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Assess Leadership Team Members in Five Easy Steps

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this tip from The Principal's Guide to the First 100 Days of the School Year: Creating Instructional Momentum, by Shawn Joseph. The book provides advice and resources to help leaders build instructional momentum and continue their success throughout the school year. Following are strategies that new leaders can use to assess their leadership team members.

When you begin as the principal, you need to understand who you have on your team and if everyone has the capacity to carry out the school’s shared vision of excellence. Many new principals rely on advice about their initial team offered by their predecessor, the board of directors, the superintendent, or a central office supervisor. I recommend speaking with these individuals and taking a few notes, but I would never totally trust secondhand information. Here are five suggestions for assessing your leadership team members.

  1. First, read your leadership team members’ personnel files. Spend a day in your human resources unit with a list of your school leaders. Read their previous evaluations and any other information that has been placed in their files. This will tell you about the quality and type of feedback your new team has received in the past. If the school has an informal file to which you have access, read that as well. As you're reading, ask yourself “Are there any issues that I should be aware of relating to my leadership team’s ability to effectively lead at this school? Who are my superstars and why? Who needs support, from your perspective, and why?”
  2. Second, meet with each leadership team member individually. Although this task is time-consuming, it is very important. You want them to know that you are interested in knowing them and knowing about their abilities. In this initial meeting, I would recommend that you simply ask them to share what they value most about the school and what they think needs to change. Ask about their desire to be a leader in the school. What motivates them to want to be there? What has been their greatest accomplishment at the school or through their leadership in schools? What challenges have they faced? What is their perspective on their department or grade-level team? You should take copious notes during these meetings, and focus your efforts on listening. If you talk too much during these first meetings, you may scare people into hiding their true selves. Your goal in this initial meeting is to try to understand the “system in place.” You want to know what the values and perceptions of the leadership team were before your arrival.
  3. Third, read samples of each leadership team member’s previous observations of teachers. Different individuals may serve as qualified observers in addition to the principal. You should spend time reading previous observations from each qualified observer to see the type of feedback observers have historically given to teachers in the school. Reading the reports of qualified observers will tell you a great deal about their communication skills, their ability to communicate instructional priorities and support teachers, and their thinking. Ask yourself, “Does it look like this person took the observation process seriously by providing rich, specific feedback to teachers? Is this person a strong communicator in writing? Did this person complete observations on time? Do all of the observations look similar?” Reading a variety of observations will also allow you to identify consistency with regard to school-wide expectations and instructional priorities across subject areas.
  4. Fourth, have the leadership team members assess how they used their time in the past. The leaders in your building developed their working habits prior to your arrival. You want to know what they have done, so you’ll know how to assist them with the change process if you need to change the way things are done. One useful activity is to ask your leadership team members and your administrators to complete a pie chart identifying the percentage of time they engage in the following activities per week: (1) formally and informally observing teachers, if it is appropriate: (2) planning for department or grade-level meetings; (3) managing budget items; (4) leading cohorts of teachers in planning; (5) planning staff development activities; (6) monitoring data such as students’ grades and unit assessment data and (7) other activities. Their feedback will reveal their perceptions of how they use their time and, more importantly, allow you to engage in meaningful dialogue about what is important. The key here is that you are digging deeper into understanding the system that has been in place prior to your arrival.
  5. Finally, review your school district’s evaluation criteria for each leadership team member’s job description (if these exist), and narrow the focus down to three or four measurable priorities. Many districts have spent a considerable amount of time and research identifying evaluation standards for administrators and school leaders. Conversely, some school districts, private school networks and charter schools have not established clearly written job descriptions for leadership team members. Other schools have antiquated job descriptions that are no longer appropriate. Hundreds of different evaluation criteria are used across the country, and the complexity of these evaluation criteria varies from district to district.

Your school’s success depends upon the quality of the leaders who surround you. Do not make assumptions about the quality of your leaders or their ability to do the job. As the principal, you have the power to make everything very clear so that leaders can be successful.


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