Have you ever gone to McDonald’s and “super-sized” your meal? Of course you have, but why? Did you think about “super-sizing” before you walked into the restaurant? That was probably the last thing on your mind. But all it took was the girl at the counter asking just one simple question: “Would you like to ‘super-size’ your meal?” Why do they ask that question? It is no accident. They have been carefully trained to do so using a script, because scripting works!

“Will that be a medium or large drink?” I ordered medium drinks for years (because of scripting) until I finally asked if a “small” was an option. Apparently there is. “Would you like cheese on that hamburger?” Now that you mention it, cheese sounds pretty good! Do you think these small extra sales add up over the course of a year? Of course they do, and that is why scripting is such an important and integral part of any business, big or small.

It is also how all professionals run their offices so successfully. Call any office to reschedule an appointment, and they will use almost the same script whether it is for a doctor, lawyer or dentist. They do this because scripting works, and it puts forth a type of “professionalism” and confidence for the person seeking help. It is this type of scripting that is absent in education, but could help us in so many ways if we were to adopt this simple, but effective, business protocol.

I understand that using a script, or “scripting,” will not be easy for many of the “that’s not the way I do it,” teachers. It may not be an easy learning curve for some, but remember, that while change is good, it’s not always easy. When calling home, we have a message to bring – we have direction. But how do we get there? We need to know how to communicate our idea to others. We need to know what to say.

We could use the “I am so sorry to be calling you” opening. This immediately removes any authority from the teacher and making him or her wrong for calling home, because they are beginning with an apology. I am sorry. Parents do not want to hear you are sorry. They want to know you are the authority.

We could use the “I just want to begin by telling you that Jimmy is a great student and I really love having him in my class.” Anything negative you say after this will obviously be a lie, because you just said how great Jimmy is. Which is it, great, or is he difficult? You come across as disingenuous.

Or we could use a script – to be memorized – to guide us through what to say with each call we make, until we own it. For those who have never used a script before, the process may seem phony and rehearsed. They would be half right – it is rehearsed, but never phony. Some might say, “I just say something different every time I make a call.” Too bad, because the pros don’t. For those teachers who are just “winging it,” I submit there are two types of phone calls: positive and negative. Positive calls are easy, though some teachers get too carried away and chat as if speaking with their high school BFF. Remember, not all calls to that parent are going to be positive or require a friendly tone. Negative calls, on the other hand, will have a consistency to their message and you had better be ready to have those words roll off your tongue to avoid wavering from the bad news you must now deliver.

I vividly remember my brother’s wedding. I was the best man and asked his best friend for advice on how to deliver a toast. He told me, “Prepare nothing – that will just make you nervous, have a couple of drinks – that will relax you. Then just stand up and say what’s on your mind.” That was, without question, the worst advice I have ever received. I gave what was the worst best man toast ever. We still laugh about it more than 30 years later.

Fast forward to my days in practice when I enlisted a management company that promised results beyond my greatest expectations. There was just one catch: to achieve this greatness, I would have to memorize (not just learn) scripted dialogue that my patients would first hear on the phone, then again in my office, and finally when I would examine them and follow it up with a report of findings. All  scripted dialogue designed to effectively carry similar messages to many different patients. I rejected the idea outright at first, but I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I had already once failed miserably by not preparing any words of wisdom (the wedding toast). Now after burying myself under over $100,000 worth of debt, I could ill afford to make the same mistake twice, but I was adamantly opposed to learning scripted words that I just knew would sound stiff, insincere and dishonest. I just knew they would wreak of “fake and “phony” (even though I was young and had no idea what I was talking about). But my mind kept going back to the toast – the worst toast in the history of mankind.

I received all the materials and it was pages of script after script. It looked bad. I hated the idea of saying someone else’s words. I am, after all, a doctor! I’m a professional! (Sound familiar teachers?) I studied long and hard to learn my trade. I was the best in my class. But they never taught us what to say to the patients when they come to the office. Did they provide a “script” for you in all of those great education classes?

Long story short. Following graduation, I opened my office and failed. I failed miserably. It was only out of sheer desperation that I contracted with a practice management group who told me I would have to learn “my lines” if I was going to be a success. And they were right.

I swallowed my pride and learned my lines. I learned them so well that I was almost unaware of what was happening. At first the lines seemed choppy and exaggerated – almost fake. But each time I said their words, they became my words. In short time, my confidence grew and I began to own the words. They were not just words – they became my thoughts and my beliefs. It soon became very clear why I was paying this group several hundreds of dollars every month. They were right. They had seen other neophyte doctors before and knew what they needed.

Now I know many teachers will dig their heels in and stick to their guns, just like the new teacher of only two weeks whom I was trying to help when she interrupted me and said, “That’s not the way I do it.” Not the way you do it?? You’ve been a teacher for two weeks… you don’t have a way yet! If you choose not to take this opportunity to learn and grow, then so be it. But remember, scripting is like athletics. It is about practicing your words until you become an expert. Tiger Woods, though talented, would never be where he is today if not for repeating a swing taught to him over and over again. He uses a script.

And here are a few comments from the experts on scripts…

“Every script I’ve written and every series I’ve produced have expressed the things I most deeply believe.” ~ Michael Landon

And when I’m on set, I’m just thinking about the script and of working. I think I’ve stayed focused on the work so much that I haven’t really noticed my life start to change except for I’ve gotten busier.” ~ Jennifer Lawrence

“I only sound intelligent when there’s a good script writer around.” ~ Christian Bale

“It’s difficult when you have to turn down a tremendous amount of money because you don’t like what the script is saying and you don’t have any money.” ~ Tim Robbins

“Even if you fall flat on your face, you’re still moving forward.” ~ Victor Kiam (on scripting)

And my favorite….

“When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?’ I say, ‘your salary’.” ~ Alfred Hitchcock  (Teachers might want to remember this one, especially when considering if something simple as using a script when calling home might improve their skills and make them more valuable to their school and to their principal.)

Dr. Michael Cubbin,  Teacher Practice Management Consulting

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A Data-Driven Alternative to Teacher Observations

I recently posted two discussions on LinkedIn questioning the need, viability and justification for continuing with the current system of teacher evaluation: “TEACHER OBSERVATIONS DON’T WORK… BUT WHY?” and “WHY ARE TEACHERS EVALUATED?” The results showed wide ranging disparity on both the effectiveness and worth of the evaluative system, but was balanced by strong support by teachers for change in this area. These are the general comparisons from both schools of thought.

  • Administrators – in general – believe there is an absolute need for evaluations to continue in their current form, but with minor modifications. Overall, they feel teacher observations are a necessary element of teaching and have confidence they are producing “some type of” desired result.
  • Teachers overwhelmingly believe there is ample room for improvement in evaluations to promote teacher growth and development (did administrators feel this way when they were teachers?) and suggested a variety of options from minor modifications of the current system to eliminating it completely. Overall, they do not share administration’s feeling of success brought by the observation process.

These discussions were intended to initiate dialogue for change in schools in one area – teacher observations – to bring about improved student success, which we can all agree is urgently needed. What better place to begin than with a program that is suspect by most, highly subjective at best, and seemingly productive for all involved except teachers and students. In my conversations with administrators, and while a few may disagree, most are dissatisfied with the outcomes of observations given the time and energy they must invest necessary to perform them. One of the last comments summed it up and I am paraphrasing, “If teacher observations did what they were designed to do – develop greater teacher competency to increase student achievement – then why aren’t we seeing the resulting student successes?” It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

In spite of the many great ideas brought to the table, missing from both management and labor perspectives was a comprehensive solution that would:

  • eliminate the formal observation process
  • substitute it with a valid data-driven system of evaluation
  • be powered by student outcomes
  • use goal-setting to statistically analyze “trending”
  • satisfy both parties

In truth, I was hoping for one administrator, one school, to say, “Look, if you have a better way, our school is willing to try it.” I didn’t hear that, so I am offering a proposal – and it is all about DATA. We need to agree on a common starting point, so let’s use what we have top bragging rights to – DATA.

DATA – like it, love it or hate it – is our most valuable and under-appreciated asset. We use data to catalog students in every way possible – top third, bottom third, ELL, special education and then re-order each one on so many sub-levels, but fail to rely on its ability to help quantify and qualify the effectiveness of a teacher. It seems only logical that if we can use data (not exclusively for VAM) to show how effectively a teacher is performing, based on student achievement, then why would blanket formal “subjective high-stakes” evaluations ever be necessary again? Also, if we are to avoid the type of fallout shown by preliminary VAM feedback, we need to have this discussion.

So why aren’t we using data to our greater advantage? If students of a particular teacher are experiencing either good or bad results – trending up or down – then why isn’t this the primary data used to validate his or her competency in the classroom rather than four 15-minute informal walk-throughs?

