Top Atlanta Teachers Put Good Teaching on Display

Students sitting in English class

Eighth graders in Naja Freeman’s English language arts class practice their debating skills.
Credit: Reform Support Network

Demonstration classroom teachers help peers improve their instruction.

On a recent morning in Atlanta, eighth-grade English language arts (ELA) teacher Naja Freeman sat in the media center at Bunche Middle School describing to two visiting teachers the lesson she was about to deliver to her 27 students. Freeman told her visitors that she was going to use the Socratic Method, posing questions designed to get her students to think critically and discuss reading material aloud, while weaving in a lesson on metaphors.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” she said as she told the others to join her in the classroom at the end of the hall. “I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out.”

Freeman is a demonstration teacher—one of about 12  elementary, middle and high school standouts in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) who volunteered to open up their classrooms and allow colleagues to observe and learn from them. The program began in school year (SY) 2013–2014 with the costs covered by Race to the Top and district funds. The costs include a $1,500 stipend for the demonstration teachers, convening the demonstration teachers, salaries for substitute teachers filling in for the visiting teachers and, more recently, video technology to record the demonstration lessons so that more teachers can see them.

Georgia, like more than 20 States across the country, adopted more rigorous college- and career-ready standards for English language arts and mathematics. To implement the standards, teachers are providing opportunities for students to do critical thinking and problem solving, read more complex texts, and communicate their ideas. The standards require a shift in teaching practices and the demonstration classes are helping Atlanta teachers make that shift.

Typically, new teachers are afforded opportunities to watch more experienced mentors in action; however, Atlanta’s demonstration classrooms are open to all teachers, new and experienced alike.

The project showcases teachers who know the content, have a solid grasp on Georgia’s new college- and career-ready standards and are able to effectively engage students in their learning. It is one of many professional development tools the district relies on to help teachers improve their instruction, and it stands out for its innovative approach. Teachers say they like that the demonstration classrooms occur during the school day and offer them a chance to see what really works with students in a classroom led by one of their peers, instead of listening to lectures by non-teacher experts after school or on weekends.

Dr. Qualyn McIntyre, APS’ lead induction specialist, said the district chose the demonstration teachers based on interviews, recommendations, a classroom observation and their willingness to learn, even as they teach others. “We wanted reflective practitioners, because as long as you want to grow, you’ll help others grow,” she said.

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National Blue Ribbon Schools Series: Reinforcing Interventions for Success Anaconda High School, Anaconda, Montana

In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.

Anaconda High School is located in an old mining community in the southwestern region of Montana, a region that has seen significant economic change. As a result, the school’s enrollment is falling, and more families qualify for low-income assistance. The school now serves 314 students. Forty-two percent of them are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, and the special education population is twice the State average.

To meet all students’ needs, Anaconda partnered with a nearby community college to offer dual credit in seven classes. That allows students who pass those classes to start college with as many as 24 credits. The school works with the colleges to ensure that its graduates are ready to study college-level technical classes right from the start, without having to take remedial classes. A partnership with the Montana Digital Academy lets students take advanced classes in mathematics, science, technology and foreign languages. Another program makes it possible for students to obtain certification in a trade while still in school. Collectively, these programs give students the opportunity to make their own educational goals and pursue them.

This graphic has a quote from Paul Furthmyre, the principal of Anaconda High School: “The key is to know what the big audacious goal is and to not change the goal even if you don’t get the results you want right away.”The school is making significant strides in improving student performance, increasing the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the State mathematics test from 37 percent in school year (SY) 2008–2009 to 61 percent in SY 2012–2013. At the same time, the school’s graduation rate has steadily increased, reaching 81 percent in SY 2012–2013.  Attendance is up and tardiness and referrals for discipline are down.

Q. How do you promote improvements in student achievement?

Paul Furthmyre, principal: A lot has been thrown at our staff, and I am really proud of their resiliency. We were losing students and staff. So we formed a leadership team with an English teacher, science teacher, librarian, special education teacher and intervention teacher. The team identified the assessments we needed to get data on student needs as well as the strategies that could meet their needs.

