Instructional Leadership Association you can learn more about that and get on the waiting list for next time we open registration at principalcenter.com/join and that is it for today.

Thank you so much, everyone, who tuned in live. We do this every Wednesday at 11 a.m. central on Facebook. This is the Instructional Leadership Show and if you are a member we will send you the MP3. We will post a transcript as well as the slides from this episode and I will see you next time. Thanks so much for tuning in!

Episode 0: The Power of Evidence-Driven Leadership

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Show Transcript

All right welcome everyone to Episode 0, the inaugural trial kickoff episode of the instructional leadership show I’m Dr. Justin Baeder and I’m honored that you are joining me today for our new podcast exclusively for Instructional Leadership Association members.

Thank you very much for being here. In terms of our focus for this show overall, the purpose of this show is to help you confidently get into classrooms every single day, have feedback conversations that change teacher practice, and discover your best opportunities for school improvement. And you might notice that that is pretty closely aligned with our mission at the Principal Center and with our mission in our membership program the Instructional Leadership Association. You’ll also notice that it is very aligned with what I talked about in my book this one behind me on the wall right here Now We’re Talking! 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership—my book on classroom walkthroughs and feedback conversations. I really believe that practice of getting into classrooms and having conversations with teachers is the absolute best way to lead your school not just in terms of helping teachers improve but in terms of organizational learning and helping your school improve overall. And some of the later chapters in the book are about that.

If you look toward The back of the book there are several chapters on making that connection between what we’re seeing in classrooms when we have feedback conversations with teachers we do observations on we do walkthroughs and the link between that practice and what we’re doing overall as a school—our strategic plan our professional development, how we monitor improvement, how we decide what to take on next all of those things are very closely linked and their linked I believe first and foremost through evidence I think Of classroom practice is absolutely critical to making good decisions to knowing what’s going on and to actually improving.

So today’s topic is the power of Evidence-Driven Leadership and as I’ve alluded to I want to make this connection between the evidence that we see every day in the classroom you know what teachers are doing, what students are doing and the big picture improvement decisions that we make. I wanted to kind of outline the process for change overall. You know, sometimes I think we have this model this idea that if we start a new initiative if we do something new then that will be better for students. And it’s just kind of a two-step process, right? If we initiate change, we start some sort of new initiative we make some sort of new effort then we’re going to get results for students.

And of course, at the most basic level that can be true right? That’s what we want to happen. And I would love to know from you what something that’s underway in your school or district to bring about improvement. What’s an improvement effort that is underway in your school or district? Let me know and have that in mind as we move forward because what we’re going to talk about today is that process that allows evidence to drive and sometimes we get our thinking a little bit wrong about the way that this Unfolds though. Sometimes we think that if we simply need to get better if we are placed on some sort of improvement status then we will get better maybe if we, you know, get fired up or feel more but we don’t really do anything different. Of course, that’s not going to yield better results sometimes we think that if we collect more data if we measure more things if we conduct more assessments then we will get better results.

And of course, there is some truth to the idea that what you measure does improve that what we want to focus on gets your attention and that causes it to improve. But of course, it improves for more specific reasons than simply the fact that we’re measuring it. Sometimes we act in education as if making a document about something, writing a plan, setting goals, setting written smart goals, developing a timeline developing a PD plan. You know we act as if creating documents can lead to improvement—and of course, again it can— but it doesn’t cause the improvement directly, right? Documents do not cause improvements in student learning. Initiatives don’t cause improvements in student learning. Starting initiatives can be part of an improvement, but it’s not the initiative itself that causes us to get better results for students. And finally on my list here accountability does not cause better results for students. It can but something happens in between and I think we’ve got to really think about what that is.

What happens in an improvement effort to actually achieve better results for students—to actually produce those better results? And I think at the most basic level there has to be a change in practice. Our practice as educators has to be different in some way as a result of that improvement effort if it is going to get better results for students. It’s not enough to have data. We can say we have a data-driven improvement we can say we’re monitoring we can say we’re implementing something but if we’re implementing without changing practice then we’re not really implementing, right? Great examples coming in here in the comments here people working on executive function skills math remediation, instructional coaching. Let’s see—working on engagement strategies, teacher on special assignment—thank you, Kathy. Working on engagement strategies, working on student learning objectives that align with the T-TES. Very good very good. So we have lots of things going on in our profession, right? And all of them, if they’re going to improve student learning, have to result in a change in teacher practice.