Take differentiation and data. I have a sign that reads:

“In this class, we use Assessment to generate Data that will help us to Differentiate Instruction and to create Curriculum that will intellectually impact All Members of the Learning Community.”

Deliver instruction first then, then based on the data, differentiate if necessary. How can you effectively differentiate instruction before you know if differentiation will be necessary? Even if differentiation is based on past experiences, you are still making presumptuous, and probably incorrect, assumptions. In theory, shouldn’t there come a time when struggling students make breakthroughs and no longer need the crutch of differentiation? Isn’t that why we differentiate in the first place? Differentiating instruction without first using data to modify curriculum or teaching methods is just differentiating for the sake of differentiating (my apologies for the multiple uses of differentiation.) Class data must be statistically analyzed to create effective strategies, but we know if differentiation is excluded during an observation… points lost. Why? Who better to determine – based on class data – if differentiation is needed or not?

How about teacher competency and data. Once teachers are hired, with a reasonable “expectation of competency,” they begin producing data in the first few weeks. Not just grades, but also a vast untapped source of secondary data every teacher has, yet does not currently use as proof of proficiency. How often is all this data used as a benchmark of competency prior to an observation? And if it is being used please show me, because I just don’t see it. Teachers are evaluated to improve student outcomes, so why isn’t this the first place we look? Why isn’t a baseline created here to monitor future growth and trending? This is so easy for a teacher to prepare if they are shown how to do it. Not being aware of teacher progress using statistical analysis of data, via baselines and trending – but going ahead with an observation anyway – is not really helping to improve teacher development, but is merely observing for the sake of saying an observation was performed. This is unproductive, not good for anyone and will never create the desired result, which is well-developed teachers producing maximum student achievement. We need to look at the data.

If I seem obsessed with data, it is because data can drive instruction, but how often is data used to drive both instruction and to formulate accurate evaluations? This is our missing link.

How many principals would be willing to try these steps as an option to the traditional teacher observation? This is an outline of Data-Driven Evaluation.

  1. Effective electronic gradebook (EGB) used to collect the data necessary that will be used to graphically analyze trending as it occurs on a day to day basis. The EGB also needs to be streamlined enough for any teacher to pick up quickly – no steep learning curves, no unnecessary bells and whistles. There are only a few EGBs that can do this. This is a non-negotiable.
  2. Student Work – graded, entered and posted the same day it is received. This is a non-negotiable. Why? Because you cannot keep accurate stats without timely data. All professionals have lots of paperwork, but grades are #1 to students – and this is our job. Doing so also keeps parents on your side.
  3. Weekly Progress Reports – Students must bring in a signed Progress Report every Monday (or Friday) that is counted as an assignment. This will be used to set goals for the week. This is a absolutely a non-negotiable.
  4. All teachers are supplied with a comprehensive “Data Collection Statistical Analysis Program,” which teaches specific strategies for collecting/recording all student and classroom data (the same used by all management consultants outside of teaching). The data is kept in the classroom, in a STATS Folder, is available to all visitors, and is updated daily. It is recorded on paper, and updated online daily. Data is represented in graph form on a regular schedule. A good EGB will make accessing this data very easy for the principal from his/her office as well. This is a non-negotiable.
  5. Basic data such as grades, tests, quizzes, HW, and attendance are only rudimentary statistics and are obviously insufficient. Statistical analysis and trending of class data plus additional unmined data (this is the “secret sauce”) must be added. This is a non-negotiable.
  6. Trending is the basis for this system. This is a non-negotiable. Students must be taught trending. Statistical analysis of data trending (that every pro athlete uses daily) is taught for students to increase their “sense of urgency” through correct goal setting, time management, prioritization and increased awareness of progress. It is this data collection and analysis by students that increases student engagement and reduces teacher/administration monitoring by more than half.
  7. Based on easy online access to this data, administrators would be much better prepared to “consult” with teachers regarding progress, strategies, successes, etc… prior to visiting each class.
  8. Inter-visitations – Teachers will be required to do a compliment of 3-4 inter-visitations (or a prearranged #) each month with colleagues. Simple documentation will be kept by teacher in their STATS Folder and be available to administrator at any time. Teachers will complete “Self-Assessment” forms on the back of each inter-visitation form during the inter-visitation and kept in our classroom STATS Folder. Half of these Self-Assessments can be done as Peer-Assessment. This is a non-negotiable.
  9. No formal observations. This is a non-negotiable (remember, this is an alternative to the current system.) How simple would it be for a principal to compare peer or self-assessments against actual classroom practices through regular informal walk-throughs? This is how a professional becomes self-actualized. Either we want a piece of paper in the teacher’s file (an observation), or we want highly competent, highly-developed, teachers.
  10. Regular “high-visibility high-profile” walk-throughs. Without formal observations to slow a principal down, this would be easy. Principals will have access to any student or classroom data prior to, during, and after these visits. This is a non-negotiable.
  11. Teachers who show trending upward by a mutually predetermined trending rate will also be permitted greater autonomy. Less oversight followed by greater self-actualization and personal development. Trust increases, job satisfaction increases. (Statistical analysis of data and trending are the linchpins of this program.) This is a non-negotiable.
  12. So what happens if a teacher is doing poorly? Teacher data trending will not align with student data trending. Teacher will be consulted regarding statistics by one or more administrators and will include peer-intervention for support and advice, reassessment of goals, strategizing what is working and what is not, all within a time-frame for improvement and possibly even student input (a last measure).

This is an outline proposal. And while this some points may be a bit unorthodox and unsettling for administrators who feel they absolutely must see how a teacher wrote their Do Now or if they differentiated properly (even if differentiation for that particular lesson was unnecessary), it is an alternative could work and/or improved upon. I developed the program of data collection, statistical analysis, trending, prioritization, time management and true goal setting and have used it for years. Now, if we can only get a few principals to pilot this type of approach, we might start moving closer to the change we seek.

This is an alternative to the current system of teacher observations. I welcome all comments, criticisms and observations (pardon the pun).   Teacher Practice Management Consulting

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Because they are looking in the wrong place.

A recent article written by Ryan Fuller, a former space engineer now teacher, stated that, “Teaching isn’t rocket science. It’s harder. To solve engineering problems, you use your brain. Solving classroom problems uses your whole being.”

Poppycock! The answer is simple – so simple, in fact, even a kindergarten student understands the solution.

According to the article’s author, some of teachers’ greatest hurdles are as follows:

  • How do I engage students?
  • How do I make students responsible for their learning?
  • How do I keep students “on task”?
  • How do I make my class interesting?
  • How do I make sure students understand the content?
  • How do I inspire students?
  • How do I relate to students?
  • How do I keep – or get students back – on track?
  • How do I do…. everything?

The author believes students want structure, want to learn and want to be prepared for life – and he is correct. But on the bullet-points beginning with How do  I… he is wrong. Though he supports “student-directed classrooms,” he believes that it must be teachers who are responsible for doing all and being all (on top of being mother, father, teacher, preacher, friend, confidant, counselor, mediator and a few other side jobs). This not just faulty thinking, it is impossible. In fact, this “I can do it all” thinking rarely works in the real world, so how can we expect it to work in education – a system top-heavy with so many variables that it is “almost” impossible to reach ANY goal? (I say “almost” because it is possible, but we need to begin thinking “smarter” not “harder.”) As they move from grade to grade, we must better prepare students to accept the challenges ahead, and take some of the “how do I…” off of our shoulders.

We must learn from our data and statistics. We know that the sooner our youngsters develop good classroom and study habits, the more successfully they will  grow and develop through the years. Can we all agree on at least that? Or is that up to interpretation as well? How often do we have a new class come to our room in September that knows policies and procedures backward and forward, acts appropriately, interacts with others using a high degree of engagement and are just wonderful to have in our rooms? It does happen, and when we tell them how wonderful they are and how nice it is to have such a good class, what do they tell us? “Oh, Mrs. Jones taught us all these things last year, so we already know what to do.” From the mouths of babes! They understand! How much do we love Mrs. Jones?! She prepared her students for success in the next grade. Get us early enough (before teachers allow us to “get away with” any bad habits), fine tune the behaviors you expect in us to exhibit and we will get it.

Be honest, how many of you were focused not just on teaching curriculum this year, but on making sure that your classes moved up knowing what will be expected of them – on more than just a level of curricular understanding?

All other variables aside, if we look at a graph (that any 6th grader can draw), we would see that childrens’ scores decrease as they go from K through 12th grade. We also know that the level of student engagement and excitement is also higher in the earlier years. Just ask any kindergarten teacher. What are our major complaints of middle and high school students? Attendance, behavior, organization, cooperation? These behaviors are all thoroughly covered in kindergarten.

