Teacher and staff retention is a common concern we hear from school leaders in “normal” times. One of the most efficient and lowest cost methods we have found for encouraging great teachers to stay is by holding “stay conversations”. A stay conversation is an informal chance to share how much you appreciate a teacher’s work, and to directly ask them to stay at your school for the following school year. Stay conversations don’t take much effort, but they have a big impact. When teachers were asked why they left their school, a common response was simply that no one asked them to stay.*
A stay conversation usually happens in a regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting with the teacher. Stay conversations should begin early in the year, ideally before winter break. Leaders can and should continue to communicate value and priority to teachers throughout the spring. This way, if teachers are presented with an opportunity to leave their school, they know how much they are valued and are less likely to leave.
That’s how stay conversations might proceed in normal times. These, however, are not “normal” times. The challenge and uncertainty of the pandemic makes retaining teachers even more critical. Just because we are all working virtually, leaders should not stop holding stay conversations. In fact, the best practices for stay conversations still apply: keep the conversation brief, affirm how much you value the teacher, and articulate how important they are to your students and school. Be honest about the challenges of remote teaching and uncertainty of what the fall might look like. Then share why the teacher is an important part of the team, especially in this uncertainty. Strong teachers are providing a lifeline to families and students right now, and they will continue to need your great teachers when school restarts in the fall. Finally, ask the teacher directly to stay at your school next year.
Ideally you are touching base with each teacher individually on a regular basis during this time of remote teaching and learning. These one-on-ones can be quick check-ins to ask the teacher how things are going for them, and how you can support them. And they are a great time to say directly how much you value the teacher’s work, and ask them to stay next fall.
*From The Irreplaceables, TNTP, 2012.
In our previous two posts (here and here), Sarah and Grant shared reflections on the past year and projects they are looking forward to in the coming months. To bring us home, Jessica shares lessons learned on working through complexity and opportunities to lead with appreciation.
What I learned: I have spent most of my career in education supporting and working in large bureaucracies, namely large urban districts and state education agencies. Just prior to joining Hendy Avenue I was in senior leadership in one of the largest school districts in Ohio. Each of the organizations I’ve worked with in the past have faced challenges, and I tended to chalk those up to organizational complexity, and the difficulty that comes with arriving at solutions when you must invest a large number of people and perspectives in the strategies. After spending my first year with Hendy working with diverse organizations and districts, I came to appreciate that the challenges I faced in past contexts are not so different from those faced by clients of all sizes. I’ve learned that it’s often not only the scale and bureaucracy that causes the challenges we face in K-12 education, and that we can learn a lot from organizations of different sizes and types in finding solutions. As we partner with our clients this year, we are excited to continue to bring lessons learned from all shapes and sizes of districts, states, schools and networks to arrive at solutions to problems.
What I’m excited about: I am so happy to get to continue to partner with Independence Mission Schools in Philadelphia. Having attended Catholic schools as a child, I have a great appreciation and admiration for the work IMS is doing for some of Philadelphia’s most deserving students. We learned a lot from IMS’ leaders and teachers as we supported them last fall to implement their new instructional framework, and to modify that framework to fit their Catholic culture. Now, I’m excited to continue to support IMS leaders as they deeply invest in teachers through teacher leadership. This project has been a welcome opportunity to explore how others are solving a problem, learn more about the context, strengths and opportunities in IMS schools, and devise a program that makes a difference for teachers, and students, across the network.
In our last post, Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Lessons Learned and What’s to Come in 2018-19, our founder Sarah shared insights on the difficulty of leading change and the excitement around re-engaging with one of our first partners.
This week, we hear from Grant:
What I learned: Historian and philosopher Will Durant said, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Durant’s much-quoted line rings true in most endeavors, especially in efforts to drive change. Over the past year, we’ve seen the power of habitual communication–to teachers, school leaders, regional administrators–in sharing consistent messages, building shared understanding and demonstrating competence. Nothing derails stakeholder buy-in more than mixed messages or a lack of information! Habitual communication requires consistent content, format, and tone through a single channel at a regular, expected frequency. In Houston, we’ve supported KIPP in the development of a weekly message to School Leaders around implementation of Teacher Pathways. Each Friday, leaders know they will receive updates, shout outs, resources, and reminders to guide the week ahead. In Delaware, we’ve launched a monthly newsletter for district leaders on DPAS_II, the state’s teacher evaluation system, with a consistent agenda including deadlines and professional development opportunities. These habitual communications do more than provide information, they demonstrate competence and care for colleagues and trust between stakeholders. As you think about the programs you’re leading, consider how you can habitualize communication as a repeatedly do.
