Credibility as an instructional leader is paramount. While I don’t discourage professionals who’ve held non-instructional positions in schools from beginning principal preparation programs, I am very clear with them that they will have to work harder to build that credibility amoung teachers. Let’s face it: if you haven’t been there, done that, then you don’t have the credibility.
Even sometimes when you have been a very respected teacher in one setting, if you become a school leader, you have a lot of work to do in building that credibility as an instructional leader. I wasn’t prepared during my own principal preparation for how much I would really be challenged by some veteran teachers to prove myself as a good teacher.
Context is important here too. I had my first assistant principal position, at a high school, when I was 30 years old, AND I had to work very hard to make myself appear even that old due to my baby face. Top that off with being a new entitity in a large county school district, and there you have the recipe for some initial complications. The next part of the context that’s important was that at the time, this district was starting to look at the correlation (or lackthereof) between course grades and standardized test scores. In addition, there was concern at the state level where I was working about the perceived overinflation of teacher evaluation scores. Sound familiar?? This was almost 10 years ago.
As someone who worked very hard as a teacher to always make sure my students were engaged in meaningful work, I ended up having some interesting evaluations of teachers that first semester as an assistant principal. I distinctly remember having one of my reports challenged to the building principal, as this teacher had never earned anything but the highest ratings on the observation tool of the time. (A student was sleeping in class and remained so for quite some time without intervention or concern expressed by the teacher). I certainly wasn’t wrong in my assessment of the various instructional concerns revolving around that incident, but over time and context (I ended up as a school leader in the building where I once served as a teacher, and that was a lot easier as far as the credibility piece), but I learned what might be valuable tips by trial and error.
1) When given the opportunity to plan and implement professional development, do it. And don’t just deliver a lecture every time. Be the example of good instruction, every single time.
2) Outside of formal observations, get into classrooms. Often. Follow-up with the teachers about what you saw. It demonstrates engagement in their practice and in pedagogy in general. Even better, you can participate like the students. I used to visit a Math teacher and take her tests, challenging the students to beat my score. These are great opportunities to continue to have on-going conversations with teachers AND students about what’s going on in class.
3) Most of all, remember that no matter which observation/evaluation tool is used, the same clinical observation steps continue to apply.
- Talk to the teacher before the lesson. Find out what’s been troubling them in the classroom. Offer to observe for that in addition to “filling out the form.”
- Observe. My opinion is that it shouldn’t need to be announced. (I realize the new evaluation systems across the country make this a concern for some). Take good notes, especially watching THE STUDENTS. Are they actively involved in learning activities? What evidence tells you this? Talk to a couple students about what their learning.
-Talk to the teacher after the lesson. Ask their reflection on the lesson (often they will identify their areas of “growth” before you have to do so). Offer your praise where appropriate. Discuss areas of growth and how you as a leader can offer support, guidance, and perhaps thoughts from when you taught.
My experience was that over time, through doing some of the things I mentioned above helped me build credibility as an instructional leader.