In the twenty-first century, school improvement is the focal point for educational leadership. Improvement must take the form of higher student achievement test scores, an engaging classroom that meets the needs of all learners, and a more meaningful learning environment for teachers and students. In the twenty-first century, the school building administrator is recognized as the catalyst for this necessary improvement. The school building administrator is no longer viewed as a manager, though s/he still has managerial roles. Rather the principal must be the instructional leader (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2003; Sergiovanni, 1994).
Within the area of teacher evaluation, the evaluation tools, along with the amount of time, format, and feedback, have changed dramatically from the past procedures used by the principal as manager (Danielson & McGreal, 2000; Schmoker, 2001). Two drop-in visits with a pre-made checklist are no longer considered acceptable practice (DeMoulin, 1988; Edmonds, 1981). The literature now considers the use of pre- and post-observation conferencing, narratives, rubrics, and portfolios as best practice procedures within teacher evaluation, with the result being school improvement (Danielson, 2002; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Kerrins & Gushing, 2000; Klein, 1990; Tucker & Strong, 2001). But do these practices really deliver? Is the time that is necessary to conduct these measures reasonable? Can one building principal do justice to these measures for all of their teaching staff? Do principals feel that the time and effort result in increased student learning? Are there still barriers to improving teaching and learning within the teacher evaluation process? Do principals believe that there is a better way to improve teaching and learning? These are the questions that motivated this study.
The demands for improving the quality of teaching and learning in public schools are as strong today as they were when the Soviet Union first launched Sputnik in 1957 or A Nation at Risk was published in 1983. Public school administrators and, in particular, school principals typically feel tremendous internal and external pressure to improve the quality of teaching in their schools in an effort to increase student achievement (Connors, 2000; Edmonds, 1981; Green, 2001; Schmoker, 2001). Internal pressure may result from the passion that many administrators bring to their positions or from the accountability demands built into collective bargaining agreements and/or state laws which can limit an administrator's authority within the evaluation process (Bolman & Deal, 2003; Marczely & Marczely, 2002; Murphy, 2002).
External pressure often emanates from a variety of sources including national and state-level politics, high profile business leaders, and even local school district stakeholders who are not shy about voicing their concerns about the perceived lack of student achievement in public schools (Green, 2001; Senge, et al., 2000). In the last few years, this external pressure has been further exacerbated by the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act which imposes mandated sanctions for schools that do not meet increasing student achievement standards primarily related to standardized achievement tests (Illinois State Board of Education, 2004).
Research in educational leadership convincingly demonstrates that building level administrators are the central figures in the school improvement process (Murphy, 2002). Studies have consistently linked substantive student achievement gains to what happens at both the individual school and more specifically the classroom level (Danielson & McGreal, 2000; Fullan, 2001; Heller, 2004; Stigler, 1999). Since principals and assistant principals are directly responsible for faculty supervision, including teacher evaluation, it is not surprising that building administrators often find themselves held accountable for school improvement efforts and ultimately student achievement gains. …