So What?

As the new school year approaches, many principals around the country will be implementing a new teacher evaluation instrument.  As you visit teacher classrooms looking for specific indicators, I encourage you to ask the simple question, “So What?”  These two words can cause you to go beyond the surface and get a deeper understanding of what is really taking place in any classroom.

For instance:

So what if you recently joined twitter!  Show me how an article or a stream of conversations led to implementation resulting in higher student achievement.

So what if you implemented Edmodo!  Show me evidence where an unmotivated student became engaged in collaboration resulting in student understanding.

So what if you give formative assessments!  The status quo give frequent formative assessments. Show me, through evidence, that you used the results to adjust and guide instructional decisions as well as relentlessly followed up to ensure all students reached mastery.

So what if you plan and prepare every lesson! Even the status quo regularly plans and prepares for every class period. Prove to me you design highly relevant lessons that will motivate all students and sweep them up in active learning.

So what if you give a number or letter (grade) to a student! Even the status quo gives timely grades.  Provide evidence of ongoing, descriptive feedback that goes beyond a number or letter.

So what if you listen and respond to active parents who have strong opinions on the issues that particularly affect their children! Even the status quo communicates with involved parents. Show me how you find ways to hear the voices of those students who do not have strong parent advocates.

I could go on and on and on….

So… What could you add to this list?

15 comments for “So What?

  1. Jacci Jones
    July 18, 2012 at 5:54 am

    There is always room for more questioning. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. July 18, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    So what is much more effective when there is a goal grounded in a school goal that the teacher is striving towards. When this happens the question then becomes so how does this help you meet your goals – thereby making the “so what” question… so what can I do to support you in reaching your goal? So what done the wrong way can put administrators and teachers on the opposite side of the table. So how does that help you reach your goal and so what can I do to help you sends the message you are there to support and coach, not only evaluate.

    • sblankenship
      July 19, 2012 at 2:45 am

      Thank for the comment and I could not agree more. After reading your comment, I re-read my post and can see where it came across entirely wrong. In fact, I will re-write this post and submit it on my personal blog. Thank you for the advice, my intent is not to put the administrator and teacher on opposite sides of the table. (Although it did come off that way)

      My intent was actually to encourage principals to go beyond the surface and dig deeper to get a true picture of what is really happening in the classroom. I definitely didn’t mean to ask the teacher, “So What?” but instead, internally ask this question to examine even further. Many times, principals see a teacher using a SMART Board and believe they are effectively integrating technology when in fact, they are using it as a glorified white board. Principals need to be thorough and provide accurate feedback.

      Again, thank you Shawn for your comment and allowing me to clarify my intentions.

  3. July 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

    HI Shawn, I know that you’re a principal who wants the best for teachers and students so I read this post with interest. I also agree with Stover’s comment, “So what is much more effective when there is a goal grounded in a school goal that the teacher is striving towards,” as the teaching roll calls educators to be “everyman/everywoman.” I want to take your points to my classroom next year and I reframed them as guiding principles including: employ social media/pd to develop student achievement, use student social media to bring in the outliers and engage all students, give formative assessments and let the results guide your work with students, put extra effort into lesson design/implementation to include all students in engaging ways, provide effective feedback, and reach out to families who are reluctant to get involved and communicate with teachers and school. I was struck recently by a quote from Hattie’s book, Visible Learning for Teachers, which prompts teachers to “. . . set challenging goals, rather than “do your best” goals, and invite students to engage in these challenges and commit to achieving the goals.” With your post, I believe you are doing the same for teachers. I sense an urgency in your voice to bring educators on board w/effective change and deliberate action to best teach all students. Thanks for taking the time to write and provoke thought.

    • Shawn Blankenship
      July 21, 2012 at 12:02 am

      Thanks Maureen, I always value your thoughts and insight. Thank you for reframing this post as a guide to effective teaching. This is exactly why you are such an outstanding educator!

      My actual intent, in which I was not clear, was to challenge all principals to look beyond the surface and avoid assumption. A true evaluation should be more of a personal growth plan that provides accurate and detailed feedback that truly helps a teacher improve. As principals, 5 minute walk-throughs and one formal evaluation is not enough to fully understand what is truly going on in a given classroom. Teachers deserve much more. They deserve our full attention! Great teachers expect the principal to know the difference between effective and ineffective practice. When principals begin asking themselves, So What? and shifting their focus from teaching to student learning, determining a teacher’s effectiveness becomes much easier. Make sense?

      • July 21, 2012 at 12:19 am

        You have such a wonderful perspective. I work for a principal who takes the time to look deeper and think carefully about each teacher, student and our individual and collective practice, and that makes my school a wonderful place to teach. Hence, I agree with your perspective. Take care.

    • Bill Powers
      July 21, 2012 at 2:15 am

      Shawn,
      I enjoyed the post and it really got me thinking. Then, I read this response to the comment from Maureen and I’m reflecting even more!
      Thank you for being such an important part of my PLN and helping me to grow as a leader!

      • Shawn Blankenship
        July 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm

        Thanks Bill, you are a very important part of my everyday learning as well!

  4. July 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    As an administrator, myself, I actually began to reflect upon my own actions instead of placing reflection upon teacher evaluation as you intended with your article. Why DID I join twitter or edmodo? How DO I use the opinions and suggestions from parents? Lots of valuable opportunities may slip by if I simply joined to join or listened to let a parent vent.

    • Shawn Blankenship
      July 24, 2012 at 3:21 am

      Thanks Christin for commenting. “So What” and “Why” are questions that all educators (teachers, principals, counselors, librarians, superintendents, etc) should ask themselves frequently. Just as important as answering it for yourself is answering it for those you lead. It’s important to show your teachers the reasons you do what you do. In fact, I believe if you ever want to have any influence among your teachers, answering “So What” and “Why” are the most critical question you’ll ever address. Thank you again for taking the time the comment. Shawn

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