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It may be hard to believe but, in some schools, the only time an administrator provides feedback is during the annual evaluation.

Even harder to believe is that some employees have “perfect” evaluations every year, regardless of whether they’ve worked one year or thirty.

So, imagine when a new administrator arrives at a school where there haven’t been honest conversations or evaluations. The principal wants to foster open discussions for supporting employee growth because he believes everyone can always identify ways to become better. He meets with staff members and is shocked to hear a teacher say she can’t believe she has any areas of concern or improvement because feedback from administration has always been stellar.

In just such a situation, one principal new to his school met individually with all certified or certificated and classified employees within the first two weeks of school. He wanted to open the door to meaningful evaluation with the promise of providing daily support. He talked about how everyone has areas of strength and growth, then asked each employee to identify areas of growth and to set goals for the year.

In the meeting, he also invited each employee to score themselves on a copy of the evaluation tool and file it away. At the end of the year, the employees completed a new evaluation and compared scores from September to May. This drove discussions about goals and, with feedback from the employee and consensus from the principal, helped develop the final evaluation.

The fact that areas of growth came from the employees created buy-in. It also created a respectful relationship with administration that fostered meaningful discussion throughout the year. It was a successful strategy for courageous conversations that minimized defensive responses and maximized professional development.

Michael Fullan, author of The Change Leader, believes “all conversations can lead to reminding teachers that they are engaged in practicing, studying, and refining their craft.” And this approach gives employees the sense that a supervisor is encouraging and supportive rather than critical and condescending.

The evaluation is a snapshot of employee performance and just one way to encourage courageous conversations. Asking employees to reflect on their practices and to select areas of growth creates buy-in but also strengthens relationships between managers and staff. When there’s “trouble brewing” it isn’t always the easiest time, but it can be an appropriate time to develop a plan for helping an employee improve. Even better, day-to-day support and authentic conversations lead to ongoing and meaningful improvement and can create the ideal environment for guiding a person to be the best that they can be.


Fullan, M. (2011). The change leader: Learning to do what matters most. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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