Assessing Principal Performance In a Professional Learning Community

We are frequently asked questions regarding the best ways to assess the performance of principals in a PLC. While recognizing that each district is unique, here are a few principal evaluation practices that could be applied in any district:

First -- and everything else hinges on this -- we do not think traditional rating scales provide the crucial information that either the superintendent or the principal will need if they are committed to building and sustaining professional learning communities. The question, "Should we have a five-point rating scale or a four-point scale?" is the wrong question. Rather, we are proponents of deep, meaningful conversations, portfolios, and high-quality summative narratives, all built around specific practices evident in schools that embrace learning as their fundamental purpose.


Mission: The Fundamental Purpose

The most important area of focus should be centered around the concept of "The Learning Leader." What is the quality of the principal’s performance as it relates to the central mission of the school, ensuring high levels of learning for ALL?

  • What evidence can the principal provide to demonstrate a focus on learning has been embedded into the culture of the school?
  • Are policies, practices and procedures congruent with the learning mission?
  • Is the learning mission the centerpiece of discussions as new initiatives are considered and decisions are made?

Evidence of a focus on learning could include:

  • Student Learning Growth -- data from local, district, state/provincial and national indicators demonstrating increasing levels of student achievement, specifically addressing areas of learning targeted in the last evaluation and in the school’s Learning Improvement Plan.
  • Adult Learning Growth -- documentation that the principal has successfully stretched the learning of adults in the school, individuals and teams. This documentation, demonstrating the quality of professional learning and the degree to which the adult learning is aligned with team SMART Goals, might include:
    • products from collaborative teams indicating their focus on the critical issues of learning, such as:
      1. lists of common essential outcomes in every subject, grade and course;
      2. examples of common formative assessments designed by the teams to monitor the learning of each student on a timely basis, and
      3. action plans designed to provide students, teachers, and teams with additional support and/or enrichment, during the school day.
    • attendance records and descriptions of staff development activities
    • book studies,
    • site visits to other schools/districts

The principal’s personal growth plan would also be a key element of this section as he/she models a commitment to being a learning leader.


Vision: Describing the School We Seek to Become

Has the principal engaged the faculty in a review of the effective schools research as well as data that reflects the current reality of student performance in their own school? Has the principal engaged the faculty in developing a detailed description of the school they would like to become? Has the document been widely shared, but most important, what evidence is provided that the vision statement is being used to guide decision-making in the school?

This section would focus on evidence of the principal’s leadership in regards to embedding a commitment to collaboration into the day-to-day life of the school, such as:

  1. How are the adults organized into high-performing teams?
  2. How is time provided for teams to collaborate?
  3. What products have the teams generated as a result of their collective inquiry into best practice? (i.e. norms/protocols; SMART Goals; lists of essential outcomes; common pacing guides/curriculum maps; common formative assessments; analysis of formative assessment data; strategies for improved results; etc.)
  4. How are teams demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement - working to improve their own professional practice in order to improve the learning of their students?

Shared Values and Collective Commitments

How does the principal promote, protect and defend the shared values and commitments? How does the principal communicate the collaboratively developed shared commitments to guide the day-to day culture of the school?

  • What systems are in place to ensure priorities are addressed in a productive way?
  • What is monitored?
  • What is modeled?
  • What questions are asked?
  • How are resources allocated: time, money, people?
  • Does the principal confront behavior that is incongruent with the school’s values and commitments?
  • How are the values and commitments celebrated?

Recognition and Celebration

What are the artifacts of public recognition for student improvement and achievement. Are the awards varied and celebrations frequent enough so that all students feel have a chance to be recognized? Are both individuals and groups celebrated? Are adults (both individuals and groups) recognized and celebrated, and, what are they recognized for? And, importantly, are the recognitions and celebrations genuine?


Results-Oriented Goals
This section would be a presentation and analysis of the school-wide goals, the teams’ SMART goals, as well as the principal’s personal goals.

  • Are the goals in line with the district goals and are there both short-term and long-term goals?
  • What evidence is there that the principal uses goal setting to drive the work of teams and create a focus on results?
  • How are goals developed, monitored and celebrated to drive improvement throughout the school?

Frequent, Formative Common Assessments

Are teams developing & administering frequent, formative common assessments designed to monitor student learning of the essential outcomes? Are teams provided with frequent information on student learning (i.e. how did each teacher’s students perform on each assessment compared to the total group of students who took the same assessment.) Are students who need it given extra time and support to learn the essential outcomes and then given additional opportunities to demonstrate that learning?

This section reviews how well the principal goes about the day-to-day managerial work.

  • Is work done on time?
  • Is it of high quality?
  • Is it correct?
  • Are phone, email messages and other correspondence addressed promptly?
  • What is the quality of the principal’s interpersonal skills in dealing with staff and students?
  • What is the quality of school/community relations?

And, of course, this section would focus on other administrative issues that are unique to the district.