If you’re very close to that work you know if you work with teachers directly as an instructional coach you can actually see those changes unfolding in real time in their practice, right? If you see that change in real time then it can be very clear to you what needs to happen next. And that feedback about how it’s working and what needs to happen next is one of our most important assets in leading a change, but often we don’t get that feedback. We have what I call a black box problem when it comes to linking a change initiative to clearly improve results for students.

We often simply don’t know what people are doing differently and that is even truer if you are a superintendent if you are a regional education officer if you’re a state education officer a provincial leader you might be ultimately responsible for a change initiative but if you don’t know what’s going on in classrooms in the relationship between teachers and students it can be very difficult to figure out why you’re getting the results you’re getting. And we can engage in what organizational scholars call “superstitious learning” where we do something or at least we think we’ve done something we’re not sure what’s changing in classrooms but you know because we Initiated it we’ve started some sort of initiative and then we see scores either go up or down—you know whatever type of data we’re collecting— that’s probably going to go up or down from year to year for some reason but often we don’t know whether those scores are going up or down because of what we’re doing or because of something else. You know is it related to a change in poverty in our district? Is poverty going up or down? Is it related to something else that’s happening in our community? Is it related to after-school care? Is it Related to the start time of school? You know we’ve got lots of initiatives going on at once and tracing the cause and effect relationship between any particular initiative and any particular improvement in measured outcomes can be pretty difficult if we can’t see into that black box.

So I define the basic problem this way—we know what we’re intending to change and we can measure our outcomes with data we can measure the results that we’re trying to get, but often we don’t know what we’re doing differently if anything. And That problem gets bigger and bigger the farther removed from the classroom you are. So if you are a classroom teacher and you are changing your practice and you are collecting data on student performance you know whether what you’re doing is working, right? I think teachers are in the absolute best position to know if what they’re doing differently is making a positive difference for students. But if you are an assistant principal or an instructional coach or a principal then you start to be a little bit further removed and one of the best things you can do in that role is to talk with teachers, right? They have the firsthand knowledge of what they’re doing and they have the best data about how it’s impacting students.

So I’m a big fan of having conversations with teachers—whatever level of leadership you work in education if you are an instructional coach and principal superintendent a regional officer a state or provincial officer—whatever level you work at I am a huge fan of you talking with classroom teachers about their practice and talking with them about what they’re doing, how it’s working, and how it’s impacting student learning because without that firsthand knowledge. Without those conversations, we simply don’t know. And that’s surprising to a lot of people because in our profession things like data have become very popular right we think we’re supposed to know the impact that we’re having and that our initiatives are having from data, but I define practice a little bit differently from some people. I don’t assume that practice is changing if we have an initiative and our data changes—if our data you know our scores go up our scores go down I don’t necessarily want to assume that that’s because of whatever initiative that I have in mind and That I am responsible for. I believe that if an initiative is changing teacher practice and that practice is resulting in an improvement in student learning we should be able to see and understand that practice with a couple of caveats.

And I call this the evidence of practice grid and if you are a member we’ll put the slides in the members area so you can see this but basically we have two axes I have a horizontal axis that goes from left to right and a vertical axis and at the top of that vertical access we have visible behavior. We said data is not enough to understand a change, we have to get into classrooms and see what teachers are doing differently. This is the very top of our chart here. What we see happening in the classroom is what I called “visible behavior” and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. So in our diagram we have an iceberg floating in the water here and icebergs, as everyone knows, are mostly beneath the surface, right? They float but just barely out of the water, right? Most of an iceberg is hidden beneath the surface and I believe that teacher practice is the same way. Most of teacher practice is hidden beneath the surface.

