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Enhancing Student Achievement

by Charlotte Danielson

Table of Contents

Chapter 7. Policies and Practices Affecting Staff

Policies and practices affecting staff define the working environment for adults within a school. These policies and practices encompass all established decision-making procedures, expectations of staff performance and responsibilities, and staff appraisals and professional development opportunities.

As with the policies and practices affecting students, those affecting staff tend to reflect the values of the people who have created them. Schools are, among many other things, cultural institutions: they have norms and values in place that affect how people are treated and how they treat one another. There are many other rules, both formal and informal. Above all, schools are professional organizations, in which individuals motivated by a shared vision come together for a specific and meaningful purpose.

Relationship to the Framework

As with other aspects of a school's culture, policies and practices affecting staff must reflect the aspirations and values embodied within the framework for school improvement. Explicit recognition of these connections can help educators maintain consistent approaches to policymaking.

Focus on Student Learning

All of a school's organizational structures affecting staff must be designed with an unwavering focus on student learning. It is all too easy to confuse means with ends and focus on procedures rather than results. Procedures for teacher evaluation, instructional planning, and professional development should all be organized around their demonstrated impact on student learning.

A Safe and Positive Environment for Learning

Just as a school's environment must be safe and positive for students, so must it be for adults. Fear shuts people down: if teachers are to try new approaches in their classrooms, they must feel safe from recrimination if their efforts don't go smoothly at first. The school culture must be one of open exploration, or else teachers and other staff will not dare to try new things. Furthermore, a culture of professional inquiry involves learning of new approaches; teachers, no less than their students, learn best when they play an active role. Therefore, policies and practices governing professional development and evaluation must actively engage teachers in the process.

A Culture of Respect

Adults as well as students must be treated with respect. There is no place in a school for teachers who undermine the efforts of their colleagues or score points at their expense. Instead they should exult in one another's successes and support their coworker's endeavors: teachers who attain certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards should find their success celebrated by their colleagues, rather than having to conceal the honor for fear of censure. Educators should not feel as though they're competing with one another for the principal's approval or for recognition by the central office. In addition, teachers in a respectful environment play an active role in the formulation of policies and practices that affect them, and assume responsibility for the results.

All Work Has Value and Dignity

It is not only teachers and administrators who create a school culture for students; the custodial, cafeteria, and office staffs contribute greatly as well. The secretary's smile, the lunch lady's encouraging comment, and the custodian's explanation of how something works can create a positive environment that may not be evident in some student's interactions with teachers and administrators. Noninstructional staff members, in other words, should be considered full members of the school team.

Categories of Policies and Practices Affecting Staff

Expectations of Employment

Every school has expectations regarding its staff, covering such issues as punctuality, attendance at required faculty meetings and workshops, completion of required paperwork (such as attendance and grade reports or supply orders), and participation in school functions (for example, back-to-school night or the science fair). Some of these expectations are articulated in the school personnel manual; others are simply understood. It is helpful to all concerned, however, if all expectations are stated explicitly.

School or district expectations set the ground rules for all staff members. They convey what is expected of everyone and therefore what teachers can expect of everyone else. For example, teachers can expect their colleagues to at least turn up for work and hand in their grade reports. There is nothing particularly inspirational about such expectations, but they should be clear and explicitly communicated.

Expectations should also reflect what is in the best interest of students; they are not intended merely for the convenience of the staff. If teachers are expected to participate in parent conferences, it should be because such participation is important for student learning. Similarly, if teachers are expected to make curriculum decisions with their instructional teams, it should be to help yield a coherent curriculum to the benefit of students.

Decision-Making and Budgeting Systems

Schools must make hundreds of decisions a year related to all aspects of their operations, and because many choices entail costs, decision-making systems are in effect budgeting systems as well. School approaches to decision making vary greatly: some schools allow decisions to be made only at the very top, whereas others are much more democratic; some have elaborate networks of teams or site councils while others leave decisions to a small group of people (typically administrators and department chairs or team leaders). Some teachers want to be involved in the details of every decision, while others would prefer to leave decision making to colleagues (“Those are administrative matters—let the administrators do them”).

A school's budgeting and decision-making systems should be clear to everyone, and anyone who wants to participate should have the opportunity to do so. If purchases are deferred, the reasons behind the deferral should be clear and should make sense to everyone, and all staff members should adhere to the new timetable. People don't mind waiting in line if they know they are in line; what they can't tolerate is for others—personal friends of the principal, for instance—to jump the queue for a pet project.

Instructional Planning

Many noneducators are astonished to learn how little communication occurs among educators within a school. In many schools, teachers work almost in complete isolation: they prepare for their own classes on their own, develop their own tests, and submit grades when they are due. Such teachers work almost as independent contractors: they are hired to do a job and they do it, but not as members of a team. This isolation is detrimental to a school committed to successful learning by all students, as the teachers cannot be aware of approaches and strategies that others have found successful, and might even be working at cross purposes without even knowing it.