What I’m excited about: In 2014, KIPP Texas – Austin began a comprehensive effort to reshape teacher effectiveness and retention through the development of a Teacher Career Pathway. Knowing that great teachers drive student achievement, Austin’s Teacher Career Pathway develops, recognizes and rewards excellent educators so they will get better and stay longer. This fall, the first cohort of Distinguished Teachers will be announced; a group of accomplished educators who have demonstrated consistent gap-closing results for kids, impeccable teaching practice and exemplary professional contributions to the school community. We cannot wait to celebrate these remarkable educators!
As consultants, our role is to guide our partners to make informed decisions and to successfully meet their goals. We also prioritize building the knowledge and skills of our partners and they tell us that they learn a lot from working alongside us. In turn, we learn so much every day from the incredibly smart and diverse partners we have the good fortune to work with!
As we reflect on the past and look ahead to the new school year, we are grateful for all that we have learned from our clients. In our next couple of blog posts, each Hendy team member will share something he or she has learned and something we’re excited about it. It’s going to be a great year!
To kick us off, read below from our founder, Sarah Rosskamm:
What I learned: Change is hard. Often times the solution is to prepare for change, engage stakeholders, continuously communicate the “why”, work with influencers, plan for challenges and ultimately to just keep going even when it gets tough. There are times, however, when the solution is to pause, reflect and change course. In working with one of our partner charter networks this year, we learned that sometimes the most courageous and best answer is to stop doing something. In this case, our partner was eager to build a teacher career pathway. They took many important steps to get there, had buy-in from leaders and momentum from teachers believing it was valuable. However, they also had budget changes, shifts in capacity and new demands of their attention. As a result, they smartly decided to pause. They stopped putting their attention into the pathway and instead narrowed the scope of their focus to implementing a highly effective evaluation and development structure that would help their teachers to grow and enable them to target their professional learning activities. They focused on laying a foundation that would immediately benefit teachers through continued growth, and will ultimately allow them to move more quickly toward a pathway if and when they choose to pick it up again. It wasn’t easy (for the network or for the Hendy team) to not complete our original shared goal, but it was the right thing to do for their teachers and students.
What I’m excited about: Hendy Avenue’s very first consulting project was supporting the Delaware Department of Education as they considered revisions to their teacher evaluation rubric. After considering several rubric options based on the best of the available rubrics at the time, the Delaware team, similar to the team described above, decided to pause and learn more before making changes to a statewide tool. So, we shifted course and supported four charter schools in Wilmington to design and implement an alternative evaluation system for their teachers that would utilize this new rubric. I worked closely with the leaders in those schools for several years and together we instituted an alternative system that is now used in a growing number of Delaware schools through their Alternative Evaluation system. I am so excited that five years later, after learning a great deal about the use of the current rubric and about the alternative system, Delaware leadership is eagerly partnering with teachers, leaders and other stakeholders to revise the rubric to ensure the tool is well-aligned to new standards and meets the needs of teachers across the state. I’m also thrilled the state has very wisely decided to prioritize involvement of teachers and leaders in the process and to take the time necessary to ensure it’s a positive and welcomed change for their well deserving teachers. And I’m even more excited that Hendy Avenue will be partners in engaging stakeholders, designing, piloting, revising and ultimately building a rubric that helps teachers and leaders be the very best they can be for their students.
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?
In our first post on teacher leadership, we noted a few key ideas and benefits of extending the impact of teachers. Here, we break down three suggestions for launching a new teacher leadership initiative as well as criteria to measure success and common pitfalls to avoid.
How do you launch a successful teacher leadership program?
Our research and experience suggest three critical steps to starting a new approach to teacher leadership:
- Start with a goal in mind: Avoid launching a new program without a clearly defined, and important problem to solve. For example, if your district finds that teachers are not feeling valued in decision making, a teacher leadership program aimed at increasing teacher voice would be more appropriate than a peer coaching initiative.
- Identify the right “strand” of teacher leadership: Teacher leadership can be instructional (coaching, learning communities, etc.), associative (organizing, community building, etc.) or policy focused (advocacy, implementation feedback, etc.).
- Build a leader profile and plan for their development: Identify the specific knowledge, skills, and mindsets teacher leaders will need to be successful. Consider the personal or professional goals teacher leaders could be working towards and how they’ll be held accountable to meeting the expectations for their role.
Criteria for Success
Successful implementation of any initiative requires specific benchmarks in order to direct action, mobilize energy and inspire persistence. At the same time, setting goals is not enough. In addition to guidance, training and coaching, people need the capacity to act.