So when we go into a classroom and we see teaching, we see learning taking place, we see those activities, we see what the teacher is saying and doing. We’re not really seeing all of teacher practice. Now we need to be there we absolutely need to be there but when we’re in classrooms we should not make the mistake of assuming that Seeing everything because what we’re not seeing in that moment is everything that happened before the lesson, everything that will happen after the lesson, and everything that’s happening behind the scenes in the teacher’s mind. So at the bottom of the vertical axis on our evidence of practice grid is invisible thinking. You and I both know that teaching is largely about making decisions, right? It’s about using your judgment, it’s about really thinking critically about what your students need how to monitor and adjust to give them what they need so that they can learn and master what you intended for them to in that lesson. We know that there is no such thing as a teacher-proof curriculum, right? You can’t just whip out a curriculum and teach robotically without any thinking without any skill without any professional judgment because you need that thinking and that professional judgment in order to be an effective teacher.

So I believe that just like an iceberg is mostly underwater and only a little bit pops up above surface teaching is the same way. Teacher practice is not entirely visible above the surface and if you want to figure out what’s beneath the surface, well if you are a scuba diver in the Arctic and you’re looking at an iceberg you can swim down there and see what’s beneath the surface. If you’re an instructional leader in a classroom you don’t need an oxygen tank you don’t need any special gear. All you need to do is talk with the teacher have a conversation and ask an evidence-based question and simply get the teacher talking about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, what’s going into the decisions that they’re making and how they’re perceiving it to work.

We have 10 questions for evidence-based feedback on teaching and those will get you very focused on what you see so you’re going to be providing that evidence to the teacher and then asking an evidence-based question about that that gets at the teacher’s thinking and reasoning and their perceptions and helps you see beneath that surface. The second challenge that we have to deal with, as articulated by the evidence of practice grid, is that not everything in terms of teacher practice happens while we’re in the room, right? And I think we get a little bit self-centered about this as instructional leaders. We think if I’m in the room I’m seeing everything that matters, right? Like I might need to stay longer, I might not want to leave before the activity is over but instruction is what I see when I’m in the room, right? And I think that can A little bit of a challenge for things that play out over a longer time scale.

As a science teacher, I would always plan not just individual lessons but units and often my individual lesson plans would have the wrong amount of content in them as the lesson unfolded, right? I’d plan all these things for one day and then I would realize we need to spend more time on this so this is actually gonna stretch into a second day. So what actually happened during one lesson was really not that critical, but if I was being observed of course I would want to be very careful to make sure that a complete lesson occurred you know we didn’t have to save anything for tomorrow because I knew I was Judged on what took place in that lesson not what took place over a period of several days. But teachers don’t artificially and automatically kind of slice things into lessons just because that’s how their time with students is divided you know the learning is ongoing. It may take several days it may take several weeks to fully teach a concept and make sure that students have attained mastery of that concept. So the second issue that you see on the horizontal axis of this grid is zoom. And if something Can occur in just a brief moment we call that a tight zoom say okay I’m gonna come into the classroom and see this happening you know asking a question would be an example of something that happens very quickly it has a tight zoom so I can see all of it when I’m in the classroom.

But if it’s something like building relationships with students or developing number sense you know some of those things that take weeks and months and really the whole school year to fully play out, I’m not really going to be able to see all of that in one observation especially if it’s just a five or 10 minute observation. But I’m a big believer in those short visits because when you visit classrooms for a very short period of time you know just five 10 15 minutes the frequency of your visits can go way way up. And I don’t think there’s any amount of time that we could stay that would give us you know enough information just by itself so I think we’ve got to talk with teachers we’ve got to get a sense of their thinking but we’ve also gotta come back frequently and follow the learning over time and gain a sense of what’s changing in teacher practice based on our initiatives Through that.

So again I am a big fan of getting into classrooms on a regular basis, observing teaching and learning, seeing what’s happening in classrooms participating a little bit getting a sense of it, talking with the teacher and students. I’m not a big fan of taking over and modeling some people like to do that and you know if that’s your Cup of tea go for it but I really believe in deeply understanding the teachers intentions for the lesson and in order to bring some kind of external structure and some consistency To those individual conversations I think it’s incredibly powerful to have a shared instructional framework where there’s a common language for the practice that you’re using so that when you’re discussing it and you’re saying okay we’re using formative assessment well what do we mean by formative assessment and what does proficient practice look like in that particular area? The more we can align our expectations the better the more we can be on the same page and the more we can talk about improvement. So if you have an initiative unfolding in your school or district the best place to get information about that initiative is absolutely in the classroom by seeing how teacher practice is changing in real time.

