#nfldlead: The Superintendent’s Blog
Our District’s strategic plan is intended to serve as our North Star. It is our set of aspirations that we use in setting specific organizational plans and goals. It was developed with the input of literally hundreds of people (188 participated face-to-face) and hundreds more influenced the Board’s process through their participation in ThoughtExchange.)
One of our near-term priorities is “Equitable opportunities and support for all career and college paths.” This priority is focused on the core of what we deliver each day: world class learning experiences. High quality learning experiences begin with relationships. As veteran teacher Rita Pierson says in her viral TED Talk, students learn better with teachers they like. Relationships are the gateway to an excellent learning experiences.
World class learning experiences are rooted in clarity. Do our students know what we are expecting from them? Do we, as a community, have clarity about what our students should know and demonstrate? Do we have common understanding of what the students should be able to expect from us as a community? Clarity is essential in expectations for behavior, for learning targets and standards, and desired outcomes. Clarity is scalable. As the Superintendent, I start with a wide-angle lens and try to articulate clarity of our vision at the organizational (bog picture) level. When thinking about this near-term priority, I have come to appreciate Northfield Promise’s Continuum and Benchmarks illustrated below:
This set of benchmarks encompassed a learning journey that is intended to have students leave our high school with what I think is the most empowering feeling in human existence: choice. When you have choice in what to do, how do you feel? I feel I have control. I feel my life is mine. I feel I can be successful. In terms of how we spend our lives, students who graduate with a core set of academic, physical, social, and emotional skills will have the tools that lead to choice about what they do after high school. If students leave us with that feeling of empowerment, and we as adults encourage them to follow their passions, we are on the right track.
When it comes to academic skills, the ability to read, write, and compute are foundational. They are essential for students to progress to the higher order thinking we desire: thinking critically and creatively. As young adults, we hope they begin to self-actualize and communicate this higher order thinking in a variety of ways. The altruistic goal? They have the attitude, skills, desire, and perseverance to make their corner of this Earth better than they found it.
We all have a job to do in helping students on their journey. Whether that is to teach them prosocial behaviors, how to decode a word, multiply, write an effective five-paragraph essay, design and create a sculpture or computer program, how to debate and disagree in a civilized society, to perform with confidence in front of an audience, to bake good bread, to solve an equation with more than one variable, to wonder and dream about what could be…and the list could continue. This is hard work. Sometimes we fail. Many times we succeed. We must always persevere. As adults with a vested interest in our children’s success, we need to be clear about our role and do our best work for the kids of our community. The are expecting us to do just that.
I have a standing appointment with KYMN (“The One” at 1080 AM & 95.1 FM) radio on the second and fourth Tuesdays each month following school board meetings. You can listen to the March 13 and March 27, 2017 editions using the player shown below.
March 14, 2017
March 28, 2017
Our work with ThoughtExchange surfaces questions members of our community have about the school district. This post was motivated by two questions submitted by parents about how the District evaluates teachers. These two questions received nearly 250 “stars” during the Fall 2016 ThoughtExchange Join the Conversation process.
Northfield Public Schools employs approximately 300 teachers. We have implemented a Teacher Development and Evaluation plan built on a foundation of reflection, development, and growth. The evaluation process includes three components outlined below.
Supervisor’s Evaluation. The District uses standards developed by Kim Marshall to evaluate teachers professional performance. Building principals and district leadership use a classroom “walkthrough” strategy that includes several, shorter classroom visits as opposed to the traditional one full class period observation approach. Classroom walkthroughs provide more points of information for the principal to use when sharing comprehensive feedback with teachers about their performance. Teachers who are eligible for a continuing contract (commonly referred to as “tenure”) receive one comprehensive evaluation every three years. Teachers hired for a probationary contract (usually the first three consecutive years of teaching in one Minnesota school district) engage in three performance review conferences with their principal per year during their probationary period. This part is worth 50% of the teacher’s overall evaluation.
Student achievement. Every teacher in the District engages in a Professional Learning Community (PLC). Each PLC sets (a) SMART Goal(s) relevant to their area and most often aligned with District and building-level goals. (SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.) Each PLC completes an “Evidence of Practice” document twice per year to communicate progress on their SMART goal(s). Each year, every teacher also completes a reflection on their PLC SMART goal(s). The reflection document asks teachers to review the status of their goal(s), what strategies were helpful in pursuit of their goal(s), and what strategies were not helpful. It asks them to identify what they will do differently in the future. It asks them to share how they will link what they learned pursuing the goal(s) to future instruction. This document is submitted to the building principal who evaluates the reflection using a locally developed rubric. This part is worth 35% of the teacher’s overall evaluation.
Student Engagement. Teachers survey students each year. The surveys are typically administered during the second quarter. Teachers may use one of the sample surveys provided by the District or, with their principal’s permission, design their own. A reflection is completed in a similar fashion to the student achievement component of the evaluation system. Again, the reflection document is submitted to the building principal who evaluates the reflection using a locally developed rubric. This part is worth 15% of the teacher’s overall evaluation.
Performance Improvement. Most people know, and research supports, that an effective teacher is essential for student achievement. In fact, we all know the immeasurable power a positive teacher has in a student’s life. As a result of No Child Left Behind, some people have a misperception there are a significant number of ineffective teachers in our classrooms. Evidence suggests the vast majority of America’s teachers are effective. I have read estimates that identify only five-to-15 percent of America’s teachers as either ineffective or incompetent. Of course, one ineffective teacher is too many. Northfield Public Schools use a performance improvement plan strategy when a teacher is identified as needing significant improvement. The performance improvement plan process, under the direction of the building principal and supported by the Human Resources department, usually identifies three-to-four goals based on the performance measures most needing improvement. The teacher can be supported throughout the process, if desired, with a peer coach. Administrators meet regularly with teachers engaged in the performance improvement plan process, provide training and specialized feedback intended to foster effective performance. After a reasonable amount of time, which can be different in each case, a teacher either exits the performance improvement plan process successfully or may enter a disciplinary process focused on instructional deficiencies. Administration works closely with the teacher’s union ensuring adherence to due process rights. If sufficient progress is not made on the identified deficiencies, the ineffective teacher will be recommended for discharge. In actuality, this rarely becomes the case. Often, an ineffective teacher will voluntarily separate employment during the performance improvement plan process. It is important to understand the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act does not allow school districts to share this private personnel data with the community. Nor would it be a good idea for us to do so.
Great teachers. At the end of the day, our community should know the overwhelming majority of teachers are not just good — they are excellent! Northfield is particularly fortunate to have an outstanding teaching staff meeting the needs of our students each day. Even (many) ineffective teachers can make connections with students and make a positive difference for some of them. Northfield has high expectations for all our staff. We celebrate their success and pursue improving ineffective staff performance when necessary.
Thanks to the individuals who submitted questions through ThoughtExchange. I hope this description of our Teacher Development and Evaluation process is helpful. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions about this topic — or any other school topic!