Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How I Confronted HSPS (Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome) and Began to Deal with the Heart of the Matter

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How I Confronted HSPS (Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome) and Began to Deal with the Heart of the Matter

Article excerpt

After trying for many years to come up with a system of teacher evaluation that he could live with and that his staff would not dread or resent, Mr. Marshall boiled it down to the essentials: teachers need reassurance and constructive criticism, both based on specific examples.

I HAD BEEN trying to do a good job of evaluating the 39 teachers at Mather Elementary School in Boston. Then I read a statement by Mike Schmoker that hit me right between the eyes. "Research has finally told us what many of us suspected all along: that conventional evaluation, the kind the overwhelming majority of American teachers undergo, does not have any measurable impact on the quality of student learning," Schmoker said. "In most cases, it is a waste of time."(1)

Schmoker's statement forced me to confront several questions. How much were my evaluations contributing to teachers' professional development? Very little. Were my evaluations having an impact on student learning? Highly doubtful. Were they a waste of everyone's time? Well ...

It's not that I am poorly trained. I have taken courses at Harvard, read voraciously about clinical supervision, and sat at the feet of some of the masters of teacher evaluation. My write-ups of the lessons I observe are clinical and thorough; I support every conclusion with descriptive narrative and with dialogue so accurate that some teachers wonder if I have spirited a tape recorder into their classrooms. Nor is it that Boston's outdated 25-item evaluation checklist makes it impossible to give teachers real feedback: I have found that I can say everything that needs to be said in the open-ended sections of the evaluation form.

No, the problem is deepen But it took me several years to figure that out.

As a rookie principal nine years ago, I was greatly influenced by Ronald Edmonds and his research on effective schools. Edmonds maintained that effective schools have principals who are instructional leaders. Not surprisingly, then, I felt that my most important role was to serve as a positive critic of teachers' classroom work and of the expectations they communicated to children. I believed that frequent supervision and detailed write-ups were the best means to affirm the good things that teachers were doing and to redirect them when I saw shortcomings and problems.

So I began my first year with frequent classroom observations, followed by in-depth write-ups. Most teachers were astonished at and impressed by the richly detailed written feedback they were receiving, but a few teachers were aghast. They filed a grievance, and I lost. My boss said that I could continue my in-depth supervisory write-ups, but he ordered me to fill out the entire seven-page evaluation checklist every time I went into a classroom with pen in hand.

This meant that I couldn't make an informal supervisory visit to a classroom and give the teacher feedback. Feedback could come only in the context of formal evaluation. That took the wind out of my sails. I had wanted to restrict my feedback to helpful observations, affirmations, and specific recommendations; summative evaluation was not what I'd had in mind.

My visits to classrooms became less and less frequent. By my second year as principal, I had retreated to the minimum number of required observations: one per year (which later became one every two years for those teachers who had earned an overall rating of "excellent"). My supervision of and feedback on day-to-day teaching had gone almost completely by the board.

Even within these strictures, I tried to make the evaluation process effective. I wanted evaluation to be a nonthreatening exercise that reassured and affirmed teachers, while providing specific correctives to any teacher who needed them.

Each year I started the process three months before the May 15 deadline, and I invited teachers to let me know when they would be presenting lessons they felt particularly good about. …

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