Marwa is a whole school principal at Kansai International Academy, Kobe-Japan. She holds a Master of Education (MEd), in Educational Administration from Concordia University, Nebraska-USA. Where she also earned her principal credentials. Marwa has been leading accreditation visits to schools in Japan, China, Indonesia, India, and the Middle East for many years. successfully, Marwa led her school to be a CIS-accredited school and an IB continuum bilingual school. As a lifelong learner, Marwa is perusing her studies in Instructional Leadership, and she is an Educational Doctorate EdD candidate. Prior to moving to administrative roles, Marwa is an IBDP educator and examiner. She was a teacher at Public Highschool in New York City, USA, and an international school in Cairo, Egypt.
In a short survey questionnaire, I asked all staff to define “Effective teacher,” Surprisingly, I got as many definitions as responses. Teacher effectiveness means different things to different people, and when it comes to educators, the illustrations still as vary. Teachers go through different paths for their qualifications depending on their backgrounds, countries, etc.; having a shared understanding of what constitutes an effective teacher is essential for a school or district to function effectively. When teachers in the same organization have different opinions and definitions of an effective teacher, this can lead to confusion and inconsistencies in expectations.
Sharing the survey results was the starting point for building a buy-in attitude toward the necessity of adopting an instructional model. Teachers realize that effectiveness is an elusive concept when we consider the complex task of teaching; thus, adopting an instructional model to observe and evaluate teachers is essential. The evaluation practices are not used as a summative tool for assessing teacher performance; instead, they create a common language for talking about high-quality teaching and learning, present clear instructional guidance on how classroom practice can be improved and ensure quality instruction that would improve the educational outcomes.
We have done quality research to find and adopt a practical way to support teachers to be more effective. We studied many instructional frameworks, such as Marzano’s, Danielson and the Center for Educational Leadership Teaching and Learning Instructional Model. The first challenge was determining the suitable model, an aggregate between simplicity and profundity. As we checked numerous instructional frameworks, we noticed that many were comprehensive but overwhelmingly complex, with infinite rubrics and performance levels. Some were missing essential aspects that we are lacking, such as differentiation. Our chosen instructional framework is the most suitable for our context and demands.
During the induction week and the subsequent weekly staff meetings, we unpacked the model with its domains, standards, indicators, and criteria. Like many instructional models, it covers the teacher’s professional knowledge, instructional planning, and delivery, assessment of and for learning, learning environment, professionalism, and student achievement. Through the unpacking process, the evaluation system was perceived as providing leaders and teachers with the skills necessary to support excellent classroom practice and help us achieve our goal of being effective educators.
While most instructional models are designed to promote teacher growth, how we utilize them is the key to maximizing their benefits. First, teachers conduct a self-assessment of professional practice to reflect on their strengths, areas for improvement, and strategies for growth. Then, based on areas that need improvement, teachers should consider developing professional practice goals, which they can share with their evaluator for ideas on strategies they might consider to help achieve the goal.
The school chooses one focus; for the third year in a row, we choose “Learning environment” as our focus; then, each teacher has to choose two standards to focus on each year. The new teachers choose their focus based on the self-assessment checklist. Returnee teachers use the data gathered through the students’ survey results, the previous year’s reflection, and the observations feedback in addition to the self-assessment checklist to choose their focus. Afterward, teachers are paired up with each other to conduct peer observations throughout the year. Peer observation helps teachers together as professional educators with a compass. By focusing on specific teaching practices and strategies aligned with the instructional model and the identified goals, teachers can work together to develop their skills and improve their performance, building teacher capacity and creating a supportive and collaborative work environment.
Teachers regularly observe each other’s practices inside and outside the classroom, knowing each other’s strengths and areas of development. They only access the feedback they provide each other; I have no access to the peer observation feedback forms; I always ask for the observation dates, including the pre-observation and post-observation. I ask for a confirmation of the post-observation; I want teachers to feel confident leading their growth and development journey.
Although the decision of whether or not the principal should have access to peer observation notes is a complex issue and can vary depending on the context and culture of the school, through my experience, I can confidently say that teachers are more willing to be open and honest in their observations if they know that the notes will not be shared with others, including the principal. Teachers’ post-observation meetings are vital as they allow teachers to reflect on the observation experience, discuss what was learned, and provide feedback to each other with a focus. These meetings offer a structured opportunity for teachers to share their thoughts and ideas about the observed lesson and to identify areas where the observed teacher excelled or could improve. This structure supported building trust and developing a sense of community among teachers. When teachers feel that their colleagues are supportive and invested in their growth, they are more likely to be open to feedback and to take risks in their teaching practices in a more dynamic and effective learning environment for students.
Formal observation is part of the instructional model. It is the once-a-year visit every classroom where a PLT member and I spend a whole period observing the class. Building a trust-based relationship made this observation- although time-consuming- a time that I am looking forward to. It is obvious that the principal is in a position of authority and has the power to make decisions that can impact a teacher’s career. If teachers feel that their observations will be used to label them or make decisions about their employment, they may be less likely to feel optimistic about it. The whole evaluation process is considered a comprehensive growth journey by being visible in the classroom and making the classroom walkthroughs part of my schedule.
It was evident that teacher agency is a critical factor in the success of both teacher evaluation and professional development plans. Agency refers to a teacher’s ability to make decisions and take action based on their own goals, values, and beliefs. And when teachers have agency in their evaluation and professional development plans, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and invested in their growth and development as educators. Furthermore, teacher agency in evaluation allows them to take ownership of the evaluation process. They identify their own professional learning needs and take an active role in designing and implementing their professional development plan.
Adopting an instructional model to evaluate the teacher’s effectiveness created a common language and presented clear instructional guidance aligned with the school’s purpose and direction. In addition, consistency in teacher agency by giving them voice, choice, and accountability throughout the process is crucial for ensuring that evaluation and professional development plans are effective and meaningful.