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National Blue Ribbon Schools Series: Open to New Ideas Stella May Swartz Elementary School, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois

Students at Stella May Swartz cheering

Students and teachers at Stella May Swartz Elementary School celebrate after learning their school had been designated a 2014 Blue Ribbon School.
Credit: Angeline Ross

In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.

 Stella May Swartz Elementary School, a grade 2–4 school located in suburban Chicago, has a diverse student body of 160 students, 45 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In 2012, 100 percent of the school’s third-grade students met or exceeded State standards in mathematics, and 91 percent met or exceeded State standards in reading on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. The school uses Title I funds for reading specialists, reading materials and professional development.

In 2011, nearby Salt Creek Primary, which serves pre-kindergarten through first grade students, and Swartz adopted a new reading and language arts program that provided teachers with a wealth of materials, allowing them to differentiate instruction according to students’ needs. The materials were more advanced but students were able to rise to the challenge. Teachers closely monitored students’ progress and used data to tailor interventions to their specific needs. The staff took a similar approach in mathematics.

Q. How do you promote teacher and leader effectiveness?

 Angeline Ross, principal: Our teachers never say no and keep things positive—we are trying to teach that behavior to our students. Our teachers are always trying something new—we introduce at least one new strategy each year. One year it was guided reading; another year it was using smart boards. Our teachers are always brainstorming and problem solving because they care about more than just the kids in their grade levels. They care about all kids. I try to schedule common planning time for the teachers and they team teach. We also do a lot of professional development. I will go to a professional development workshop and bring information back to the school or bring in an outsider to the school.

Deborah Butman, fourth-grade teacher: It starts with the principal. She gets her hands dirty and is very collaborative, suggesting different ways to teach a specific piece. If the principal is willing to take risks and be open with teachers, teachers will be more open with each other and with the kids.

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National Blue Ribbon Schools Series: Rigorous Expectations in a Supportive Environment University High School, Fresno, California

University High School Building

University High School, Fresno, California.
Credit: University High School Permission: University High School

In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.

University High School in Fresno, California, is a grade 9–12 college-prep public charter school. The school focuses on liberal arts and music and is located on the campus of California State University, Fresno. The high school has about 500 students, and all of them graduate having earned as much as two years of college credits. The school draws students who want a college-prep education from 35 zip codes in 9 cities.

In school year (SY) 2012–2013, the school earned the seventh best score in the State on the California Academic Performance Index. Ninety-seven percent of students scored proficient or advanced in reading on the State test.

Q. What strategies do you use to promote high performance among students?

James Bushman, principal: It starts with our belief that kids can do rigorous work. We are a college prep school, requiring students to take four years of English, with Advanced Placement (AP) both junior and senior years; three to four years of a foreign language, including two years of Latin; four years of science, including college courses in biology and environmental science; and four years of math, including Algebra II freshman year and AP Calculus and Statistics in junior or senior years. We also require students to take music all four years. And all of our students graduate having taken at least one year of college courses.

We also have a required elective session at the end of each semester. These elective sessions vary from seven to ten days but all students sign up for one or two intensive classes during this period. These classes provide students a unique experience separate from the academic work they take during the regular semester.

Because all students are required to take Algebra II freshman year, everyone must have passed Algebra I with a grade of B or better to be admitted. But Algebra I preparation varies a lot depending on what school our students attended previously, so we are looking at ways to make learning more personalized and student centered.

Jim Torrance, teacher: Another thing we do to promote high performance is our 48 Books initiative, which has contributed to our success in English language arts. We require continuous reading outside of class every year of high school, so we buy a book a month and give a copy to every student for all four years. All of these books are integrated into the English language arts classroom. It becomes a shared library, and we choose books that help them become better adults.

It’s amazing what students can do when they have support and everybody is having the same experience. In my English class, everybody turns in every paper. We aren’t forcing students to be in class.

Bushman: We have an obligation to make sure no child is left behind.

One strategy we use is to focus on character education. Character really does matter. Students treat each other better and are more motivated than in a traditional high school. Five years ago, we wrote a code of character with three pillars: being understanding, being honorable and being studious. It was a joint effort with students and the faculty.