Joint instructional planning that is systematic, disciplined, and skilled is one of the most powerful tools a school can use to meet its goals for students. Of course, successful team planning does not happen by accident; it must first be pre-arranged and accorded a high priority. When well organized, the benefits of team planning—both to the students' education and to teacher commitment and morale—are enormous, and have been well documented in the business world as well as in the world of education. Good teamwork creates an environment of mutual support and common purpose that is virtually impossible for individuals to create and sustain on their own. When teams are working well together, the whole is a great deal more than the sum of the parts.

A school's arrangement into teams or houses, together with an expectation that teachers will engage in joint planning, affects the type and extent of teacher collaboration. The school schedule must permit teachers to plan instruction and make decisions collaboratively; schools typically accomplish this by setting aside common planning time for teachers.

Professional Development

Anyone who has ever worked as a teacher can attest to the complexity of the role. Students are individual human beings, all with their own backgrounds, hopes, interests, and aptitudes. Marshalling student energy in the service of learning and meeting school goals requires teachers to be intelligent, flexible, creative, and dynamic. Because of demographic shifts, professional development offerings must include opportunities for teachers to learn more about the populations they serve and recommendations for working with students and communities of different backgrounds.

Educators would have to be arrogant to believe that their study of teaching is complete. To argue that a school should take professional development seriously is not to suggest that the teaching is poor and needs “fixing”; instead, it reflects the difficulty and complexity of the job. Educators can always learn more about the subjects they teach and how best to help students understand them.

One important source of professional insight is located right within the school's walls: the expertise of staff. Along with research studies and professional reports, the work of colleagues can provide valuable information for educators. A school's professional development plan, therefore, should include both internal and external sources of new ideas. A culture of professional inquiry that presumes high-level teaching skills and is embedded in an ethos of sharing will energize teachers to learn new techniques.

Peer observations are one practical manifestation of such a culture. Observations of teaching are widely used, of course, in the context of teacher evaluation, but they can also be used as part of a professional development program. In some schools, teachers are taught how to offer nonjudgmental feedback prior to observing their colleagues at work. But the presumption of these types of practices is that the beneficiary of all such observations is the person being observed, whether the observer is an evaluator or a peer. However, observations can be used as the cornerstone of an entirely different approach in which the beneficiary of the observation is the observer. Thus, if a teacher is searching for new techniques in some aspect of teaching—for example, in leading class discussions—a valuable component of a professional development plan might be to observe colleagues using that skill in the classroom. This observation can be followed by a discussion about how and why the teacher used certain methods.

A school's approach to mentoring new teachers, particularly those new to the profession, provides yet another opportunity for professional growth. To argue for the importance of mentoring is not to suggest that preparation programs are deficient, but to emphasize the complexity of teaching and recognize that educators can learn some aspects of teaching only once they've become teachers of record. As with driving a car, some skills simply cannot be simulated, and virtually all new teachers benefit from structured support as they acquire those skills. I must emphasize that “structured support” should consist of far more than just a buddy system: emotional support, though critical, is not sufficient for learning to teach. A structured induction program focused on instructional skill is essential. And when teachers receive such support they are much more likely to remain in the profession; the attrition rates for teachers with mentors is far lower than it is for those without such a program: a study of 125 new teacher support programs in California reported a retention rate for first- and second-year teachers of 93 percent (WestEd, 2001).

Of course, new teachers aren't the only ones who benefit from mentoring; the mentors do as well. Experienced teachers who serve as mentors (particularly in a structured program) routinely report that the experience makes them better teachers, encouraging them to reflect on their own teaching and providing new insights into their work. The professional conversations that accompany a good mentoring program can help establish or reinforce a culture of inquiry among the professional staff in a school.

Teacher Evaluation

A school's approach to teacher evaluation sets the tone for much of its professional culture. Typically, teacher evaluations are a function of district policy, and a result of negotiated agreements between the school and district. Still, teacher evaluation happens at school, and is greatly influenced by the personalities of and relationships among school staff. I offer here a brief summary of the recommendations for teacher evaluation provided in my book Teacher Evaluation to Enhance Professional Practice (2000), cowritten with Thomas McGreal.

There are two fundamental purposes for teacher evaluation: quality assurance and professional learning. Teacher evaluation systems are the only systems a school or district has to ensure that every student is taught by a competent professional; the system must be able to make that guarantee. But because the vast majority of teachers are competent—and most are excellent—the evaluation system should help improve as well as assess teacher practice.

In many school districts, the requirements and procedures are different for experienced teachers than they are for novice teachers. This is because the district needs to learn different things from different types of teachers: in the case of probationary teachers, for example, the district needs to ensure that it offers continuing contracts only to teachers it's willing to commit to for the long term. Differentiated systems recognize that novice and experienced teachers also have different needs: whereas teachers who are just beginning their careers need a lot of support and guidance, their more experienced colleagues can to a large degree monitor and assess themselves.

