Evidence-based Leadership and Putting the “D” in the Tales

A few years ago when I was working as a building principal and district curriculum director, I dropped into a third grade classroom taught by my friend, author, and fishing buddy, David Diamond. Dave was handing students back their rough drafts of a short research paper with his penned feedback, and when all papers had been passed out, told his students,  “Be sure to put the ‘D’ in the tales”. There was no need for further discussion. They got it. His students had heard that advice from him before, and they went about making revisions to their papers. His focus on evidence was noteworthy, and the gains in his students’ reading and writing skills exemplary. When you think about it, we all should remember to put the “D in the Tales”. To be specific and back it up with evidence. In our information-overloaded world, it’s so tempting to be efficient and skip some of the time-consuming details. However, for New York teachers and principals, putting the “D in the tales” is especially important given the high stakes nature of teacher and principal evaluation.

I was thinking about Dave and his “D in the tales” statement while working with my colleagues during this week’s Race to the Top Network Team Institute (with 30 days of NTI sessions in the bag, I’ve decided I’ve become a RttT NTI Groupie). More specifically, I thought about Dave when Cambridge Education showed the following slide during their session on principal evaluation.

Let’s face it, the quality of evidence between bad and best are strikingly different, and yet it’s easy to miss the important details regarding one’s observation. Bad and better are basically “tales” lacking the “D”. There are lots of reasons none of the teachers might not be teaching, and to infer why runs counter to evidence-based evaluations. However, we see details within the “Best” description to take action on without having to infer anything. My point is when evaluating teachers or principals, let’s not tell tales but use details to identify actionable items to improve teacher and principal performance. The stakes are too high for our students and educational system to circumvent quality evidence-based feedback for efficiency. Yes, it takes more time, but the results are worth the effort.

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