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On the Air: Jess Talks Rubrics with EdPOP

School leaders are busy people; we know from experience that it can be really tough to keep up on the latest trends and research when you’re in the trenches every day. We also know that being a school leader can be isolating sometimes. It’s rare that a leader gets to step out of his or her building and see what’s happening in other schools. That’s why we are so excited about the new podcast EdPOP: Education Problems of Practice. The podcast, hosted by educators, provides leaders the opportunity to get a glimpse into other schools; to learn about the latest in K-12 education; and to hear from experts – all in an easy-to-digest podcast. Educators can even earn continuing education hours for listening.

We are especially excited about the most recent episode, released today – find the full episode here or the specific segment is S1E3 Chapter 3: Journal Club. Our own Jessica Wilson was interviewed about her experiences with teacher observation rubrics, and recommendations for leaders. Teacher observation is an issue near and dear to our entire team’s hearts, and we are excited to have had the opportunity to share our experiences with others. Take a listen, and let us know what you think!

Make Your Pick: How the NFL Draft Applies to Teacher Hiring

While there is a lot of best practice research out there about how to hire a great team, leaders seeking teacher talent can take a cue from how professional sports teams scope out and draft players. In the post below, we bring Cade Massey’s article on 5 lessons we can learn from the NFL draft into the world of teacher hiring. 

1. Know what you need. Before you even begin to recruit teachers, be clear on what type of teacher you need for your school. Of course, certification, grade and subject-area matches matter, but identifying a great fit requires more. Assess your current staff to identify where your team has strengths, and where there are gaps. Perhaps you need a teacher with great data skills who can support your team’s efforts to review and act on student outcomes. Or perhaps you need a teacher who can effectively implement writing across the curriculum. Also consider your strengths as a leader; do you have capacity to coach a novice teacher? Or do you need someone with more experience? Being clear about the ideal profile of a candidate can help ensure that you focus your limited resources on a hiring process that will yield the best outcome. 

2. Get input from others. While the school leader is often the driver and decision-maker when it comes to hiring, ensuring that teachers, other leaders, and even parents are engaged in selection will help ensure that the best candidate is chosen for the school. Consider a process that allows you to solicit input and ideas from a variety of stakeholders. Allow each stakeholder to have an independent review of finalists, and to form their own perspective about fit. One easy way to engage multiple stakeholders quickly is to use a panel interview, or to have multiple stakeholders act as students in a demo lesson (see item 3).

3. Understand the candidate from multiple angles. Resume reviews and interviews are a great first step in getting to know a teacher candidate. But, often that isn’t enough. As football scouts actually see candidates play, getting a glimpse of your top candidates teaching will help you understand how they may fit into your school culture. Request a video of the candidate teaching, or request that they teach a demo lesson in your school or with your selection committee. Even observing 10 minutes of teaching can help you get a full picture of the candidate’s skills and growth areas.

4. Be consistent in your selection model. Hiring is about assessing people, which can be a messy business. No matter how disciplined we are, our opinions of others are naturally informed by the biases we carry; we’re all human after all. As you design your selection approach, consider a rubric and scoring mechanism that makes considering multiple variables factors more formulaic. Bringing order and data to a process like hiring can help ensure that factors like selection bias do not play a significant role in who is selected for your school.

5. Keep score and reevaluate. The only way to know if your selection process worked is to map it against results. Once you’ve selected your dream candidate(s), keep a record of the selection process and the factors that led to their hire. Then, after their first year, compare the teacher’s results to your selection. How accurate was your assessment of their strengths and growth areas? Did your selection approach yield a candidate that made gains with students? If so, what should you replicate? If not, what might you tweak for future hiring?

Sound off in the comments: What lessons have you learned from teacher hiring? What strategies have been most useful in identifying your best candidates?

Designing Evaluation Frameworks with Development at the Core – Part II: Raising Rubric Rigor

This post is the second in a series on how innovators are reimagining the design and implementation of evaluation and development frameworks. To read our first post in the series, on the impact of frequent observations, click here.

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Most teacher evaluation systems today include direct observations of teacher practice by an administrator, in which the administrator determines ratings by assessing what they observed against a common performance rubric. It is challenging to capture the complexity of teaching in a single document, however strong rubrics have the capacity to set clear expectations, establish a common language, and chart a course for development over time.

During our work with school systems across the country, we have seen a few common challenges with widely-used rubrics: 

1. Structure: Rubrics can be too long, wordy, and easy to master.

When rubrics are too lengthy, they can be overwhelming or intimidating to educators, fail to prioritize high-leverage teacher actions over lower-impact strategies, take too long for observers to complete and are challenging to norm across multiple raters. Additionally, when rubrics are too “easy”–that is when basic instruction with minimal impact on student learning aligns to language at the highest levels–we rob educators of a true pathway for growth in their careers and limit their potential for excellence.

2. Framing: Rubrics generally focus only on teachers.

When rubrics describe only what teachers are doing and saying they fail to take into account what matters most: the impact of instruction on students. This can limit the value of observation feedback and lead to misalignment between observation ratings and other components of an evaluation framework.

3. Content: Rubrics are often not aligned to today’s raised academic expectations.

When rubrics do not call for rigorous instruction aligned to core content standards (Common Core, Next Generation Science, etc.) they miss the opportunity to set expectations for learning at the appropriate bar. Similarly, as our knowledge of social-emotional learning, cultural competency, and technology expand, many rubrics have yet to adapt and account for new knowledge and skills.

In the face of these challenges, innovators are creating a new normal for observation rubrics. Through our partnership with school systems across the country, we have seen that there is no one right way or perfect rubric. Rather, systems need to consider their unique culture, expectations, observer skill level and existing structures to find or develop a rubric that will work best for them.

DREAM Charter School: DREAM prioritized finding a streamlined observation rubric that would be appropriately rigorous as teacher advances along their career while less cumbersome than the tool they had previously been using. Following research into available tools and piloting of a select few, DREAM identified the TNTP Core Teaching Rubric as the right resource: it was aligned to academic content standards, written in the form of student outcomes, and best of all, was only four pages long! DREAM revised some language to incorporate school-specific competencies that drive their unique student and adult culture. Following the first year of implementation, nearly 80% of teachers said the rubric defines excellent instruction well.

KIPP Houston Public Schools: The original and largest KIPP region is currently piloting the Reach to Rigor rubric, a new tool created in-house that defines academic and cultural expectations for teachers and students. The rubric is broken down into four parts with only the most critical components of great instruction included. The rubric language also includes both teacher and student actions, to ensure that instructional moves by the teacher are only deemed high-quality if they have the desired effect on student thinking and behavior.

Achievement First: One of the first movers in formalizing a career pathway for teachers, Achievement First has refined their approach to observation and feedback over time. The network developed and launched an updated AF Essentials Rubric that was intentionally designed to be concise, clear, focused on student actions. The rubric is aligned to the Common Core and expectations of Advanced Placement courses, shifting more emphasis to intellectual rigor and deep student thinking. The rubric includes both “foundational” (e.g., tight classroom or kids on task) and excellence (e.g., investment and deep student thinking) criteria.

What are other innovations in observation rubrics? Add your ideas and/or experiences in the comments section below.