We have all read or heard research that concludes the teacher in the front of the room has the largest impact on student learning and performance. Therefore, as principals, we should be focused on helping our teachers to grow and improve. At Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools in Nebraska, we have implemented a successful process to do just this. Here are the three steps we take to improve teacher performance:

Create a Common Language of Instruction

A common language of instruction can come in many forms. I am partial to the framework from Robert Marzano, but it can be any number of research-based models. It could be based on your local teacher appraisal system if it is a strong model that describes good instructional practices. Regardless of the model, teachers and administrators must commit to ongoing professional learning about how the model impacts instruction in the classroom. Once introduced, the teacher and the principal must engage in ongoing review and reflection about performance with the model as the guide. After six years of work with the Marzano Framework, I can say that work like this never really ends because, if reflective in nature, there is always more to learn and areas to grow.

Increase Teacher Feedback by Increasing Classroom Visits

In addition to establishing a common language of instruction, the next step to improve teacher performance is to provide specific and timely feedback focused on the instructional model and area of growth. I would bet that we have told our teachers that same thing a time or two regarding effective assessment practice for students. The onus now is on the principal. The principal must be able to differentiate for each staff member and provide individualized feedback based on the individual needs of the teacher. This takes more time than one formal observation annually, or maybe bi-annually in some systems. Walk-throughs, informal visits, and formal visits all must work together to support the teacher’s growth and provide feedback to aid in that process. We have a goal to visit every teacher’s classroom twice a semester beyond any expectation of a formal observation. Admittedly, I have not yet reached that lofty goal, but it is something I strive to do. The role of feedback cannot be taken lightly. You will find that teachers truly want to grow, and in a very short time they will expect feedback that can help them grow. “Good job” or “nice lesson” will not cut it any longer!

Brad working with POY 2018 Colleagues at the Principal’s Institute in September, 2018.

Connect Student Performance and Growth to Classroom Teacher Performance and Appraisal

Once established that observing a teacher is more than an annual exercise, a hoop to jump through, or a means to catch someone doing something wrong, the final step is to create a system that ties student performance data to teacher appraisal. Even stronger, build teacher performance goals to support the review of student growth. This is not high stakes where a student failing leads to termination. This is about building a culture of modeling good instruction, setting goals for kids, getting feedback from an administrator, and reviewing the student performance data in order to inform teacher appraisal and to set goals moving forward. Nebraska’s Department of Education has a model with this structure, which we put in place along with our adoption of the Marzano Framework.

As a principal, if you want to have an impact on teacher performance and, ultimately, student learning, you can! You will need consider how to formulate a common language of instruction, how to support increased classroom visits and feedback to your staff, and to embed a system where student performance data is studied with the teacher to inform appraisal and guide instructional decisions.

How do you work with teachers to help them grow professionally and impact student learning?

Brad Jacobsen is the grade 6–12 principal at Ashland-Greenwood Middle/High School, a public school in Ashland, NE. Brad is the 2018 Nebraska Secondary Principal of the Year and in his 10th year as principal after 13 years as a teacher in the same district. Follow him on Twitter @BCJacobsen.

1 Comment

  • Charlie Gihiala says:

    Thank you for sharing this knowledge with a beginner Principal. I found it to be very interesting and insightful.

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