We do a lot to promote the code of character, even before students come to the school. On orientation day, we discuss it and teachers talk about it in the first week. We do surveys and teachers model behavior. You can push hard, but students need a lot of nurturing, and teachers have to respect the students. We have a teaching staff that cares and creates an environment of acceptance and tolerance.

Q. What other strategies do you use?

 Bushman: For the past five years, we also have had students fill out feedback forms for each class they take, which has made our teachers much more responsive. Students will say things to teachers such as “no more pop quizzes, just be clear about expectations.” And teachers are responding to this feedback—the students don’t say the same things about teachers that they did five years ago. In fact, we used to do the survey at the end of the year, but now we do it in December, so we can incorporate the feedback from students into classrooms right away.

 One of things we are proudest of is the environment we created at our school. Parents love it, and students drive an hour each way every day to get there because they couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Teachers say it is the best place to work because they have the autonomy to teach what they want and students love to learn.

You can learn more about University High School’s efforts and success at the here.

National Blue Ribbon Schools Series: Learning by Doing Genesee Community Charter School, Rochester, New York

Students painting around table

Students at Genesee Community Charter School are immersed in art across the curriculum.
Credit: Genesee Community Charter School

In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.

One in four of the 217 kindergarten through sixth-grade students who attend the Genesee Community Charter School (GCCS) are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches and one in ten are students with disabilities. Admission to the school is by lottery but the school has worked hard to bring together a school population that is diverse racially, ethnically and socio-economically. Three-quarters of the school’s third through sixth graders are proficient in both mathematics and English language arts.

GCCS students are immersed in the arts, local history and culture. They learn about science, geography and the social history of Rochester by working with local experts, going on educational field trips and completing projects that often are made public. Classes share their understanding of skills and concepts through music and dance, writing, interactive presentations and media projects. Sixth graders complete what the school calls a “Portfolio Passage,” which gives them a chance to develop written and oral presentation skills and demonstrate how GCCS has prepared them to be active citizens in their community and the wider world. The school received a four-year Federal Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant to advise other schools on how to integrate the arts across their curriculums.

Genesee Community Charter School Principal & curriculum specialist

Lisa Wing, principal, and Lisa O’Malley, curriculum specialist, Genesee Community Charter School
Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Q. How is your curriculum different from other schools’ curricula?

Lisa Wing, principal: We use the Expeditionary Learning curriculum. We’re unique in that we connect children deeply to the place in which they live, which forms a foundation for them to understand how social, natural, geographic, political and economic forces shape people and places over time. We spiral kids through six periods of history on a two-year cycle—three periods per year. The whole school studies the same time period at the same time. We spend a lot of time with the kids out in the community. If we’re studying the early days of the community, we study the seven original settlements along the Genesee River that combined to form Rochester. We visit a graveyard in King’s Landing, led by a local history expert; students take notes about the people buried there and then go back to the school and research them.

Lisa O’Malley, curriculum specialist: To study the effect of immigration on local history, we travel to Ellis Island and we visit the Tenement Museum in Lower Manhattan. We go to Lowell, Massachusetts, to learn about early industry. Our fourth through sixth graders travel all over the country as part of their studies.

Our sixth-grade curriculum focuses on one hot topic in Rochester each year. One year, the city was building an art walk, and the steering committee asked our sixth graders to recommend types of public art that would appeal to children and families. So, the sixth graders studied ancient Roman art, then the science of rust and metal and materials. They learned about how artists choose certain materials for their art. They traveled to five cities known for public art—Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, the District of Columbia and Frederick, Maryland. They came back in the spring and studied more about the role of public art in a community. Then they designed some recommendations and made a presentation to the commission working on the project.

Q. How do you pay for those trips?

 Wing: We pay for most of the cost out of our regular allocation. We ask parents to contribute but we also provide scholarships if they can’t afford it.

Q. How important are the arts in the curriculum?

Genesee students dancing with fans

Dance and art are prominent in the curriculum of the Genesee Community Charter School.
Credit: Genesee Community Charter School

O’Malley: The arts are alive and well in our school in an era when art is often chopped to meet other priorities. In our school, the arts are one of the priorities.