As the principal presents evidence in each of these areas through portfolios, power-point presentations and/or other means, there must also be dialogue about the quality of the work of the principal -- the issue is not just whether or not the work was done, but what was the quality of the work?

The summative product of this process would be a high-quality narrative written by, in most cases, the district or area superintendent. The summary narrative would also include two additional key elements:

1.) mutually agreed-upon goals for next year and
2.) how the district will support the principal in achieving the school-wide goals.

We hope these ideas will prove helpful as you think about aligning assessment of a principal’s performance with the concepts of professional learning communities. We look forward to the dialogue.


Becky DuFour

Response to Kyle, March 23, 2007:
When teams first begin to work together to develop common formative assessments, we recommend at least four common assessments per year for each subject/course. At the elementary level, if the same team teaches all subjects, they tend to select one subject to start this process - typically either reading, writing or math - and then add the other subjects into the process over time.

As teams continue to work together, they almost always increase the frequency of their common formative assessment because they experience the benefit of the process. Ideally, at minimum about every 3-5 weeks, a team should collectively ask, "are the students learning the essential outcomes we're teaching & how do we know? What evidence do we have that proves to us some students have learned - met our proficiency standard on each essential skill, concept, disposition we wanted them to learn - and some students need more time and more support to learn the essential outcomes.

Any school, regardless of the current level of student achievement, will benefit from the process of engaging every team in the ongoing collective inquiry into the four critical questions of a PLC. Developing, administering, and analyzing data from common formative assessments is the biggest lever any school has to drive continuous improvement and high levels of learning for all - students and staff alike.

For more information on common formative assessments in a PLC, please see Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, many, Solution Tree, 2006.)

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In reference to common assessments, how frequent is frequent? Quarterly, Monthly, Weekly? Or is it based on the severity of the need at the individual school?

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Bob Eaker

In response to chschaar:

A fundamental idea that forms the basis for professional learning communities is the constant search for ways to stretch the aspirations and performance levels of students--and adults alike. The very term "professional learning community" implies attention to adult learning within the school community.

This gets played out in a number of ways. The first, and perhaps most fundamental way, is by the leader (this could be the principal, team leader, teacher, director of food service, transportation director, etc.) modeling the behavior they seek in others. In other words, leaders in professional learning communities, without exception, are first and foremost interested learners--they are intellectually curious and they "want to know".

The second way adult learning gets "stretched" is by the initial response to issues/problems. In a professional learning community the initial response is always to first, gain "shared knowledge" (i.e. let's learn the best thinking about this together--and talk about it.) Whether the topic is homework, grading, or student discipline the first response in a professional learning community will always be; "Let's learn all we can about this topic."

Third, leaders in professional learning communities not only value the learning of adults, they embedd adult learning opportunities within the school structure and culture. But, more than giving adults the "opportunity" to learn and grow, there is a clear "expectation" that adults continue to learn. So, areas such as professional development, the pursuit of graduate degrees, etc. are built into the school struture and culture.

Forth, adult learning must be part of the assessment system. Principals must be evaluated on the quality of their own learning and growth as well as the quality of assistance they provide to the adults with whom they work. The same is true for team leaders. Team leaders should be expected to assist in the learning growth of team members and team members, of course, are expected to assist in helping each other learn, but also, as a team learn together about best practices in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and pedagogy that will assist students in their learning. Thus, in a "learning community" learning is a common focus throughout the school community.

Last, goals play an integral part in adult learning growth. Principals should be setting personal goals as well as collaboratively setting learning targets for the members of the school community--students and adults. As was mentioned earlier, the targets may address a specific area of concern--such as grading, homework, how to improve the quality of our common assessments, or how to be consistent when we collaboratively assess the quality of student work on performance-based assessments, etc. The point is, it's not just enough to say we value adult learning, specific measurable learning targets for all should be part of the day-to-day work of schools.

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We are in the process of searching for a principal in our small, rural school in upstate NY and I was wondering if anyone else trying to fully implement a PLC has done that? I would say our implementation is still in its infancy so to speak and we are looking for a dynamic leader to continue its growth. Is there anything out there that defines the criteria of the type of principal that is most successful in implementing PLC's? Are there sample interview questions that might be helpful for our school board members, community members, faculty and staff, as well as students to ask? Our remaining administrative team and school improvement team would love some specific examples.

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I found this article very helpful and quite validating. We are in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District in northern Michigan. Rick and Becky just recently visited us to promote our PLC movement. This article was validating because as a staff we have met several of the goals or key elements discussed in the article. I also found it helpful because I believe our Principal feels like he needs to be apart of every PLC team. I think this article could be used to offer him an opportunity to reflect on his role in the Professional Learning Community. It would help me as a classroom teacher and PLC steering committee leader if you could elaborate on the "Adult Learning Growth" idea discussed. What does this really mean? How does the principal "stretch" the learning of the teachers? Can you give specific examples.

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