So what happens? Students change according to the structure provided by each new teacher in each new year. If we maintain a sense of continuity from K-12, we stand a much better prospect of success than trying to “reinvent the wheel” in middle through high school where each teacher has their own limits and thresholds for what will be permitted in each particular class. Teachers who have the “I don’t do that, I do it my own way” approach creates so many variables it is almost impossible to obtain any valid conclusions. Simple Scientific Methodology. Too many variables doesn’t work. The experiment cannot be recreated by the next scientist (or teacher).

Too many “late” (6th & 7th grade) middle school and high school teachers are doomed – particularly in urban setting – because of the “allowances” made by previous teachers regarding proper classroom behavior. This is where Mr. Fuller is wrong. It is definitely not harder than rocket science. It just requires that all teachers be united and stay on the same page.

The later we get to students, the less likely they are going to be able to perform at the levels we are setting for them. As Mr. Fuller pointed out, “students want structure, want to learn and want to be prepared for life.” Yes, they do. And when they fail to live up to these expectations, we can only blame ourselves. We are Dr. Frankenstein who has – by omission, rather then by commission – created the proverbial monster. We dropped the ball… dropped it, and kept dropping it by allowing poor behavior, texting in class, wearing ear buds, playing around, missing and late homework, passing grades where they shouldn’t exist and more until it is impossible for the next teacher to have any hope of success. How many of us have heard, “But Mr. So-and-So didn’t care it we ate in class” or “Mrs. Wonderful never took off points if homework was late”? So where do we turn to fix this loss of engagement and responsibility that we are suppose to infuse into our 7th or 9th graders? We go to the one person who “got it” and was able to give it away.

The one who “got it” (following my parents) was Mrs. McKinney, my kindergarten teacher. She really got it. She taught me how to walk into a room, how to hang up my coat, how to find my seat, how to get ready for class to start, how to pay attention, how to get ready for lunch, how to play “nice” on the playground, how to nap successfully, how to get ready to end the day, and how to go home. I learned so much in kindergarten.

My 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade teachers “got it” as well, but nobody had it like Mrs. McKinney. By 5th and 6th grades, my teachers were “losing it” and I made sure – via my behavior – that I knew they were losing it. Structure, learning and life preparation became lax. I knew it and the teachers knew it, and yes, I was a piece of work. There was only one thing for me to do, and that was to live up to their expectations. Students demand structure in their classrooms, and if they don’t get it, they begin to fail. I did just that.

Luckily, my parents saw this and off I went to parochial school. There the structure, learning and life preparation were all restored. I was back on track. It was a simple process. The nuns spoke very much like Mrs. McKinney, they were clear and concise in their direction and we knew that if we did not follow the procedures, policies and protocols of the school, there would be consequences.

Though human cloning is still a long way away, I propose the first person to be cloned should be Mrs. McKinney. Next I propose she be put into every class in the country all the way up to 12th grade. All students would then be the beneficiaries of her guidance, her direction, her clarity, her simple wisdom, and her desire to make sure we all turned out as good as possible – regardless of home lives, siblings, personal flaws, learning impediments, and any other obstacle that stops students in their tracks today.

Mrs. McKinney is what happens when you start early and do the right thing. We are still, for the most part, starting early, but as our students complete elementary school and move on to middle school we are dropping the ball. We need to turn our attention back on EARLY INTERVENTION.

To prove this, let’s look at other sectors of society where early prevention pays far greater dividends than trying to put the horse back in that barn after it has gotten out.

Recidivism – a person’s relapse into behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention. By not seeking prevention action in the early years, recidivism rates for various behaviors become the following:

  • Crime – > 50%
  • Alcohol – >50% (though I have seen much higher)
  • Drugs – > 60%
  • DWI – > 40%

Early prevention is the only way to lower these incidents. This is why we have so few smokers today. We have been relentless in explaining the pitfalls of smoking. Unfortunately, schools have an almost 0% recidivism rate. Once we lose them, we usually never get them back. So let’s try not to lose them in the first place.

Since grades (as well as acceptable behaviors) are highest in the lower grades (elementary schools in particular) let’s start there. Let’s duplicate what those kindergarten teachers did so wonderfully in our early years and continue doing that for the next 12 years. Let’s not wait until students leave our – and I really hate this term for just this very reason – “dumping grounds” of middle school to try and fix things. Keep up what was started in kindergarten. Let’s think back to our kindergarten teacher and try to stay on the same track that she (or he) would want us to stay on.


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Why all the testing?

What do you believe (in one sentence) is the #1 reason behind all the testing that is on rise today. Feel free to add any evidence or documentation to support your opinion (not wanting to exasperate, irritate or alienate all the CCSS aficionados out there), but I would like to keep the reason itself simple, so one sentence please.

Here is my reason – “Our students are underachieving on an epidemic scale.”

If schools were churning out Rhodes Scholars or problem solvers on a grand scale (which given their access to all the information of Earth on their cell phones seems not too unreasonable a request), we teachers would not find ourselves under the microscope where we are today.

Feel free to contribute, but please limit your reason itself to one sentence.

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Teacher observations are but one of two elephants in the teacher’s lounge. The other is student grading, but we can only wrangle one elephant at a time, so let’s pick the biggest and the orneriest.

I love teaching, enjoy the administrators, and in fifteen years of teaching have always received satisfactory evaluations.  So do not misconstrue my intent as a criticism of principals and assistant principals who oversee observations. I know that principals’ hands may be tied regarding the process, but there is an alternative – a better way to evaluate teachers that requires both vision and desire. Today’s version of the teacher observation does not do justice to the administrators, the teachers or the students.

The observation has the potential to be the most powerful tool in an administrator’s arsenal towards building a great school. It could also be the teacher’s greatest friend – something to look forward to that would provide insight and direction. The process of teacher observation should provide a detailed understanding of the steps necessary for the teacher to help students achieve greater levels of success and achievement, not merely aping a cookbook example of “how to look good on those times we are visited by our administrators.” And it certainly should be more than a “demonstration” intended to keep our job and/or receive tenure. But sadly, it is often both.

Observations (consultations in practice management terms) could be used to help the teacher grow and develop professionally, but as we all know, the vast majority of today’s evaluations and observations are nothing more than “dog and pony” shows. This is common knowledge and I am not the first to use this expression to describe the observation, so don’t shoot the messenger. Administrators have told me they go into observations with the idea they want to see, A, B, C and D to warrant a satisfactory rating. This approach is lowering the bar, rather than raising it. Most administrators use this method rather than basing a significant percent of the evaluation on student trending, data collection, presentation and discussion of both student data and teacher classroom practice data to see how teachers are developing their own individual potential – becoming self-actualized – through their own data and goal setting to create strategies for increased student achievement. Observing to see A, B, C and D is not an evaluation. It is a skit or play at best, or yes, a “dog and pony” show.

Dog and Pony Show (Wikipedia def.) – is a colloquial term which has come to mean a highly promoted, often over-staged performance, presentation, or event designed to sway or convince opinion….

After all, how many times can the same principal walk into the same content class with the same teacher and observe how that same teacher writes the same style of Do Now or Aim or Essential Question year after year? Or maybe 6-8 times in the same year… and then year after year? When do we stop looking at teachers, assume they are performing competently, and begin to evaluate based on student data and trending?

The current observational routine only encourages teachers to become excellent technicians (and I don’t know why administrators aren’t seeing this) while true growth involves more self-actualization on the part of the teacher themselves. If teachers are being shown that the “format” of the lesson – 5 minute Do Now correct? 10 minutes modeling? 20-25 minutes Independent Student work? Was there time for a proper Close and Wrap Up? – is most important, they will come to believe this is what teaching is all about. Too many of our young teachers believe just this. It is a shame because when administrators then look for more in a lesson, the teacher comes up short. The observer has created such a wonderful “technician” that the he or she doesn’t want to – or cannot – step outside of their box. This is where teacher self-reflection, professional growth and development of their “practice” dies. At this point, you can walk into any room and you see very little individuality. Same Do Now, same E.Q., same Modeling….. Same technicians. Is this the “goal” of the observation?

This is why both formal and informal observations must be based on student trending, data collection/presentation, teacher and student short and long term goals and discussion of both student data and teacher classroom practice data and trending rather than the boiler-plated, templated, box-checking, one-fits-all process now in place.

