Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to stop the dance...

It is the time of the year when school leaders are analyzing their current personnel, and trying to address their personnel needs for the upcoming year.  Too often at this time of the year, in our profession, when get into an unproductive process known as the “Dance of the Lemons.”  This is the phrase often used when teachers are shuffled to different assignments to minimize their impact on students.  The dance often leads to a process that is detrimental to the culture of an organization.  It is also costly in terms of time spent,  lack of effectiveness and student achievement.  No one really claims the phrase, “Dance of the Lemons,” but recent thought closely links these practices to a “culture of can’t” being present within the educational system.  A “culture of can’t” prevails when leaders falsely believe they are limited in their ability to act on the improvement of instruction, as described by Frederick Hess of American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  Hank Levin, a professor in the Teachers College at Columbia University, further explains that a “culture of can’t” develops when, school boards and district leaders use laws and regulations, “as a scapegoat to justify maintaining existing practices.”

So how do we change the “culture of can’t,” and stop the “Dance of the Lemons?”  
School leaders must establish non-negotiable expectations focused on instruction.  These expectations should be developed using open communication which allows input from all stakeholders.  The expectations must be supported by professional development related to the development of quality instruction in each classroom.  This may sound like a daunting task, but the reality is it can be accomplished within a district when all stakeholders agree to engage in formative evaluation of staff with an intense focus on the improvement of instruction. Formative evaluation brings teachers and administrators together to analyze data about instructional practices within the schools.  As formative evaluation occurs, consistent patterns  begin to develop that give educational leaders insight into the supports required to improve instruction and impact achievement.  Formative evaluation leads to improved instruction in each classroom and throughout the system.  As expectations become clear and an improved understanding of the components of quality instruction are defined, it then becomes possible to design differentiated supports for the varying needs of teachers.  The formative evaluation process provides a working framework for improving instruction.  In the end, taking these steps to combat the “culture of can’t,” will  lessens the chance of having to engage in the unfortunate “Dance of the Lemons.”

So where does an instructional leader find such a formative evaluation system?
In Kansas we are fortunate that we have options when it comes to formative evaluation models.  The Kansas State Department of Education has spent time building the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP) system.  Another option that several districts across the state are moving towards is the McREL Teacher Evaluation System.  KASB has partnered with McREL to provide access to the McREL Evaluation system which provides the framework for improving instruction by tying everything back to the research supporting quality instruction and quality schools.  Improving student achievement should be the goal of every school district in Kansas.  A quality evaluation system properly implemented will enhance instructional skills and provide an opportunity for teachers to have a greater impact on student success.

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