Principal evaluation: The next big reform?

Lessons learned

The good news is that many states and districts across the country have already begun to implement new systems of evaluation and growth, and many lessons have been learned through the process. Our work in several school districts and the State of Tennessee has taught us some important lesson when tackling such an initiative.

Lesson #1: Plan for a process in which deep engagement and conversation is encouraged. This is not easy, and will not be a quick conversation. The most effective systems will come out of a process in which multiple stakeholders are involved – particularly those with whom the tool will be used.

Lesson #2: Don’t build the principal evaluation system in isolation. This should be viewed as part of an effectiveness initiative, and thus should be built with the teacher evaluation system in mind. In fact, make every effort to allow the guiding principles of your teacher evaluation system to serve as the guiding principles of your efforts to assess and support school leaders. After all, this is all about providing meaningful feedback for all educators in the system.

Lesson #3: Less is more. There are thousands of things (or more) that good principals do. The goal is not to identify every single thing that needs to be evaluated. Rather, to make the system manageable, focus on the things that matter most. A usable tool will serve you much better in the long run over a framework with dozens of indicators and a long rubric.

Lesson #4: Make sure evaluators are normed. Like teacher evaluation systems, credibility is attained through effective implementation. In other words, are all of the evaluators equipped to utilize the evaluation tool and process in a manner that inspires confidence in the principals that the process is fair? When the principal feels as if the evaluator is unfair or unskilled, the system loses credibility immediately with the individual it is intended to serve. This takes a thoughtful norming process with support for those who need additional help figuring it all out.

Lesson #5: Don’t underestimate the roll of communication. Although the designers of such evaluation systems have the best intentions of creating a process that is fair and growth oriented, making assumptions about what people know and how they’ll respond can prove to be a significant set back. Make sure that there is a clear plan of communication from the beginning of the process through implementation.

The right work

We are in the midst of a very exciting time in the field. The pressures of implementing multiple, high-stakes initiates can be overwhelming yet we have seen the value of thinking about such initiatives as a system of development and support for educators in our schools.

This is the “right” work.  We cannot forget why we’re in this field – to ensure students are achieving at high levels. And understanding the role of the principal in this process, and how to assess effectiveness should serve us well. Although the process may present challenges, we must continue to pursue systems that truly support the growth of leaders in our schools today.

Michael Moody, PhD, is CEO and Founder of Insight Education Group, a national consulting firm that supports the growth of teachers and school leaders to provide students with a great education. Since 2000, Insight has partnered with schools, districts, charters, states, and education organizations to design and implement initiatives that get results. Dr. Moody has served as a classroom teacher and school and district administrator. He may be reached at


Rethinking Principal Evaluation: A New Paradigm Informed by Research and Practice, NAESP/NASSP.

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