The regular teachers and the art teachers plan curriculum together so that visual arts, music, dance and creative movement become another language that children can use to express what they’re learning in the classroom. That deepens their understanding of a concept, a culture, a time period or the content.

Wing: There are three ways that art connects to content. One is literal: if you’re studying a river you can make river paintings and sing songs about rivers. The second is historical or cultural: you can study the art, music and dance from the time period you’re studying. If you’re studying slavery you can study African drumming. The third is conceptual: you can create art that connects to a big idea. For example, if you’re studying space you might compose music that has cycles in it. If you’re studying rivers, you could choreograph a dance that has movement and change.

Q. How is your school year organized? 

Wing: Our teachers loop with their kids, staying with them for two years: kindergarten and first grade, grades 2–3 and grades 4–5. Sixth graders have a teacher for only one year. Each grade has one class, and each class has two teachers and an assistant. That provides teachers with more flexibility in forming small groups, doing interventions and managing behavior. We have three 12-week sessions each year, and our teachers have three weeks of professional development in August and 12 professional development days during the year. We also let the kids go early on Wednesdays when the teachers work together from 1:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Our kids have more hours of school than usual, but they are spread out differently to give teachers more time to learn and plan and be thoughtful about their work. So, when things such as the Common Core State Standards come along, the teachers don’t freak out because we have time to deal with it and prepare our teachers for those challenges.

Q. How do you decide what to use that professional development time for?

O’Malley: The whole faculty decides what to focus our professional development time on. Our sessions are really dedicated to learning, and they’re structured so that everyone is involved and they really own it. And because we’re all focusing on the same thing, we can dive into the classroom and try things out. We have time to plan our expeditions and critique other teachers’ plans.

You can learn more about Genesee Community Charter School here.

National Blue Ribbon Schools Series: Closing Achievement Gaps Garfield and Harrison Elementary Schools, Brainerd, Minnesota

In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.

Garfield Elementary and Harrison Elementary are two of the six elementary schools in Brainerd (Minnesota) Public Schools, all of which were awarded Blue Ribbon status by the U.S. Department of Education in 2014.

Garfield is a K–4 school with 388 students, of whom 50 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and 20 percent receive special education services. Harrison, also a K–4 school, serves 258 students, 66 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and 16 percent who receive special education services.

On State tests, both schools have reduced achievement gaps significantly. In 2010, Garfield was directed by the Minnesota Department of Education to focus on increasing the reading skills of students with disabilities. Two years later, the State recognized it as a School of Celebration because of the progress it had made. In 2013, it achieved Reward status, meaning that it was among the top 15 percent of the Title I schools in the State based on student proficiency, growth and progress toward closing achievement gaps.

Both schools used Title I money for early literacy interventions such as Reading Recovery and the Leveled Literacy Intervention System.

Picture of Principal Clark

Jonathan Clark, principal, Garfield Elementary School. Credit: Reform Support Network

Q. What did your school do to close achievement gaps?

 Jonathan Clark, Garfield principal: The programs and initiatives that helped Garfield Elementary School win these honors are not fancy, new or secret. They are comprised of hard work, team building, fidelity of instruction and data-driven decision-making.

At Garfield, all teachers, school, staff, and students have the same expectation—that everyone will achieve. We raised our expectations above State standards. All of our students—from gifted and talented to special education—are constantly being challenged.

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Celebrating Progress: Learning Lessons from the 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools

The first in a new series of blog posts with stories about National Blue Ribbon Schools, highlighting ACGC Elementary School in Atwater, Minnesota.

In the fall, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recognized 337 National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2014, based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. The schools were honored at a recognition ceremony in November 2014, and the PROGRESS blog is sharing some of their stories and lessons learned. To hear two principals of National Blue Ribbon Schools talk about the value of the program at the recognition ceremony, watch this video.