First, let’s lay a little groundwork for this discussion. Since most teachers never directly seek out a practice management consultant for help – though many do once they realize the benefit and potential for growth in their careers – the principal or assistant principal observing a teacher is the closest many teachers will come to having their own personal consultant to advise them on growth and professional development. And it is before, during and after the observation where a teacher hopes, expects and deserves to be given this direction so as to better help students achieve academic success. This is where the ball is dropping. A simplistic overview of the observation structure looks like this:

  1. Pre-observations are where a lesson plan, goals and instructional strategies are presented while expectations to be “observed” during the lesson are frequently conveyed to the teacher.
  2. Observations involve watching the lesson delivery, making sure “template” key points are touched upon. While it is often said that “learning” is being observed, feedback is frequently in the form of “procedural” deficiencies.
  3. Post-observations debrief the teacher delivery strengths and weaknesses to the teacher as observed during the lesson.

So where are the kids? When does student data enter the conversation? Where is the discussion, analysis of the data with recommendations for student advancement? When is student trending discussed? When does the administrator help set goals from your baselines? Does you administrator even know what your baselines are? Do they understand how your students develop their own parameters for individual goal setting? Do they even ask what steps your students have taken to ensure their own successes? No? Then how can they provide direction and guidance if they don’t know these things before the pre-observation? Lots of questions.

Imagine for a moment, how great would it be to walk into your pre-observation with three pieces of paper: the lesson plan and two other pages detailing exactly how your students are trending (both individually and as a group) as well as how YOU are trending? Would it give your principal a better idea of what to look for as he or she observes you? Would these papers be of interest to your principal, or would they fall back on just wanting to make sure your classroom maneuverings – your ducks – are all in a row?

If you are a doctor, lawyer or any other professional, your consultant does not want to know how you practice your profession. They will never come to observe you in action;  never come into your office and observe you fill a cavity or observe how you litigate a slip and fall case in court. They believe you already learned these things in school, and understand you have learned the practice of what you do. (So why does this fact elude those who observe teachers?) The consultant wants to know the results of how you practice your profession. This is how a teacher practice management consultant “consults” with a teacher. We do not want to see if your Do Now is visible in the top left corner of the board, or if your Essential Question is actually in the form of a question or not. We want to know:

  • What are your results?
  • What are your goals to increase your results (student achievement)?
  • How are you going to achieve those goals?

Current teacher observations are but one piece – albeit the biggest piece – of the teaching profession that alienates us, diminishes us, and negates us when being compared to our fellow professionals. The teacher observation is our “Achilles heel.” If we could more objectively demonstrate how well we do what we do, our credibility would increase exponentially.

Achilles heel (def.) – a deadly weakness in spite of overall strength, which can actually or potentially lead to downfall.

Teaching is a great and noble profession. Our strength is in our teachers to teach and our students to learn. Change the current system of observation to make it right for everyone. Our current subjectively-based evaluations are both structurally and functionally unclear and unjustifiable when contrasted with the evaluative processes used for every other profession. It is not because we are different. We need to adopt a more “objective” statistical analysis of existing classroom data that will increase teacher performance while developing specific plans for increasing student productivity. Our failure to do so puts the optics of teaching – and teachers – at a tremendous disadvantage when viewed by both the public and by other professionals. How else can we explain veteran teachers receiving rave observations with high student achievement for years only to receive an “unsatisfactory” under a new administrator? Too much subjectivity – and it happens all the time. The Achilles heel of education.

Most teachers would embrace having administrators walk into their room every day to observe and evaluate them if – and only if – the administrator knew beforehand, or could see upon entering, how their students were trending. We hear the word trending in education, but teachers really don’t know how to apply it to classroom data. This is a new, and to be honest, slightly revolutionary take on teacher practice management, but are administrators amenable enough to embrace it?

The question remains, “Why are we being observed?” The obvious, and most honest, answer is that observations are contractually mandated. Are today’s observations really making better teachers? LinkedIn discussions are filled with disgruntled administrators unhappy about the burdensome and time-consuming demands that teacher observations place on their schedules. They wish they could open this part of their schedule and, I believe, find a new and better means to this end. Based on these voices alone, most of us would agree this cannot be a system that produces better educators. So let’s play Devil’s advocate. Nobody is watching and you are asked for your simplest response to the question, “Why do you observe your teachers?” The least complicated (simple) answer might be, “To see how the teacher is doing.”

But what exactly is doing? Better or worse? Better or worse than what? If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re lost before you start. This is the problem. If principals are looking to see progress, then data (in addition to grades) that would include baselines and trending demonstrating progress must be made available prior to a pre-observation. These baselines must include individual and class student achievement, as well as that for teacher management data. Is there really any other way to provide an honest evaluation for the teacher? If a principal does not have this data, then what are they observing? The Do Now, Modeling, Group Work, the Close or the Wrap Up? Teachers are working really, really hard to do the right things, but cannot continue to be judged on these procedural points years after year. Teachers, like administrators, need to be shown – taught – how to compile their data in such a way to create statistical reports and analysis to be used to form baselines, set goals and create strategic plans for professional as well as student growth.

How about informal observations? What are principals looking for there? If it is to see how effective or skilled a teacher is at their trade, isn’t it important that the observer also sees how students are doing as a result of teacher practice? How many principals know if the class (and each individual student) is trending better or worse as soon as they walk through the door? It is easy to accomplish and helps demonstrate how all classes are trending, but most importantly it provides instant feedback for students as they enter the room as well. It is, after all, about our students.

Instead, our current observations and evaluations are snapshots, “Kodak Moments” (another pejorative, but accurate term) that in a split second “capture” if the teacher is able to, while being carefully watched, precisely follow a detailed series of rote procedures carefully prescribed by the administration or district, and to be used as a template that administrators can follow to determine teacher proficiency during that 45 minutes or a few minute walk-through. Question – Is it possible to appear “inept” during a principal’s “Kodak Moment,” yet have students achieving great success? Is this really fair?

Additionally, today’s administrators are rejoicing in having access to so many new software programs out there that make it as easy as tapping an IPad, strapped to the wrist, that will produce – in addition to some personalized comments – coded remarks, criticisms and suggestions. *Note – “templating” or “boiler-plating” was developed by lawyers and adopted by doctors when report-writing became too voluminous to handle. While it alleviated cumbersome paperwork, it turned the process or report-writing into a rote process of button pressing. It did not produce a better report – just increased convenience.

How many teachers feel actual “professional growth and development” following a classroom observation or post-observation? How many teachers feel they have taught what they consider to be a great class only to be eviscerated during the infamous post-observation due to the lack of “procedural snapshots”? Better yet, following an observation, how many teachers actually look forward to the next observation to hear more about their growth, development and self-actualization (the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potential)? Are principals not aware of this wondrous missed opportunity? Are they not seeing what they are missing? Teachers walk away from “post-obs” in a whirlwind of what they did right, what they did wrong and what the administrator wants to see next time. There are four (perhaps more) stages of observation grief outcomes from a teacher’s perspective:

  1. For most teachers who have a “good” evaluation it is the same kind of elation when we did good as a kid and made our bed right, fed the dog or finally got coloring inside the lines down pat. This is usually mixed relief though, a glass or two of wine that evening, and a countdown until the next one.
  2. How about a successful post-observation when we receive a “satisfactory” rating, but we were shown – in no uncertain terms – there was a t we didn’t cross and an i we didn’t dot. This type of “evaluation” is unheard of in any other profession and it is very dehumanizing for teachers. “You were good, but here’s everything you did wrong.”
  3. For those who are not quite so fortunate it is enough to make them look through the help wanted ads during their next prep as they forgot the mandatory “don’t forget this” moments – brought on by an acute case of angina pectoris – in the middle of the observation.
  4. And how about the lucky guy or gal who misses hitting certain high notes, but is adored so much by the teacher they get a pass, and they know it. Are evaluations subjective? Yeah, a little.

I have never know a professional who worked with “business” practice management consultants to ever feel deflated after a meeting. We were all excited upon leaving – full of hope – and look forward to the next meeting, or consultation, for signs of growth. This because we were shown – every month – what steps should be taken next based on our collected data, statistics, achievements, and yes failures, to make things even better. There was no limit – ever – and there should be no limit for teachers as well. And the most important part was that every consult was done in a non-judgmental fashion. Why should it be any other way? This is a key difference between the consultant and the administrator – one is giving you a grade, the other is helping you grow. The consultant is there to help you improve – nothing more and certainly nothing less. This is their job. This type of relationship creates a sense of urgency within the professional. It makes you want to do better.

So following a professional consultation, what would happen to those who failed to reach their goals, or whose data wasn’t demonstrating what the consultant felt they were capable of achieving? New baselines were created, new goals were set, new strategies were incorporated into their practice. (Yes, we are professionals with practices!) This is what we need in teaching. Observations shouldn’t be entering rooms for the tenth year and commenting on how effective the Do Now is constructed. We got it, but now we need someone who can look at our data – it takes no more than 2-3 minutes – and tell us where we need to push harder. We also need to be shown how to create and present the data that principals really want to see – but that is not in the current mindset.

