School Improvement in Maryland

A Principal's Role in Structuring Regular Examinations of Student Work

Principals play a critical role in setting the expectation that planning and examining student work and performance data should be an ongoing, collaborative process. Principals need to provide time for this to happen. They need to consider how they could use staff meetings or other meeting times to build capacity and set expectations for how teams or departments will examine student work as a regular activity at their team meetings. Principals must also monitor the process and products and recognize it when it is successful.

Principals need to

  • Set expectations
  • Find and structure time
  • Model engagement in the process
  • Monitor process and end products
  • Recognize / showcase

They must address the following questions:

  • How and how often do you expect these teams of teachers to collaboratively plan and examine evidence of student learning?
  • How can you communicate these expectations and the high priority you place on it?
  • What do you want the end product(s) to look like?
  • How can teachers demonstrate that they have used this information to make the kinds of instructional decisions that would result in improved student achievement?

How do you structure the team meetings?

The principal's role in structuring regular time for teams to examine data and student work is similar to the role that Rick DuFour, superintendent of Adlai Stevenson High School District 125 in Illinois, describes as his role in shifting the focus from what was being taught to what was being learned in his article, The Learning-Centered Principal, "As principal, I played an important role in initiating, facilitating, and sustaining the process of shifting our collective focus from teaching to learning. To make collaborative teams the primary engine of our school improvement efforts, teachers needed time to collaborate. Teachers, accustomed to working in isolation, needed focus and parameters as they transitioned to working in teams. They needed a process to follow and guiding questions to pursue. They needed training, resources, and support to overcome difficulties they encountered while developing common outcomes, writing common assessments, and analyzing student achievement data. They needed encouragement, recognition, and celebration as they progressed. They needed someone to confront those individuals or teams of teachers who failed to fulfill their responsibilities."

Examining student work is a critical component of the planning process. It provides critical data to inform instruction, particularly what re-teaching needs to happen and what feedback to students helps them improve performance. Teachers need to meet regularly to plan strategies to attain student achievement goals, analyze performance data and student work, and identify instructional implications. The focus of these team meetings is an ongoing examination of what students know and can do and what they still need to learn so that teachers can appropriately focus their instruction. Teachers need to do much of this work in grade level teams, but must also meet with vertical teams on occasion to ensure an instructional continuum of increasing rigor as students move into higher grades.

Teams of teachers need to collaboratively engage in a cycle of planning activities:

  • Plan with the end in mind
  • Reach consensus on what proficiency looks like
  • Create assessments for students to demonstrate proficiency
  • Examine student work
  • Examine monitoring data
  • Identify instructional implications
  • Revise plan as appropriate

Because some teams have formed a practice of using their team planning time for logistics and administrivia, this new use of team time to examine student work may be a hard sell for teachers. Principals have found that structuring the team meeting with some guiding questions about student work will help teams understand the role of collaboration. Identifying end products gives teams clarity on what they need to accomplish, provides useful products for their classrooms, and provides useful information to the principal and other interested members of the staff about how students are progressing and what teachers are planning to do about students who aren't demonstrating proficiency.

In a JSD (Journal of Staff Development) article entitled, In the Right Context, Rick DuFour says that creating an appropriate structure for teacher collaboration is vitally important, but also insufficient. Principals must do more than organize teacher teams and hope for the best. They must provide the focus, parameters, and support to help teams function effectively. Principals who are staff development leaders must:

  1. Provide time for collaboration in the school day and school year. Providing time for teachers to work together does not require keeping students at home and/or an infusion of new resources. Principals as staff development leaders work with staff to identify no-cost strategies that enable teachers to work together on a regular basis while students are on campus.
  2. Identify critical questions to guide the work of collaborative teams. The impact of providing time for teachers to engage in collective inquiry will be determined to a great extent by the nature of the questions teachers are considering. Principals must help teams frame questions that focus on critical issues of teaching and learning.
  3. Ask teams to create products as a result of their collaboration. The best way to help teachers use their collaborative time productively is to ask them to produce and present artifacts in response to the critical questions they are considering. Examples might include statements of student outcomes by units of instruction, development of new units to address gaps between state standards and local curriculum, creation of common assessments and rubrics, articulation of team protocols or norms to guide the interactions of team members, or formulation of improvement plans based on analysis of student achievement data.
  4. Insist that teams identify and pursue specific student achievement goals. The driving force behind the effort to create a collaborative culture must be improved results. Principals foster improved results when they ask teaching teams to identify and pursue specific, measurable student achievement goals.
  5. Provide teams with relevant data and information. When every teacher has access to information on his or her students performance in meeting agreed upon standards, on valid assessments, in comparison to other students trying to achieve the same standards, both individual teachers and teams improve their effectiveness.

Dan Galloway, principal of Stevensville High School, shares, "To keep teachers from using planning time for routine activities like grading papers, Galloway requires his teachers to produce common assessments, rubrics, data analysis on assessment, and strategies for improving. They were not asked to submit agendas or minutes of meetings, but rather the products they produced."