At YES Prep, instructional leaders observe teachers, provide non-evaluative and evaluative feedback on the Instructional Excellence Rubric (IER), and coach teachers in one-on-one meetings. But how does YES Prep develop instructional leaders on all campuses to ensure they are effectively supporting teachers and evaluating them with consistency and fairness?
Just like teachers from across the system meet during Reading Days to norm their scoring of open-ended responses, instructional leaders meet to norm their observations in small groups. These groups– comprised of Deans of Instruction, Directors of Academics, Instructional Coaches, Content Directors, and Content Specialists– meet at a campus, observe a classroom for a full period, and then rate the teacher individually. As a group, they talk through each strand of the IER and come to a consensus on the score. There are also opportunities for the instructional leaders to reflect on whether they initially entered a score above or below the agreed-upon score and to ask questions.
Director of Instructional Leadership, Kyrlyn Chatten, explained that instructional leaders spent a large portion of this year’s norming days focusing on the additions to the IER, so that all instructional leaders felt confident with the new indicators. It’s also important for the system’s instructional leaders to norm with live classrooms– rather than with video. “A lot of the IER changes are not about teacher moves, but on the impact of those moves on kids,” she added. “So in the norming observations, we’re talking to the kids. We’re looking at what kids are writing, saying, and doing.”
On a campus-level, a Director of Academics might norm with his/her team of Deans of Instruction less formally. Director of Academics Jenn Baugher reported that she sometimes goes into a classroom with her team, but, more often, the norming happens organically in their shared office. “Rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t come in and say ‘I saw this in a classroom’ and then we talk through the question. Inevitably, we pull out the IER and ask: ‘Did you see evidence of this?’ ‘What were the student actions here?'” Additionally, Baugher emphasized: “In norming and observations in general, you’re giving credit where you can. That’s the same spirit as Reading Days. You’re always looking for the best and trying to highlight the good things happening… Then you can ask ‘what can we do to make this even better?'”
Evaluating teachers on a rubric is not without challenges. “Sometimes we get asked on surveys, ‘how do you know this is the right answer or score?'” Chatten said. “Evaluations are an art and a science. Erin Palkot and I facilitate and make sure we pop into every classroom on norming days, so we can provide assistance if a group gets stuck. We pull questions and trends to address.” They then compile FAQs after norming days or plan related sessions for Content Days.
During Content Days, instructional leaders spend their mornings in cohorts they chose based upon the theme, such as “Building a Strong Culture” or “Supporting Struggling Students.” “Some folks are going to observe one another because they heard about something in their cohorts and they want to see it in action,” Chatten said. “The collaboration is happening organically now. We’re creating a team of leaders that can rely on each other and reach out for help and support across campuses.” In the afternoons, the instructional leaders select sessions intended to build their skills. For the third Content Day, instructional leaders could choose from sessions such as “Where to Start When Teachers Need Everything,” “Leveraging Student Performance Data to Impact Instruction,” and “Coaching High Performers.”
Both Baugher and Chatten described changes in data collection and analysis that have impacted the work of instructional leaders. In particular, the student achievement forecast data has played a larger role in helping Deans of Instruction think about teacher actions in the classroom. “That’s another big piece of learning and work done by Deans of Instruction: How to use that data? When to use it? Where to push? What it is actually revealing? What assessments are useful? Are we supporting and pushing the right kids?” Baugher said. YES Prep also unveiled Whetstone— a platform for recording observations, sharing feedback, and analyzing teacher growth– which will allow instructional leaders to analyze observation data more thoroughly. In the near future, Chatten stated, “we’ll be able to say: here are some trends with this campus or here are some indicators system-wide where we need further professional development.”