This is what practice management consultants should be doing for teachers and, in the absence of contracting with one, this is the job of the administrator. The responsibility of teacher practice management consultants (or principals) is – using data – to objectively diagnose problems that will assist teachers in setting goals, prioritizing work and managing time in ways that are never mentioned in typical school day PD’s.

New teachers will ask before their first observation, “What will they look for in the observation?” Years ago, it was a relatively easy question to answer, but today it is a bit more complicated – and a lot more contrived. Most teachers believe that if they do what is asked of them, they will achieve the required “satisfactory” evaluation. This thinking and the ensuing history of evaluation discrepancies, grievances – even satisfactory evaluations – does not bear out the truth in this logic. Teachers will tell you that instead of just teaching, they were always cognizant of the need to “hit” certain points that administration would be looking for. Hit or miss. Is this what we want?

The function of the teacher consultant is to provide solutions, using statistical analysis of existing organizational problems to increase teacher performance while developing plans for increasing student improvement. We objectively diagnose problems to help teachers set goals, prioritize work and manage time. Most teachers have never sat down with a genuine practice management consultant, because there aren’t that many out there qualified to do these things. But if they did they would see that we look at the classroom data described here (most of which is never looked at – or even asked for – and often found unimpressive or irrelevant to the observer) and to help the teacher identify weaknesses and strengths, then adjust each accordingly. A teacher practice consultant is a “numbers guy.” And unfortunately, schools want to get away from “numbers” which leaves only a subjective system of evaluation.

Until we begin offering an “objectively-based” system of evaluation for teachers, similar to those used by most business and/or professional consultants – founded more on the statistical analysis (of individual classroom data) to objectively diagnose problems to set goals, prioritize work and manage time, combined with student trending – we will remain resigned to professional mediocrity. Our desire to “qualify” teacher effectiveness, rather than to objectively “quantify” student outcome is breaking (yes, breaking!) the teacher’s ability to develop and grow. Current subjective observations do very little to allow for individual professional growth, professional development and self-actualization, but rather encourage boiler-plated and rigid teacher performances, or shows, rather than allow for true professional expansion and development of individual teaching skills and styles.

One major hurdle. Teachers are currently acting like junk yards dogs over the elimination of standardized and high-stakes testing. They want them gone and will accept nothing less. Data (class tests, quizzes, homework, projects, attendance, preparedness, effective parent contact, and more…) are the only truly objective data from which to judge teachers. Either we rely on our data, or we leave it up to the subjectivity of a coin-toss. What do we want? We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

If the observation is based on data collection, presentation and discussion of both student data and teacher classroom practice data, well, then you’ve got it right! So please administrators, start thinking – and looking – outside of the box. This current system is not doing anyone any good. For those administrators seeking to change how they do observations, there are many ways you and your staff could live with – and grow with.    Teacher Practice Management Consulting

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What do you say to a parent when calling home?

Like most of the daily activities in any profession there is no secret or magic to making the often “dreaded” phone call home, but there is a right way, and a wrong way. Unfortunately, many teachers never get it right and as a result, miss out on one of the greatest tools at our disposal for student success – parental support. Contrary to popular belief, parents want you to call them whether it is good, or bad news.

We all use the phrases “contacting a parent” or making a “phone call home,” but what do they mean? It means you are about to perform the most important  responsibility bestowed upon a teacher. I liken the act, as well as the significance, of a teacher calling a student’s home to:

A lawyer contacting a client about the status of an important case.

A doctor calling a patient with important news about test results.

A family member calling to relay an update about an ill relative.

As professionals, teachers should have these same mindsets when contacting a student’s home for either good or bad news. A teacher picking up the phone to call home carries with it the same significance as a surgeon picking up a scalpel to perform open-heart surgery, or a lawyer standing to make his opening statement when defending a defendant on a felony charge. It is that important. If you do not believe that, then you are just not doing it right.

On that note, contacting a parent means different things to different teachers, but it shouldn’t. To one teacher, calling home might mean that the parent is contacted only when the students does something wrong. For another teacher it might be to inform a parent that their child has shown great improvement. In both cases, the teacher should never waver from the level of professionalism that a parent is expecting, or the script that must be followed. How does one get good at this? The same way one arrives on the steps of Carnegie Hall – practice, practice, practice.

You are calling for a reason so there is never any justification to be shy or weak about the message you are bringing to a parent. You are the authority and the parent expects to hear that in your voice.

If it is good, start on a high note. “Hello Mrs. Smith, this is Dr. Cubbin, Tim’s science teacher. I am calling to let you know that Tim received a 94% on his test today which earns him a spot in the 90’s Club.” Wait and listen.

If the news is bad, it should be, “Hello Mrs. Smith, this is Dr. Cubbin, Tim’s science teacher. I’m calling to touch base with you about an issue that took place in class today involving Tim.” Wait and listen.

The first two sentences out of your mouth will determine the tone for the rest of the conversation. If it is bad (which sadly most calls home are), don’t start out by trying to make it sound good. “Hi Mrs. Smith, This is Ms. Jones, Tim’s teacher. Tim is a great kid and we love to have him in class, but there was a problem in school today that I need to speak with you about.” This will only cause a parent to think, “A Problem? Really? But you just said he is great and you love having him in your class. So which is it? Is my son great, or is he a problem? Don’t you know? You’re the teacher!” I don’t care what anybody tells you. Starting out a bad call home with a “positive comment” is a credibility killer.

A good analogy would be having your doctor call after your check-up and tell you, “Hi John, I just went over your test results and everything looks great, but I did find a mass about the size of a grapefruit on your spine.” John thinks, “Wait a second, you just told me everything looked great, but now there’s a tumor on my spine is great? Am I fine, or do I have cancer?” All credibility flies out the window. If you are like me, you have probably been told to begin every conversation with a parent on a “high note.” If you are calling with good news, that’s fine, but for a “bad” phone call home, starting out with a “positive” is the #1 mistake made by most teachers. Parents want you to be honest. Don’t placate or pacify them. They don’t want it. They want the truth. (They may not act like it, but they do.)

Here are a few simple points to consider when making the “phone call home”:

  • Calling home is the best tool available for updating parents. I have even made “house calls” to student’s homes that were wonderful, but those were in my early years. E-mail is fantastic and essential in today’s world, but to apprise a parent regarding school issues, nothing beats a phone call.
  • All parents appreciate a phone call home, especially when there is a problem. Never be put off by an angry or upset parent. In psychology they call this transference. They are not really mad at you, but you are the messenger. This problem is easily overcome. (It’s all about the script!)
  • Calling home is an art that requires a deft touch, practice, skill and scripting! (You must learn the necessary scripting!)
  • Make sure you know exactly what to say when before you call a parent (the script!) Have all relevant notes in front of you. It would be helpful to have this class stats in front of you as well. You won’t be quoting from it, but keeping overall class progress in the back of your mind is often helpful.
  • Before you make your first call home (or if you have had poor results in the past) call a colleague and have him or her pretend to be a parent. Have them critique what you said and then make future corrections accordingly.
  • Call from a private location. Some teachers can call in an open teacher’s lounge, but I find that this atmosphere tends to change the tone of the conversation.

Most teachers do not want to call home because:

  • They have had a bad experience calling home in the past and they really don’t want to experience this again (under any circumstances!)
  • They (some teachers) believe that a single negative incident in the student is often not enough to have to deal with the grief a teacher receives from the parent during the phone call. I say they “believe” because if a teacher feels a conversation with a parent or family member is warranted, the phone call is necessary. If there is a problem, do not wait until it gets worse. Think of the doctor finding only one abnormal finding on a blood work-up. Would he say, “I’ll wait until something else pops up to tell the patient. No point worrying him about simple high blood sugar, right”? No. Call today.
  • Often the parents will put the teacher on the defensive and will threatened to “come up to the school” about the issue. Your response? “That would be fine Mrs. Smith. I think we could accomplish having a longer talk so you could see some of William’s work and test scores. We all know that he can be doing better and a sit down might be better for all of us. I am available any day, periods 2 and 6. Please make the front desk know when you arrive.” Period.
  • Students often implement a “preemptive” strike, running home and telling their parent that the teacher (who said he would call today) is the worst person in the world and “He is the worst teacher!” Well, if we can’t overcome that complaint, maybe we are the worst teacher. (After all, someone has to be the worst!)

In spite of the fear and trepidation associated with calling home, teachers genuinely want to keep the parents abreast of all activities occurring in the school that affect the child. They just do not know how to do it effectively. (Again, it is all about the script!) In addition, we know that in order to have a student succeed to his or her potential, there must be an open and honest dialogue between teacher and parent, so whether a teacher feels comfortable calling home or not is irrelevant. Calls must be made and the teacher must make them.