So again if you’re an instructional coach you probably have a front row seat and you probably have time built into your workday to do that. If you’re an administrator you probably have a lot of other things to do a lot of competing priorities And if you are a Central office administrator it may be very difficult to actually get into classrooms and see how things are playing out and if you have principals taking you on classroom visits which I assume you probably do then there may be a little bit of a tendency for it to become a showoff, right? To become kind of a dog and pony show that’s put on for your benefit but not your learning.

So we need to be really careful to make sure that we’re actually seeing teacher practice as it is and I think the best way to do that and ensure that it’s not a dog and pony show is through increased frequency. If we make it just a big deal, if I say I’m coming at the end of the month I’m going to observe here is the day everybody be ready, you can guarantee that you’re gonna see that day is going to be a dog and pony show, right? Everyone is going to prepare they’re going to carefully craft what you see so that you see something that you’re going to be happy with and you’re not going to see normal practice. But if you get into classrooms every day so that it’s just so frequent that people don’t even bother to put on a show for you anymore you’re going to truly see how that change effort is playing out. And you’re also going to identify the barriers To see that the real challenge is that we have implemented this new curriculum but our periods are still so short and you know we have this intervention block that we came up with but now the periods are so short that teachers don’t actually have time to finish the lessons. If there’s something that needs to change in your school you’re going to see that firsthand and often you’ll wonder why didn’t teachers complain about this? You know this is making their jobs really really difficult why didn’t they say hey we need this logistical thing to change in order to succeed with the substantive curriculum changes that we’re making. and often we realize oh we’ve conditioned teachers not to complain we’ve conditioned teachers to make it work.

So sometimes we as leaders need to get in there and see what’s happening, see what teachers are struggling with—even if they’re not complaining about it—so that we can set them up for better success. So that is what I hope to inspire and empower and equip you to do in the instructional leadership show—we’ll take different angles on this in each episode. But the basic idea and this is outlined in my book, Now We’re Talking! 21 days to High- Performance Instructional Leadership, is to visit three classrooms a day every day. So if you are an administrator that is my charge to you get into classrooms three times a day every day. Now if you’re an instructional coach you might have a different kind of way of using your time, you might work more intensively with a certain number of teachers each day and not do short walkthroughs but if you’re an administrator I highly recommend getting around to three teachers every day because what that’s going to do is get you around to every teacher you supervise roughly once every two weeks, right? You know you get on about a two-week rotation depending on how many teachers you have and that frequency is going to increase the normalcy of what you see. You’re going to see more typical practice if you get into classrooms more often and you’re going to have far more information than if you simply rely on those formal observations. I

think just observing though doesn’t tell you everything you need to know because so much of practice is hidden beneath the surface, so I wanna encourage you to talk with the teacher just briefly you know you don’t want to interrupt their class a lot you don’t want to keep them from going to the bathroom during their 10 minute break that they have while kids are transitioning or whatever but you know whatever you can do to talk with the teacher and get their perspective those 10 questions for evidence-based feedback on teaching can really help you ask good questions that get at teacher thinking and aren’t just chit chat. You know I tend to chit chat if I’m not really careful about asking good questions. So use those questions they’re very easy to learn they’re very natural to ask and their evidence-based they asked the teacher to talk about what happened that you saw in the lesson and if you have a shared set of expectations about what teaching looks like, if you have an evaluation rubric you can pull some language from, if you have professional development on a Curriculum that you have adopted, that can be a great source of that language. Because the more we are using common language the more we’ll be able to be on the same page and really make sure that we are talking about the same thing.

So that is what I have for you today and if you would like to take some next steps with that—I know many of our members are here listening to this— we have our spring clearance sale going on right now and if you’re already a member you get an Account we will subtract whatever you have already paid us from the price of this bundle. So we’ve had we have some members who have been members for four years and they got a huge discount on the spring clearance sale bundle just based on what they already paid. This bundle basically is everything this bundle will give you all of our evidence-driven leadership programs and I’m gonna go through what each of those is— you know all of what’s included here and tie it back into what we talked about today.

