Principal evaluation: The next big reform?

The current widespread interest in reforming principal evaluation systems appears to stem primarily from two factors:

  1. An increased awareness about the importance of these evaluation processes to student achievement, and;
  2. Clarity about how to best build effective educator evaluation systems.

Teacher evaluation as the initiator for principal evaluation reform

The urgency of implementation of teacher evaluation systems plays a significant role in the desire of the field to revise how we evaluate school leaders. At a very basic level, the skills needed by principals to effectively evaluate teachers with new tools immediately highlighted the need for principals to:

  • Consistently and accurately rate instructional practices of classroom teachers across multiple grade levels and subject areas;
  • Manage a significant increase in the amount of time spent evaluating teachers while still effectively balancing all of the other responsibilities of a principal when running a school;
  • Provide actionable feedback to teachers that actually moves their practice;
  • Maintain a culture of achievement amidst the particularly political and high stakes national initiatives: Teacher evaluation and the Common Core State Standards; and most importantly,
  • Ensure that all students are learning.

As districts have worked tirelessly to implement such evaluation systems, they cannot ignore the pressing need to provide more intensive support (and feedback) to principals. Thus comes the “new” conversation on how to build principal evaluation systems that mirror the rigor of teacher evaluation systems as well as a focus on what matters most.

Leadership frameworks as the centerpiece of evaluation (and growth!)

While there are many questions to answer, at the foundation of any good evaluation system is a set of expectations for school leaders. The best practices knowledge base on effective instruction has been strengthened by the work of experts in the field who have introduced, among other practices, leadership practice frameworks and performance rubrics. States and districts across the country have either adopted existing leadership frameworks or worked to develop their own.

As an example, Syracuse City School District approached the development of its framework in tandem with the development of its instructional framework for teachers. Both systems were built through a collaborative process with stakeholders in the district. As a district, it built a custom leadership framework rather than opting for an “off the shelf” solution, as it wanted to ensure its school leaders had a voice in determining what should be included in the expectations for principals. The framework then became the guidepost for all professional development and support of school leaders, and was ultimately used to evaluate school leaders.

Whether you adopt an existing framework or build your own, this is a critical first step in the process of building a quality principal evaluation system. And don’t underestimate the impact of this decision. Ensuring you are using a framework that suites your context is critically important.

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