Unfortunately for many teachers, a required phone call home often means they have waited until the student has committed several infractions – too long – to place the dreaded call. And at this point, what else could be expected but dread? This is the absolute worse – but most critical – time to call, because the teacher should be prepared to hear, “Why are you calling now? Why didn’t you call when this first happened?” And you know what? That parent will be 100% right! You will be the bad guy and worse than that, (because we have all been the bad guy at one time or another), you permitted this behavior to go unchecked until now. You have just lost a hefty amount of credibility in the parent’s view because he/she now knows you are not paying close attention to what their child is doing in school. Once again, they are right!

I find this response is particularly true coming from those parents who are “no strangers” to getting bad news from a teacher. (In other words – parents who receive frequent calls regarding their son or daughter.) In their mind it almost justifies why their child is exhibiting this behavior, because you didn’t catch it the first time around. Once more, they are right! But wait, it gets worse, because if – and now when – anything happens in the future, it will be your fault because you weren’t paying attention in the first place. You weren’t doing your job.

Remember: Call early, call often, and call well.

Dr. Michael Cubbin,  Teacher Practice Management Consulting what

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If you do, you will:

  • never have accurate data
  • never be able to set correct baselines for goal setting
  • never be able to use your data to achieve goals or strategize
  • never be able to fully – or correctly – realize your ability to teach
  • never be able to trend your students accurately
  • and you will never develop usable plans for professional growth and development

In addition, your students will:

  • never know how much (or how little) they learned
  • never know what they are capable of achieving
  • never be able to set accurate goals for themselves
  • never be able to develop strategies for growth and development
  • never be prepared to take on more difficult challenges

I imagine we all heard the following at one time or another.

  • “Nobody fails in my class.”
  • “She’s a ‘90s’ teacher. No one in her class ever receives under a 90.”
  • “Since it’s your first year here, and just so you know, NOBODY ever fails.” (wink, wink.)
  •  “Why would I fail anyone and risk a bad evaluation at the end of the year?”
  • “If anyone is failing in June, I have them make a poster or do something to pass.”


To pass a student who should rightly fail (a test, a quiz, a homework assignment, class, etc…) is the worst thing a teacher can do.

That’s right, passing a failing student is the #1 worst thing a teacher can do. It ranks up there – and may actually eclipse – failing to complete student work the same day it is handed in. Changing grades is the most undermining contribution to a student’s failure, but above all else – it invalidates your data. Putting aside creating and submitting inaccurate school data for the moment, entering a “false grade” will make it virtually impossible to reliably measure any improvement of your skills as a teacher. Your improvement will now be based on unsound and worthless data.

Do we ever really think about this at all? Does anyone ever question how cavalierly a grade can be “upped” or how nonchalantly a peer might say, “Lets’ just give him a 65 and get him out of here.” Don’t we ever think this will come back to haunt us, or is it just viewed as the price of “doing business” in schools today? I think it is both, and just one more reason why we need to look at education as seen trough the “lens” of other professions. If a CEO alters the company books and is discovered, they are tossed out and perhaps even criminally prosecuted. If a doctor makes any changes to a patient’s records, he or she is very likely to lose their license and may be liable to criminal prosecution. No, I am not suggesting we fire every teacher who has ever changed a grade, or to have them criminally prosecuted. Who would teach our students? I am merely pointing out the significance placed on legal and official documents in all other professions, except teaching. Report cards are still considered legal documents, aren’t they? What I am suggesting is that beginning this September, if you are a teacher who has altered one or one hundred grades (we can all see ourselves in that mirror at one time or another in our careers), resolve to never change another grade. This is will do more for your professional development than anything ever could.

We love to say, “We are the ones who are responsible for teaching all other professions.” This is true, so would you want the doctor, who you taught, to “fudge” your electrocardiogram because you were trying so hard to lose weight he didn’t want to discourage you. Or would you want your accountant, who knew you were struggling with money to “alter” your income taxes to make it look like actually made more money because he wanted you to see some kind of improvement? How about your family practitioner lowering your blood pressure medicine so you could feel your new exercise program is finally reaping the rewards you had hoped for?

While in practice, other doctors would brag about their numbers. “I saw 400 patients this week!” “I had 20 new patients on Saturday!” To know the truth, we could just divide their numbers by two. So many doctors “fibbed” about how many patients they treated because many weren’t using their data to increase and grow their practices. When questioned, many of these same doctors didn’t even know what their numbers were!

Your grades are your data. If work within a Professional Learning Community (PLC) and use common quizzes, tests, etc… (which you should be doing anyway) and your grades are lower or higher than your peers, START USING THAT DATA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE! Learn how your teaching skills will never improve by having someone point out your every deficit. YOU are the only person who can develop yourself, and the only way is to have accurate grades and use them to set benchmarks, goals (short and long), analyze every statistic available, and create strategies. Don’t wait around for someone else to tell you how to hold your chalk or write a Do Now. Just remember, don’t change a single grade. If a student is failing, use that data to guide you to different strategies for different outcomes. No one knows you or your students better than you. Yes, observations and coaching has made many teachers feel as though they will fail without outside “divine guidance”, but don’t let that fool you. Use the internet to pick up new techniques, read books, and do your peer intervisitations. There is so much you can do once you know what your “numbers” are. But if those numbers are skewed, you’ll be chasing your tail forever.

It’s not the “lying” about student successes that is the worst of it (though that is certainly not the best), but the FAULTY DATA (student grades) that is just so wrong and counterproductive to professional development and growth. If this practice doesn’t end soon, it will be our death knell. If you think you are being “overly-observed” now, just wait. Why do you think teachers are observed with such frequency? In other words, what would give administrators a reason to think we need to have our “teaching skills” reviewed over and over again? How about this:

Students are passing their classes, but are performing poorly on their standardized tests (Regents, SAT, SHSAT, ACT, NYSESLAT, etc…). Does that make sense to anyone? If student quarterly averages were in synch with standardized tests, would there be as great a need to observe teachers? Maybe, but if you were an administrator, what would you do? It seems only reasonable that you must see for yourself how the students are being taught – to observe the teacher’s “skills.” While using data in this manner to determine the etiology of the problem is undoubtedly the most rudimentary, simplistic and superficial approach possible, but our statistics that demonstrate a “disconnect” between passing year-end averages and poor standardized test grades begs investigation, hence… the observations.

Our conclusions (excuses) when the kids fail standardized tests? Those damn tests ask the wrong questions, are biased, confuse the students, and create such emotional stress that our kids can’t possibly pass them. Did we ever think that by inflating student grades that we are “passing” the student, but at the same time “failing” them in a whole different light? Possibly for the rest of their lives?

And yes, it is lying. We all tell white lies now and then, but none of our “fibs” affect the rest of your life in any meaningful way. But altering a grade so that a student passes when they should not have? That is changing the face of education.

How many of our high school graduates are unprepared for college work? The latest poll for New York City show that less than one-third of high school graduates are “college ready” and a majority now require up to two years of non-credit remedial English and math work. How can this be? They earned grades sufficient to pass their classes didn’t they? We “graduated” them, didn’t we? Colleges accepted them didn’t they? So where did it all go wrong?

We lied about their grades (OK, to make is a little more palatable, we’ll call it “fixing.”) We “fixed” their grades, just like old-time boxing promoters who, to make certain of the outcome, would make sure a fight was fixed.

Incidentally, this article just came today Why did NYC let me graduate high school?

So how to fix this problem is schools?

Short term – Instead of observing teachers, it would be more beneficial for a principal or AP to sit with a teacher after their students take a quiz, test, mid-term, or semester final and review the papers together. A second set of “non-judgmental” eyes can make a big difference. Look for quality of questions, grading policies, attention to content, etc…

Long term – First, keep accurate records: grades, parent communications, behavior issues, etc… Second, work with a teacher practice management consultant who will provide solutions, using statistical analysis of existing teacher and student data to increase your performance while developing plans for increasing student improvement. We can objectively diagnose problems to help set goals, prioritize work, manage time and help guide your professional decisions. You do the rest!

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What is your ROI for Teacher Observations?

ROI – Return on Investment.

In business, the term “return on investment” (ROI) is used to measure the “rate of return” on money invested in a commercial venture that will decide whether or not to continue down that particular road. It quantifies risk. Experienced businesspeople find that taking the time to calculate an ROI is good business. First-time entrepreneurs often act on impulse believing that just because something sounds like a good idea to help their business grow it must be, often resulting in money spent foolishly and needlessly.

With all the talk and controversy surrounding teacher observations, let’s apply ROI – Return on Investment principles to see if teacher evaluations are worth the time, money and aggravation. Here’s the math:

To demonstrate how easy it is to calculate an ROI for any situation, we’ll use your own LinkedIn account to calculate the ROI for increasing you’re the number of people who viewed you profile in the past (since I assume no one is looking to decrease the number of viewings.)