The first thing that we will include if you don’t have a copy of this my book, Now We’re Talking 21 Days to High- Performance Instructional Leadership we Send you the audiobook in our member’s area that will be coming out on Audible soon you know if you have an Audible membership you can get it that way but I wanted to make it available to our members directly so you get that. And you get a lifetime membership in the Instructional Leadership Association now this is our main $19 a month program and we have people who have been in for years and years and years and it includes this podcast that you are listening to right now so once the facebook video disappears or if you weren’t able to watch the facebook video you’ll get that in the members area to get the slides transcript in all of that.

Normally We only do a monthly or annual membership we don’t normally sell a lifetime membership, but if you have some funds in your budget this year and you think you know we might as well go for it we might as well not have to worry about this ever again. If you’ve got the funds now often school budgets are use it or lose it you know if-if the funds are going away at the end of the year this is a great way to set yourself up for success as an instructional leader years into the future and it also includes our flagship programs first the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification program.

This is our program about changing teacher practice, about getting into classrooms having, evidence-based feedback conversations with teachers and it’s our actual certification program so we actually collect a portfolio from people I have a plaque around here somewhere. We actually send you a brass plaque in the mail when you successfully complete your certification portfolio where you demonstrate that you are able to use a leveled rubric and that shared language of instructional framework to have evidence-based feedback Conversations with teachers we take that very seriously. We’ve had people sending in their portfolios all year and I assume we’ll have many more after school is out when people have a little bit more time to finish the paperwork there. But very exciting to see people doing that work completing that certification and seeing teacher practice change as a result. We also send out a planner electronically so that you can keep track of your classroom visits and plan your schedule every day. The other big thing that is included in this bundle and I’m very excited because this is coming up soon and it’s gonna be all new is the Organizational Learning Intensive that is coming in June. We are doing a total overhaul.

The original version of this was called the Instructional Leadership Intensive but really it’s about organizational learning, it’s about inquiry, it’s about theories of action it’s about the diffusion of innovation, and how you roll out change. It’s about developing a hypothesis for a change you know if we implement x y z you know what do we expect to happen so that organizational learning can result from your change initiatives. It breaks my heart when I see an initiative Out and it’s modestly successful and I know it can be very successful if it’s sustained if people put the work into it and protect it and don’t allow it to be undermined by competing priorities but then those competing priorities break in and they pull people away and they keep people from seeing the benefits from the change effort that they were working on and that happens in every district of any considerable size right where we just have initiative after initiative and they start to undermine each other they start to pull people in different directions. We don’t have time on the PD days to adequately address everything that we need to and what’s missing there what’s lacking and not resulting from that work that should be is organizational learning. Improvement of the Organization as a machine that produces student learning.

And that’s a way of thinking about schools that it comes very naturally to me but it is challenging for a lot of people because schools are definitely human-focused organizations where you know we’re messy organizations because we’re made of people you know schools are human organizations that have to make change happen with and through and in spite of people. We can’t just robotically roll out a strategic plan, right? We have to This work for the human beings in the building. And often what’s what gets pushed to the back burner is that learning about what really works and how we can sustain that and protect that.

So that is coming soon and what you get if you take advantage of the spring clearance sale bundle is you’ll get immediate access to the original version which in the video is called the Instructional Leadership Intensive. We have so many things called Instructional Leadership though that in this program is really about organizational learning that we’re renaming that and we are completely redoing. That will be a $1495 program as the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification program is but both of those are included in this spring clearance sale bundle and you can learn more about that at PrincipalCenter.com/clearance We’ve got that going on for just about 48 hours more we’re also including the Instructional Framework Development Program which is all about working with your teachers to develop those shared expectations for teaching practice so that you can get on the same page about the language that you’re using to talk about instruction. So that Is a program that you can actually share with your entire staff to help you develop those expectations.