The series highlights the stories of 14 schools that, collectively, serve approximately 4700 students and represent 11 States, including three schools from Minnesota and two from Texas. Three of the featured schools are high schools, one is a kindergarten through eighth grade school in a thinly populated area of Alaska and two are traditional elementary schools serving grades kindergarten through sixth. The other eight schools are elementary schools serving different grade configurations.

Strong themes that emerge from the schools’ stories include high expectations for student achievement, a collaborative culture, the use of variety of data to inform decision-making and an openness to new ideas.

Teacher sits on the ground with students around her.

Kindergarten teacher Tricia Lagergren and her students. Credit: ACGC Elementary School

First up is ACGC (Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City) Elementary School in Atwater, Minnesota.

National Blue Ribbon Schools Series: Using Data to Drive Student Success ACGC (Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City) Elementary School, Atwater, Minnesota

The students at ACGC Elementary School come from three small rural communities in Minnesota. Fifty percent of the 400 students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and about 15 to 20 percent of them are students with disabilities.

Three years ago, the school was in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the State and was designated a priority school by the Minnesota Department of Education. Two years later, it had improved to reward status and was among the top 15 percent in the State.

The school used a Federal Early Learning Challenge grant to double pre-kindergarten from two half-days a week to four half-days without increasing the cost for parents. The school also used Title I funding for interventions to support struggling students.

Q. How did your school achieve such a turnaround in only two years?

Kodi Goracke, principal: We kept our School Improvement Plan very focused, starting with creating a safe and welcoming climate. That includes weekly anti-bullying lessons led by the school social worker and providing mental health services. Our staff is key to our success. I am so proud of how dedicated they are; they go out of their way to create the proper climate for learning and connect with parents.

For two years, we also focused on intensive training in the Marzano Framework for Evaluation for all administrators and teaching staff. And we established PLCs [professional learning communities] and set aside time weekly for teachers to come up with strategies for student success and plan ways to reduce achievement gaps, all while focusing on data-driven decision-making. Through this work, we find each other’s strengths and make it okay for teachers to network and share practices. We find different ways to tackle issues—what works for one group one day might not work for another group the next.

Principal Kodi Goracke

Kodi Goracke, principal, ACGC Elementary School.
Credit: Reform Support Network

Q. How do you use data to drive decision-making?

Goracke: At the beginning of the school year, students are given district and curriculum assessments. The teachers use these data to start a year-long data map on each student. Students in the 40th percentile and below are flagged for additional support through our Title I program. In addition, students receive tutoring from Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps to support their growth.

We use the data to help determine how to use what we call WIN—What I Need—time. It’s 30 minutes daily. Teachers, working with Title I and special education teachers, review the data and determine interventions for students. We do that intervention during WIN time for six weeks and then reassess. So we do this four times throughout the year.

We also use informal assessments. Each morning, teachers establish a goal for the day and assess students throughout the day. Students also assess themselves. If they give themselves a 3 or 4, they move on. We use data a lot. Teachers used to have to be reminded to bring data to PLC meetings, now they just do it.

You can learn much more about ACGC Elementary School’s efforts and success here.

Ohio Builds Principals’ Leadership Skills to Increase Student Achievement

A student, seated at his desk, is assisted by a teacher who stands over him and looks at the student's work.

Photo Credit: US Department of Education

Lessons in leadership and management from business applied to turning around low-performing schools.

In her first assignment as a principal, Maria Carlson led a small school in Cleveland where 40 percent of the students were receiving special education services and a third were learning English.

“There was a whole perception that ‘We’re the kids who can’t succeed, and that’s why they put us all together,’” she said. “The kids would say, ‘No one expects anything from us except for us to go to jail.’”

At the time, Carlson was among a group of principals of low-achieving schools enrolled in the Ohio Executive Principal Leadership Academy at The Ohio State University (OSU), which was supported by the State’s Race to the Top funds. She said one of the lessons she learned from the leadership academy was the importance of establishing a school “brand,” a lesson from the world of business.

The leadership academy was a partnership between OSU’s Fisher College of Business, OSU’s College of Education and Human Ecology and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Its purpose was to give the principals of the State’s lowest performing schools a crash course in leadership and management.