Here is the standard ROI formula we will be using:

ROI = Net Profit (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment x 100

Open a new tab at the top of your screen and go to your LinkedIn “Home” page. Look at the following:

  • Click on the number of people who have viewed your profile in the past 90 days

We have to assign a value (the same unit) to both profit and cost. We must apply an arbitrary unit, but you can think of this number in terms of “value” or dollars. Using an arbitrary value for this LinkedIn exercise is fine, since ROI’s are used to determine worth, dollars or value, it is for our understanding only. Here are the terms we will use:

Cost of investment (The value of the time you worked on increasing your profile)

Gain from Investment (The total money, goodwill, clients, value, etc… you gained from the time invested)

Net Profit (Gain from Investment – Cost of investment)


Example #1:

  • Gain from Investment – 300 people viewed your profile in the past 90 days. You rate this a 500, since your ranking has never gone over 20. This is great!
  • Cost of Investment – You spent a mere 3 hours working on the LinkedIn site in addition to your regular job schedule of 40 hours/week. The value is low because the investment was so little. You spent almost no time on LinkedIn. In turn, you got to spend lots of time with your family, your wife is loves you for always being home (and cooked you a big juicy steak to prove it), and your kids took you to see the new Jurassic Park movie. They even took your neighbor Mr. Smith since he is your best friend! All this for a mere 3 hours of investment. So you rate this a 50.
  • Let’s calculate your ROI:

ROI = Net Profit (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment x 100

  • ROI = Net Profit (500 – 50) / 50 x 100
  • ROI = 900% (that’s a positive 900%! This is a great investment!)

When you first saw your profile views over 300, you thought, “This is great! I did nothing and got a great return and got a couple of new leads!” But you didn’t know exactly how great until you ran the numbers. Now you have a baseline to compare to in the future. So for a little effort, you got a good return on your investment.


Example #2:

  • Gain from Investment – 1,113 people viewed your profile in the past 3 days. WOW! You rate this a 500, since your ranking has never gone over 700. This is great!
  • Cost of Investment – 35 hours spent working on the LinkedIn site in addition to your regular job schedule of 60 hours/week. You spent a LOT of time on LinkedIn, very little time with your family, your wife is mad at you, and your kids went to the ball game with your neighbor, Mr. Smith. In fact they think Mr. Smith is their father since they see him more than the see you. Not good, so you rate this a 2000. (The cost was very high.)
  • Let’s calculate your ROI:

ROI = Net Profit (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment x 100

  • ROI = Net Profit (500 – 2000) / 2000 x 100
  • ROI = -75%  That’s a negative 75% (If you lose money or worth – or if there is a loss – the formula will yield a negative number.)

When you first saw your profile views climb over 1000, you thought, “This is great! All that extra work was worth the effort!” That was until you were sleeping on the couch, your kids didn’t recognize you and you received no leads for all your hard work”. After doing the math, you can see this was not a good investment? Definitely not L


Now let’s calculate the ROI for your Teacher Evaluations: Here is our 1st example: (actual values may differ for evaluators. Understand this is a hypothetical situation, but I am sure some points will hit home.)

Teacher Observation Example #1:

  • Gain from Investment

– You performed 100 formal Teacher Observations this year, in addition to multiple weekly informal (graded) walk-throughs.

– Teachers are usually a little nervous, in fact many of them appeared almost apprehensive of the process.

– You were quite and sat in the back. To be honest, you didn’t even see entire observations as you spent most of your time typing and checking off boxes on your IPad. The new program seemed like a good idea, but you find it does distract from observing as you weren’t even watching entire lessons. In fact you think, “Do I really need to be checking so many boxes? This should be easier.”

– Post-obs were routine. You showed teachers where they were coming up short – even the experienced teachers – and said how you are confident they will improve. Pluses were pointed out, but no matter how many times you observe them, they routinely demonstrate deficits in their teaching. Will they never get it right?

– No one said anything to you “pro or con” days or weeks after their observations. A lot of time goes into these observations with the intention of developing teachers, yet you failed to hear one comment about how the observation assist in their development or growth. This surprised you. Wouldn’t you think teachers would be thankful for the guidance you provided?

– The end of the year came and went without much of a bang. Gone were the years filled with pre-summer tears and hugs like you were sending your first-born off to college. It seemed as if they couldn’t get out that door quick enough!

– Student scores did not increase appreciably, in fact some departments even showed a drop in the number of students reaching proficiency. You found this unusual because these were the departments that were most frequently observed and where maximum effort was put forth to have them correct deficiencies in teacher skills and competence.

– You rate this a 500, since you failed to witness much change in the performance of your staff.

  • Cost of Investment

– You spent 50% of your day (and thus 50% of your year) observing staff and teachers. This took away from the time you would have rather interacted and supported them in more personal ways, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day.

– Your paperwork load was typically heavy. Even though the AP’s were able to pick up a good deal of the slack, you wanted to observe as many teachers as you could since their growth fall on your shoulders.

So you rate this a 2000. The value is high because the investment was so great. Lots of time invested – do the teachers even realize how much? This took up so much time, yet with little to show for it. You left the building every day like a giant weight was being lifted from your shoulders – and very tired. Family life? If there is time, maybe…

  • Let’s calculate your ROI:

ROI = Net Profit (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment x 100

  • ROI = Net Profit (500 – 2000) / 2000 x 100
  • ROI = -75% (that’s a negative 75%! This is not the wisest investment.)

Your ROI is low, but having taught math, you know that if the variables change, then the outcome can change as well. Time to try something different…

Teacher Observation Example #2:

  • Gain from Investment

– You performed 50 formal Teacher Observations this year, in addition to dozens of weekly “zero-stakes” walk-throughs.

– Teachers and students were always happy to see you coming in. They all greeted you with a big, “Good Morning Mrs. A!”

– You complimented both teachers and students (teachers are nervous when a principal enters the room so these new informal walk-throughs help them to feel at ease) and you could see their appreciation immediately 🙂

– You began a formal program of inter-visitations for teachers this year. If successful, you hope to eliminate formal observations all together – part of how you are seeking to have teachers become more self-actualized instead of having to “be told” what to do for each successive evaluation. They loved the idea and were able to see “modeling” at its best through colleagues’ work. One half of these evaluations were “self-generated”, the other half were “peer-generated.

– Your teachers thank you at the end of the year for making it such a great experience for their growth and the students’ successes. They shower you with accolades.

– You rate this a 1000, since you know how hard it can be for a principal to build trust in their staff and it paid off BIG based on how they showed their appreciation. You did this by allowing them to learn by inter-visiting with colleagues and to see for themselves the same mistakes you saw, but allowed the teachers to correct on their own.

  • Cost of Investment

– You spent only about 20% of your day observing and being visible to staff and teachers. This is down from about 50% last year.

– Your paperwork load was reduced as the informal walk-throughs required substantially less time to document and discuss later on.

– So you rate this a 500. The value is low because the investment was so little. You spent much less time than last year accomplishing the same tasks with improved results. You left work feeling a little lighter and so you enjoyed your family more when you were home.

  • Let’s calculate your ROI:

ROI = Net Profit (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment x 100

  • ROI = Net Profit (1000 – 500) / 500 x 100
  • ROI = 100% (that’s a positive 100%! This is a great investment!)

When you decided to change your approach to observing teachers you were unsure how it would go over, but WOW, what a surprise! The atmosphere in the school was brighter, students seemed more engaged since you were spending more time with them in their environments. You didn’t the idea of using a random factor for the value, but at least now you have a baseline from which to gauge the program for next year. Less effort, increased ROI Success!

Try it. Do the math for this past year and see what your numbers tell you. Use any value for “worth” that you like. If you have questions, please ask.   Teacher Practice Management Consulting

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I honestly do not know.

When I started teaching, the idea of being “evaluated” was a foreign – almost bizarre – concept. As a doctor who had completed my studies and subsequent internship I was deemed “qualified” to treat patients. For fifteen years no one ever stopped by my office to check-up, or to observe, how I practiced. My success was based on outcomes – the improved health of my patients. It seemed normal – one might say logical. It was the same for all professionals I worked with: orthopedists, radiologists, physical therapists, and physiologists. Our training, followed by successfully passing of both national and state boards, qualified us to diagnose and treat patients. No one ever looked over our shoulder to see if we were “practicing” correctly. We were judged on the progress and outcome of those we treated. We never questioned our professional competency. Teachers should feel this way as well.

Fast forward fifteen years. I begin my second professional career in education. Only this time my qualifications serve only to secure employment and I am now subject to regular observations – both announced and unannounced – which will determine the security of my employment. Teacher observations, based less on outcome – student progress and achievement – and more on “demonstrations” cover a narrow range of teaching skills. Student trending and progress are not routinely factored into the evaluative equation and only the final grades seem important. I have been fortunate and have always earned “satisfactory” evaluations, but many excellent teachers have not been so lucky.