Carefully designed evaluation systems can offer teachers valuable opportunities to reflect on their practice and enhance their skills. Teachers may be asked to explain their instructional goals for students, demonstrate their approaches to student assessment, or describe an assignment using samples of student work. These activities offer evidence of teachers' skills while also allowing them to engage in self-assessment and reflection, which can lead to improved practice.

A school's system of teacher evaluation, then, is an important aspect of its professional culture, and must convey both respect for teachers and high expectations for performance. Such a system should also establish a common language for describing good teaching while encouraging teachers to be flexible when trying to achieve their goals with students.

Support Staff

Teachers and administrators are arguably the staff members most critical to student learning; after all, they are the ones who work with students and engage them in the classroom. According to this perspective, anything important that happens with students is due the work of the professional staff.

This is a shortsighted and limited view. Members of the support staff also play an essential role in students' school experiences, and should be regarded as full partners in the effort. When students (and certainly their parents) enter the school's office, a secretary greets them; school-bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and playground aides also set the cultural tone for their areas of work, and custodians and maintenance workers help keep the school running while serving as addi-tional adult role models for students. The entire staff, not only the teachers and administrators, creates the culture of a school.

Because of their critical role in establishing the school's culture and implementing its policies, support staff members should also help revise those policies. Members of the office staff will have insights about how to make a new attendance policy work, for example, and thus should contribute to its development.

The inclusion of support staff in the life of the school extends beyond helping to develop policies and practices. Because support-staff members make important contributions to the life of the school, they should be invited to full-staff meetings and parties; they should not, in other words, be made to feel like second-class citizens. Faculty-only meetings for working on instructional matters have their place, of course, but the school is more than only the instructional program.


Policies and practices affecting staff must be subject to the same screening process as everything else in the school: they must support student learning and a culture of professional inquiry, treat all individuals with respect, include all staff mem-bers in matters that affect them, and adhere to what is known from the research literature about professionalism and professional growth.

Rubric for Policies and Practices Affecting Staff




Expectations for Employment

Employment expectations are arbitrary, do not promote student learning, have been developed without teacher involvement, or are not clearly communicated,.

Expectations for employment are reasonable, partially help promote some student learning, were developed with some involvement by teachers and have been clearly communicated.

Expectations for employment are focused on the advancement of student learning, have been developed with full involvement by teachers, and are clearly communicated to all staff.

Decision-Making and Budgeting Systems

Decision-making and budgeting systems are secretive and involve only a few teachers in the processes. There is no screening process to ensure that the decisions made will support student learning.

Decision-making and budgeting systems are moderately clear to everyone, and permit some teachers to be involved in the processes. The processes yield decisions that may support student learning.

Decision-making and budgeting systems are transparent to everyone, and permit all teachers to be involved in the processes. The processes yield decisions that unambiguously support student learning.

Joint Instructional Planning

Teachers work in complete isolation from their colleagues; attempts at joint planning are dysfunctional and regarded as a waste of time.

The school staff attempts to implement systems of joint instructional planning, which are moderately successful but are undermined by a lack of sufficient resources, time, or skills.

Teachers engage in highly productive joint instructional planning that results in higher levels of student learning. Teachers value the time they spend with colleagues, and find that it strengthens their practice.

Professional Development

Professional development decisions are made at the top, and teachers are afforded little opportunity to determine what avenues to pursue. The professional atmosphere in the school is closed and isolated.

Teachers have some input into professional development offerings, although they are primarily designed by others. Teachers have limited opportunities to work with colleagues. The culture of professional inquiry is fairly positive.

Teachers design the professional development offerings in the school, in order to improve student learning and meet the school's goals. The culture of professional inquiry is open, and provides teachers with multiple opportunities to collaborate on their work.

Teacher Evaluation

The system for teacher evaluation is hierarchical and punitive; teachers are not informed of the evaluative criteria, evaluators lack the skills to observe performances fairly and accurately or provide feedback, and neither teachers nor evaluators have confidence in the system.

The system for teacher evaluation is fair but does not offer opportunities for teachers to enhance their practice. Evaluative criteria are fairly clear to everyone, and evaluators have had some exposure to the skills of consistent observation and providing feedback.

The system for teacher evaluation is highly rewarding for both teachers and evaluators, emphasizing professional learning as well as quality assurance. Evaluative criteria are clear and acceptable to everyone, and evaluators are able to make consistent judgments of performance and provide valuable feedback.

Support Staff

The support staff is excluded from decision-making procedures and regarded by teachers and students alike as “second-class citizens.”

The support staff is partially incorporated into the life of the school, and permitted to make minor contributions to the development of policies and procedures.

The support staff is fully incorporated into the life of the school and makes material contributions to the development of policies and procedures.


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