Don’t Just Evaluate Teachers, Coach Them!

I was sitting in the middle of a post-observation conference this week with a teacher and what was said really impacted me.  I knew right away that I had to write this post.


Teacher evaluation has been a hot topic in our profession over the last 5 years.  There have been debates, lobbying, and public acts coming out of Lansing.  New models have been introduced, discussed, and agreed upon.  Administrators have been trained.  Teachers have been observed, evaluated, and scored.  While all of that has taken place and grabbed a majority of the headlines, I believe that all the wrong types of things have been discussed.

The discussion should not be about how we evaluate, rank, or score teachers.  That was too much of my focus in my first couple of years as a principal.  It should be about how we support and grow teachers.  Rick DuFour thinks,”We have the greatest generation of educators we’ve ever seen in our schools right now” and I 100% agree.  Yet, so many have spent time talking about what to do with that 1 out of 50 teacher who is minimally effective, instead of what is the formula to grow each and every teacher.  Too many discussions are about non-renewals, individual development plans,  or tracks of improvement.  Those are such rare instances yet they take up so much of the air time.  Some models certainly emphasize the growth process better than others, but regardless of model, the mindset of growth can prevail.

Change the word “evaluator” into “coach” and a lot of things change.

Change the words “teacher evaluation” into “collaborative feedback for educator growth” and a lot of things change.

Sure, I’m sure those statements are bound to get the”everyone gets a trophy”crowd angry and up in arms about the softening of America.  Spare me.  Save your rhetoric.  Growing and supporting someone doesn’t mean something is easier or softer.  It can mean more targeted, intentional, and focused.  It simply means you are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with that teacher, together, in an effort to improve their practice.


A “coach,” whether it is athletic, life, instructional, or cognitive, knows how to get the most out of his “player.”  The coach knows that unless the player knows how much they care, they’ll never care how much they know.  A big part of coaching is understanding what that individual needs and adjusting your style to fit those needs.  A coach knows when to inspire, listen, suggest, or demand.

If I had to list some big picture components for an administrator to support growth of a teacher through an observation cycle or process, here would be my 5:

  1. Build relational trust with the individual.  They need to know your intentions are 100% in supporting and growing their practice
  2. Begin an instructional dialogue by getting to know them as an instructor.  Go slow to go fast
  3. Be vulnerable.  There may be parts of their practice that are superior to anything you did as a teacher.  That is a good thing!  You don’t have to know everything.  There will be opportunities to learn WITH the teacher
  4. Possess a deep skill set and knowledge base of instructional practices.  Find the areas that you need to grow in and address them through reading, PD, peer conversations
  5. Individualize and differentiate the plan based on the current status of the teacher

That mindset, the one of growth and support, can make a big difference.  The word choice, of growth model vs. teacher evaluation, can make a big difference.  These laws are not going away.  But we have the freedom and opportunity to control the mindset and grow each teacher, lesson by lesson, day by day, month by month, and year by year.  Together.

COACH…don’t just evaluate 




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