Being observed was weird at first – and it is still weird today. Here I was, a doctor who dreamed of passing his expertise on to young minds. I interviewed (twice), then the demo lesson, was hired and given a room. Life was good! Given my extensive background of diagnosing and treating thousands of patients, I was showing my middle-schoolers things that they would never see anywhere else. Then came word that I was going to be “observed.” Really? But you just hired me! Is now the best time to gauge if I know what I am doing – after you hire me? I thought you hired me because you thought I was qualified. Apparently not.

Was everything OK? Did I do something wrong? Could they look through my facade and see I wasn’t a teacher, but just a guy who knew a lot about science? Could they see that I was really a fraud? I didn’t know the answer then, but 15 years later no matter how it is presented – this is just how the observation feels – like they are looking for something.

Since I was new to this profession, I was also visited by a union rep who reassured me that everything was fine and this is just standard operating procedure. S.O.P.? How could that be? In fifteen years as a doctor, no one ever came to my office to observe or evaluate me – to watch and make sure I was doing everything correctly. And if anyone should have been evaluated, wouldn’t it be someone whose job it was to manipulate your spine? She reassured me everything was fine. So I took it in stride and acquiesced – as if I had a choice – to being “observed” (even the term observe is a bit sinister). From then on, I never truly understood why I needed to be checked on… several times each year. The key take-aways I have gleaned from my post-observations have been procedural points I omitted, but needed to include during the next observation. (Observation still sounds sinister!)

And so began my journey of asking, “Why are teachers observed?” Fifteen years later, I am still asking.

I ask because it is difficult to understand why there is no other profession that observes or evaluates their professionals the way we do in education. Why is the “courtesy” of professional competence afforded to your doctor or your dentist, yet not afforded to teachers?

So often the same principals evaluate the same teachers for the same skills or tasks year after year. Do they think teachers will forget how to do these things? Why can’t they assume – as they do for other professionals – the teacher’s mastery actually develops and improves with time? And if they are unsure about how qualified we are, isn’t that what our internship (“student teaching”) was supposed to evaluate? If you can’t teach, wasn’t your supervising teacher supposed to help you to improve? So why the need for regular classroom evaluations once you are hired? Isn’t student improvement the gold standard for school success?

Most every professional does an internship where they develop skills sufficient to demonstrate competence in their chosen field. Student teaching is our internship. Let’s take a look at a few other professions and see how their internships compare:

  • Surgeons – How many of us have sought out our doctor based on the time they have been in practice and how many times they have successfully performed the surgical procedure we require? Internationally, doctors are required to complete anywhere from a 1-2 year internship under the supervision of an experienced physician. After that, they are free to practice their profession. This is similar to our 6-12 month period of student teaching.
  • Lawyers and accountants – We might ask either of these professionals, “How long have you been doing this?” to determine their competency. That usually suffices. In the case of lawyers, we want to know if they have successfully represented our type of case before we retain their services. The requirements for lawyer internships varies from a certain amount of hours to unpaid summer internships at established law firms. Accountants have no such requirement, but in both cases interning is invaluable in bridging the gap between classwork and fieldwork. After that, they are free to practice their profession. This is similar to our 6-12 month period of student teaching.
  • Dentists – Like doctors, dentists are required to intern, some programs up to a year. After that, they are free to practice their profession. This is similar to our 6-12 month period of student teaching.

So why – after completing the required university work and subsequent internship – are these professionals not evaluated yearly the same as teachers? Some professionals in groups or large practices might be evaluated – but not for their professional acumen, or expertise, but solely on their contribution to the organization. Their results. So why are teachers – equivalent in professional standing – required to undergo regular evaluations to merit competency?

To that point, “Why, in spite of successful 30 to 35 year tenures, are veteran teachers still evaluated?”   Teacher Practice Management Consulting

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What do we expect from students?

So often the discussion revolves around “teacher expectations,” and that is important. But since it is all about the student, then why aren’t we focusing more on “student” expectations first? Here are a few that should top any list. These are intended for middle and high school students, but could also apply to levels up and down of there are well.

Student Expectations

  1. Age Appropriate Behavior – We know that all students mature (as well as learn) at different rates, but by eliminating the “outlier” behavior, we can arrive a a mutually agreeable range of behaviors consistent with each grade level.
  2. Student Participation – If a student does not understand, they should raise their hand and ask. Teaching students how to become better questioners far outweighs the current belief dictating teachers sharpen their “questioning the student” skills. The current belief that teachers need to become better questioners rather than introduce content in a manner that will elicit better student questions is an unusual pedagogical tactic at best.
  3. Discuss any problems regarding this class with me as soon as they come up – Students are forever at the ready to point out grading errors, seating problems, obnoxious neighbor, and the like to a teacher’s attention, but questions from them regarding how, when, where, and how much to study do not usually reach the teacher’s desk, yet they should. How to broach these questions to a teacher needs to be explained and encouraged from students. Spoken or not, they are seeking our guidance.
  4. Students must take notes – Another outlier is the student who never has to take a single note and earns 100%’s all day long. Students must have not only their notebooks open, but their weekly planner/agenda calendar open as well to jot down any upcoming deadline made both on the board or in passing. Awareness of those passing comments may have greater impact in the overall outcome of a class than jotting them down as they are added to daily homework on the board. We are also obliged to show students how to take notes clearly, concisely and with as much brevity as the note itself will allow. In other words, they just cannot copy everything.
  5. Homework and Reading is expected to be done on time – If you’ve ever seen the movie “Stand and Deliver” about the teaching of Jaime Escalante, then you have seen my classroom. My student expectations are the same. Homework done when assigned, daily quizzes and weekly (if it works out that way) tests are the route we take. If work is not completed on time, parents must be notified. I repeat, IF ANY ONE HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT IS NOT COMPLETED ON TIME, THE PARENT MUST BE NOTIFIED. this is non-negotiable and the significance of the assignment is irrelevant. If it was assigned with a due date and it was not completed, the parent must be notified. This is very easily accomplished with any reasonably adequate electronic grade book (EGB). No phone calling home for this – an EGB worth it’s salt can accomplish this easily with a text. If your EGB cannot do this, buy one that can. If you don’t, the issue of receiving late homework will no longer be the primary problem of the student. The teacher will now be complicit in late homework being submitted.
  6. Students must make an active attempt to learn the information given to them – I have often used the three expressions: “You cannot read just to read. You must read to learn”, “What is the point of reading if you are not going to remember?” and my favorite “Repetition is the mother of retention.” They must also be told that since this is usually new material, reading it once may not do the trick. Reading it twice, or thrice, may not do it either. They need to understand that reading until they understand and remember what they have read is how it is done.
  7. Students must do work outside of the class (and this does not mean just homework) – With the volume of free learning materials out there today – Kahn Academy, YouTube videos, etc… – there is not reason why a student cannot take an additional 10-15 minutes to watch a video that will help “cement” an idea within a student’s thinking.
  8. Some additional dos and don’ts…Don’t ask questions about the material if you haven’t done the reading. Don’t ask general questions such as, “Could you explain Chapter 10?” Don’t ask personal questions in class such as, “When can I take my make-up test?” Don’t offend your teacher: falling asleep in class, reading – or texting- under the desk, being late repeatedly or chatting socially in class. Do plan short and long term for upcoming tests and projects. Do get notes from another student if you were absent. Do read the chapter and ask questions you still don’t understand after a few readings. Do act respectfully and courteously to both the teacher and classmates. These “Do’s” go a long way in earning the respect and appreciation of both the teacher and your fellow students.

These expectations are pretty clear in both meaning and intent. There are a few more, but these are the foundation. All students should easily be able to follow them on a daily basis. I understand there are exceptions to any set of expectations, especially in middle school, but the word “exception” says it all. These cases are meant to be dealt with exceptionally and are not meant to morph into the rule. Which brings up another pet peeve of mine when speaking with colleagues. I often hear how rules are not enforced or the exception has now become the rule. Students expect the expectations you have set for them to be adhered to, and the vast majority are none too pleased when the exception for a few who are not doing what they should suddenly becomes the rule. It is not fair to those who are doing what it is you asked of them and it is equally unfair to the the others as well as sending these “crossed signals” will not help them grow and improve as we (and their parents!) expect from them attending our school.

By following a clear set of expectations, we help elementary, middle and high school students understand what their next year’s teachers are going to be requiring of them. If they are in college, we are demonstrating what will be expected of them from their future employers. Either way, we are doing what we are supposed to be doing – preparing them to be positive, productive citizens in their communities.

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