Here are four criteria that leaders can use to achieve success:
- Alignment: Ensure teacher leadership priorities are aligned with overall school priorities.
- Goals: Collaboratively set and track progress against clear, measurable goals for teacher leadership.
- Systems of Support: Identify a clear, cohesive system of support for teacher leaders to drive their professional growth and success.
- Schedules: Carefully plan and agree upon scheduling to guarantee teacher leaders have the time to succeed.
The work we do as educators is difficult. Leaders often find themselves constrained with limited budgets and capacity to drive change; while teachers often wish for another hour in the day to make that additional phone call home or photocopy for the next day.
In launching a teacher leadership program or opportunity, look for, and avoid the following common pitfalls:
- Temporary: Teachers notice when positions are tenuous. Avoid funding sources that may not persist long enough to influence recruitment and retention.
- Detached: Roles that prevent teacher-leaders from spending a portion of their time teaching students make it much harder for them to keep teaching skills fresh and stay connected to student needs.
- Low reach: Many teacher-leadership roles actually reduce the number of students for whom the best teachers are responsible. If fewer students benefit from the best teachers, fewer will make the learning gains these teachers induce.
- Short on time: Too many teacher-leader roles are heaped on top of teachers’ other responsibilities. Co-planning, modeling, co-teaching, coaching, and collaboratively adjusting instruction based on student data require more planning time.
- Low or no pay: Most teacher-leader roles are low- or no-pay roles; this sends the message that teacher leadership is expendable, rather than essential to schoolwide success.
- Low authority, low accountability: Teacher-leaders’ formal authority and evaluations rarely align with responsibility for wider student spans and a positive impact on peer and students success.
How has has teacher leadership made in impact in your school or career? What led to success? What should be avoided? Sound off in the comments!
- York-Barr, J. and Duke, K. “What do we know about teacher leadership”. Review of Educational Research. (2004)
- Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson, “Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning,” University of Minnesota (2010).
- Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, and Anderson, “Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning”
- Leading Educators and the Aspen Institute, “Teacher Leadership that Works,” Aspen Institute (2014).
- C. Kirabo Jackson and Elias Bruegmann, “Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers,” National Bureau of Economic Research No. 15202 (2009);
- Cory Koedel, “An empirical analysis of teacher spillover effects in secondary school,” Economics of Education Review, Vol. 28, 682–692 (2009);
- Kun Yuan, “A value-added study of teacher spillover effects across four core subjects in middle schools,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 23, no 7 (2015).
Performance management, at its core, sets expectations. It puts a stake in the ground for what “good” looks and sounds like in the classroom and serves as the baseline of teacher observation rubrics. Effective performance management is more than diagnosing current performance; it supports teachers to articulate an actionable, clear trajectory toward excellence. Ultimately, a vision of good teaching and learning must be at the heart of any performance management system.
Common Pitfall: Framework Without Vision
Too often schools and districts launch a performance management system by creating or selecting a rubric without consideration of core instructional priorities. Enthusiasm and urgency, while helpful, can lead to less than ideal system design.
For example, simply adopting an existing framework because it is “proven” or “research-based” might not actually lead schools and teachers to excellence: what might be excellent teaching in one context might not be true in another setting. Creating a framework from scratch in a vacuum, separate from instructional priorities, isn’t likely to lead teachers to excellence either.
This doesn’t mean that adopting an existing framework is the wrong strategy, or that creating something new won’t get leaders and teachers where they need to be. It does mean, though, that this work must be grounded in the core realities of instruction necessary to move kids.
Ground Performance Management in a Vision for Excellent Instruction
Co-design and co-own by instructional leaders. Defining excellence for as complex a role as teaching requires a team of individuals, with different areas of expertise and focus. While very often, the development of teacher evaluation systems lives within talent/human resources, great systems strategically draw in additional stakeholders. For quality operations, a talent leader should drive and own the design and implementation of a performance management framework. At the same time, this work should be a shared priority between leaders of talent, academics and school management functions in a network or district. Instructional leaders working in schools daily must be the core authors and implementers of expectations for teachers.
Measure what matters. If teachers are held to expectations through a framework that aligns with core instructional priorities, schools are more likely to see improvement in the areas that matter most for students. If a solid instructional vision grounds all decision making, then curricular resources, training, and other supports will naturally stem from that vision. As teachers are supported to meet expectations via appropriate the resources, materials, and training, student learning will flourish.
Lead from your vision. Consider the following questions, and strategically engage others to ensure answers reflect the perspectives of a broad range of stakeholders:
- What are our prevailing beliefs within our system about students, and the role teachers play in their success?