So if you are interested in that I think we added up the discount that’s included—we only do this once a year and we call it our spring clearance sale—I think the discount comes out to about 48 percent and you get just about everything that we offer at The Principal Center so this is the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification program we did a coaching series recently called the Evidence-Driven Teacher Evaluation and Development program—EDTED—which actually was kind of the inspiration for doing this live show and podcast. I love Communicating with you on a frequent basis I love having the feedback and I love being able to reach our members through audio because I know time at a computer is tough. So EDTED is an audio program and where this will be the last chance to get that. The Organizational Learning Intensive, our other flagship program; lifetime membership; Instructional Framework and Development Program, and a few other things that we didn’t even talk about here including the Systems for Office Effectiveness program. But this is our spring clearance bundle— it’s clearance not because we have inventory this is all instant access to our online programs, I’m not trying to clear out a warehouse we don’t have a warehouse we have some books you know we’ll send you a copy we have Couple of boxes of books and we’ll send you a copy of my book– but the clearance here is that every year schools have to be very careful with their PD budget, right? You don’t want to spend your teacher’s PD budget on yourself if you’re going to need it for teachers. But every year there comes a time when you kind of know how the rest of the year is going to go, right? You know if your budget is going to cover everything that you want to do and if you have the funds on hand I want to encourage you to take advantage of this because it will never be cheaper.

There will never be a better price on these programs. And if you take advantage of this offer—this clearance bundle— really you never have to pay for anything from the Principal Center again. You get it all you get the new versions you get a lifetime membership so whatever we roll out to members, things like the Instructional Framework Development Program—the two last things on the list here—and Systems for Office Effectiveness, typically we include those smaller programs for our Instructional Leadership Association members and if you take advantage of this bundle your membership never expires so if you are already a member or you’ve already purchased some of these programs let me know and we will get you a quote. Just let me know you’re interested, reply to any email and we’ll give you a quote customized to what you’ve already paid and get you the biggest discount we can. And if you are not currently a customer or client of The Principal Center, it is $2388—you can pay out of school funds and about half of people do that. The other this is really interesting to me the other half of the people who bought our spring clearance sale bundle last year paid out of pocket and they just said you know I might be changing schools or I don’t know what’s next for me but I know it’s gonna be good so I’m going to invest in myself even if my school doesn’t have the funds here. And we have no interest payment plan for that 12 payments of $199 a lot of people did that last year so you’re absolutely welcome to pay out of pocket you’re also welcome especially for changing schools or if the budget is not final You’re not sure you’re welcome to pay out of pocket and then changed it later so we’re happy to invoice your school later if you if you don’t have the funding lined up.

But I’m going on about this because the deadline is soon we’ve been talking about the clearance sale for a while now and it ends Friday so do take advantage of that by Friday, April 19th if that is something that you are interested in. All right so we will have episode one coming your way soon if you are a member of the Instructional Leadership Association we’ll edit this down give you the MP3 podcast version so watch for an email with that and we’ll get that out to you ASAP. Every week in the Instructional Leadership Association on Wednesday we have new content so whatever we’ve done from the previous week we include the Marshall Memo, we include any of our live shows, any of our webinars— we’ve got lots of different things that that can be included there but you’ll hear about those every Wednesday as a member. And we’re going to be adding the Instructional Leadership Show to the lineup that comes your way every Wednesday as a member. So if you are not a member, PrincipalCenter.com/clearance is the place to get on board and if you need a custom quote, or if you need a quote for your group just email me, Justin@PrincipalCenter.com or you can reply to any message that I send you. We don’t send our emails from like a no reply you hit reply and then goes to me and sometimes if it’s a billing thing someone on their team will handle it but I will definitely see it and we can get you the quote that you need. for groups the way we’re doing groups is the first person is the price you see here $2388 and then each additional person only pays half of that, so it’s half off for every additional person in your group.

And if you are a superintendent or principal supervisor, you know, if principals report to you directly or indirectly in the chain of command in your Organization then I have something new coming your way called the Instructional Leadership Directors’ Roundtable and the way that you will get into the Roundtable is basically through purchasing this for your principals that you supervise. So we’re going to be giving that retroactively to people who’ve done that throughout this school year to people who bought this bundle and then that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks as well. So that is it for Episode 0 of the instructional leadership show. Thank you so much for joining me thank you so much for tuning in and being here. I’m Justin Baeder from The Principal Center and I just appreciate the opportunity to work with you to support you in getting into classrooms and having feedback conversations that change teacher and identifying your best opportunities for school improvement. Thanks so much and I’ll see you next time.