Carlson said her students at the Community Wrap Around Academy, one of three schools-within-a-schools at Lincoln West High School, had begun thinking they had been assigned to the “dumb school” and that was not a good brand.

To change that perception, she told students and teachers alike to turn expectations upside down. “Be the unexpected,” she would say. “If they were fighting or arguing, or if a teacher was late or unprepared for a lesson, we could discuss what the perception of the school is and reflect on the fact that this is what everyone is expecting.”

In addition to getting students and teachers to think differently about their school she involved everyone in setting targets—just as many for-profit companies do and something she learned at the leadership academy. She worked with her teachers to establish a personal growth target for each student which, when combined, became a target for each classroom and then the entire school. The teachers met with each student to help them set interim goals for their performance on benchmark exams. The school’s professional learning communities keyed their discussions to hitting those targets.

The year after Carlson attended the leadership academy, her school’s proficiency rates on the Ohio Graduation Test rose by 13 percentage points for English language arts (ELA) and 2 percentage points in mathematics. The gains continued in subsequent years and exceeded those of the other two schools housed at Lincoln West.

Six groups of principals attended four intensive two-day sessions spread out over six months, with assignments, such as preparing a case study on their school and devising an action plan, to complete in between sessions. In total, 300 leaders from 155 of the State’s lowest achieving schools attended the academy between January 2011 and June 2013, followed a year later by a culminating gathering to which all were invited.

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Tennessee’s TEAM Coaches Cultivate Supportive, Professional Relationships

TEAM Coach Jack Barnes consults with Kyle Loudermilk, associate principal of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee.

TEAM Coach Jack Barnes consults with Kyle Loudermilk, associate principal of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee. Photo credit: Jack Barnes.

Last month, PROGRESS featured the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) program that provides coaching and support to Tennessee principals to improve the quality of teacher observations and feedback.  This month, we feature a Q&A with Jack Barnes, a TEAM coach.

The effectiveness of teacher evaluation and support systems depends in large measure on principals being able to observe teachers accurately and give them helpful feedback. To ensure that principals could discern differences in teacher performance and provide constructive feedback, Tennessee hired eight coaches to work with them side-by-side over the course of a year. In the first two years, those coaches worked with the principals at 116 Tennessee schools. One of the coaches was Jack Barnes, who had been a principal, principal supervisor and director of schools. He says serving as a coach was a “great learning experience” for him as well as for the educators.  With the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model now in its fourth year, Barnes says “everyone is becoming more tuned into what needs to be happening.”

Q. How did you approach the schools you worked with?

A. The first thing is to cultivate a relationship not only with the district but the school as well. Sometimes when you tell them you’re coming from the State that shuts them down. We come in with the attitude that we are a resource and we’re here to do whatever we can to help you so that you not only grow as an administrator but also help your teachers grow. If you can get their confidence and trust, that’s half the battle right there.

Q. How did you help principals handle the difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary in order to help teachers or anyone else improve the quality of their work?

A. We tried to get across three things to administrators and teachers. First, when difficult conversations have to happen, you have to go back to the core belief that everyone can always improve. Second, when you’ve done an observation, you have evidence that this is what happened and in these conversations you go back to the evidence. Try to stay as impersonal as possible. This is not about you, it’s about the lesson. Third, focus on what’s good for kids. If students are not performing, we have a problem. A principal should ask the teacher, ‘what can we do together to work on this?’ Sometimes that might mean having the teacher visit other classrooms or schools, taking classes online, working with the professional learning collaborative at the school or collaborating with other teachers.

Q. What was your biggest success?

A. Last year I had an elementary school that was a Level 1 on a 1 to 5 scale based on growth in student learning. Yet most of the teachers were highly rated. A new principal came to the school who had previously been an assistant principal at another school. We talked about the importance of the principal’s relationship with teachers and the importance of culture. This young man did it. The school went from a Level 1 school to a Level 5 school in one year, simply because he worked with the teachers and was able to get them the resources they needed, and they knew he wanted to do the best for them and for their students.


Learn more about the TEAM approach and Tennessee’s results here: Tennessee Principals Receive Coaching on Observing Teachers and Providing Feedback