- What do the instructional standards require from our students? And then, by extension, from our teachers?
- In classrooms where good teaching and learning is happening, what are teachers doing? What are students doing?
- How does this differ for different students? Different contexts?
- How do we ensure that the performance management system we design reflects our vision of excellent teaching?
- Who will own this work? How will we ensure that leaders from talent and instruction both continue to be involved?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!
As we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with our families this week, the Hendy Avenue team is reflecting on the many blessings for which we are thankful. We are thankful for our family and friends. We are thankful for the opportunity to partner with wonderful organizations doing incredible work for children. We are thankful for clients who have become friends. We are thankful to work with our fabulous Hendy team members who make us think harder and laugh more.
We are also thankful for the many people in our lives who have helped us along the way. Today we give thanks for the teachers who have shaped our lives and highlight just a few of them.
Sarah: My favorite teacher was Mrs. Ayers, my elementary art teacher. She had an energy and passion for her subject that was contagious and I fell hard for creating art. She brought a talent out of me and made me feel truly special. I think the best teachers are able to connect with their students and bring out a curiosity and a confidence that translates to other parts of their lives. Thank you, Mrs. Ayers!
Jess: My favorite teacher was Mr. Hoffman, my high school English teacher. I was a math and science geek in high school, and never really valued literature. I thought that spending all of my time in the analytical world of experiments and functions would get me to my goals. Mr. Hoffman helped me to understand and appreciate the value of balance in academics and in life. We read the great novels in a way that helped me to build my critical thinking skills in a different way. Thank you, Mr. Hoffman!
Grant: I have to give a Thanksgiving shout out to my AP US History teacher, Mr. Corcoran. The one word that comes to mind when I think back to Mr. C’s class is rigor. Not only was the course demanding in terms of workload, but it was a intellectually exhausting and exhilarating experience, every day. You had to show up prepared, engage with your peers, argue your points, and justify your thinking. Nothing less than our best was accepted. Thank you Mr. Corcoran for pushing me to demand excellence of myself and forging how to think, write, and speak with integrity.
This post is the third in a series on how innovators are reimagining the design and implementation of evaluation and development frameworks. Read our earlier posts on observation frequency and raising rubric rigor.
When you think of a teacher, where are they? What are they doing? If you envisioned someone standing in front of a blackboard, lecturing a group of students, you’re likely not alone. In reality however, teachers spend their days in a multitude of ways: working individually with students, collaborating with peers, planning independently, connecting with parents and family members.
Definitions of excellent teaching therefore must go beyond classroom observations and measures of student outcomes (both of which are important!), to gather a broader view of a teacher’s impact.
Surveys are a simple, yet powerful tool that can amplify the voices of stakeholders from across a school community to help educators develop a comprehensive view of excellence.
The Benefits of Administering Surveys
- Surveys, coupled with other measures like classroom observations, provide rich information to help teachers improve their practice. Teaching is a complex job that depends on strong relationships. While districts and schools have made progress in collecting data and providing feedback on certain aspects of the profession (e.g., content knowledge, teaching strategies, assessment data), our field often misses the opportunity to coach teachers on their relationship building with students, families and peers.
- Research says that students are reliable evaluators of a teacher’s impact. Analysis by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project finds that teachers’ student survey results are predictive of student achievement gains. In other words, students know an effective classroom when they experience one.
- Surveys provide the opportunity to put values into practice. Value statements like “we are a team and family” or “parents are partners” are powerful; however, these beliefs are only as true as the actions taken to build an authentic community. Administering surveys of key stakeholders sends a strong message that the voices of community members are valued, respected and heard.
- Surveys provide clear and transparent expectations to teachers. When questions are shared with teachers in advance, the survey content provides clear definitions for expected behaviors in teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-student, and teacher-to-family relationships. For example, if a survey asks families if they receive one or more positive phone calls a month from their child’s teacher, that sets a very clear expectations for the teacher-family relationship.
Educators have available a number of survey types, structures, question formats and administration platforms.The table below highlights three common survey types.
Surveys should be designed thoughtfully, taking into consideration the purpose, audience, and respondents.
- Purpose – Why are you administering the survey? What do you hope to learn? How will results be utilized?
- Audience – Who will analyze and interpret the survey results? When and how will they reflect on and plan from the results? How will the results be debriefed with teachers to improve practice?
- Respondents – Who will complete the survey? When and how will they complete the survey? What directions, supports and technology will be necessary for administration?
To learn more, including a list of sample survey questions, visit the resources page of our website.
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.
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.