TPEP Is Killing My Principal

I have a really great principal.

I’m not just saying that because I have a sense of loyalty to the school and the staff or because I like him and his Star Trek suit. (Which I do.)

I’ve lived in multiple states and taught at multiple schools. I’ve encountered many principals from mediocre to strange to bad to great. He really is one of the good guys.

Our elementary school is on tribal land. About half of our students are on free or reduced lunch. Our principal maintains a strong, positive relationship with the tribe and the community. He builds coalitions with a terrific PTSA, with volunteers and coordinators, with classified and certified staff. If we are all rowing our canoe in the same direction, he is the one calling out the rhythm.

In the past my principal has come by my classroom nearly every day, often twice a day. He comes in, sits down and soaks in a portion of a lesson, interacting with the students, asking questions, interjecting his own comments. When it comes time to write an evaluation of my teaching, he has a wealth of direct observation to draw on—he knows what my classroom looks like and how I interact with my students.

Well, in the past he had that.

This year nearly half the teachers in the school are on comprehensive evaluations—or, as I’ve dubbed them, the “Bataan Death March Version of TPEP.”

My principal has all the same job expectations he’s had in previous years, but this year the time he is spending on evaluations has quadrupled. (At least quadrupled.)

I have watched the energy drain out of him this year.

He still comes to my room, occasionally, once in a while, for a quick pop in and pop out. I know he wants to stay longer, but he doesn’t have the time. He’s off and running to the next room.

I know how driven he is to do a stellar job, but something has to give. If he must do evaluations and they take so much more of his time than they did in the past, how does that affect the rest of his job? What gets short shrift or what gets eliminated because there just aren’t enough hours in the day?

Principal burn-out is a national issue. Take a look at the article Churn: The High Cost of Principal Turnover. Two of the primary causes driving principals to leave their jobs are

  • excessive workload and managerial tasks that prevent more meaningful instructional leadership efforts and
  • personal costs—long hours and the physical and psychological toll.

I know my principal would enjoy more meaningful instructional leadership efforts than ensuring all the TPEP evidence is collected and all the TPEP paperwork is complete for all the teachers on the comprehensive evaluation form this year. Obviously, that’s another thing he would love to do. If he had time.

How could we make evaluations take less time? We have a handful of National Board Certified Teachers on staff at our school. Wouldn’t it make sense to exempt all the NBCTs at our school—all the NBCTs in the state—from the comprehensive level of evaluations for the term of their National Board Certification? After all, NBCTs have to undergo a rigorous certification process. It’s an objective review at a national level, far more extensive and impersonal than any local administrator could hope to manage. TPEP is, in many ways, redundant for the NBCTs.

If NBCTs were exempt from the comprehensive evaluations, my principal could do the focused form with all the NBCTs in the school for the ten years of their certification period. It would take those comprehensive evaluations off his schedule for a decade.

Principals in general might get more supportive of teachers who wanted to pursue National Board Certification since their certification would mean shorter evaluation forms in the future and reduced work load for the principal!

Having NBCTs on the focused form for the length of their certification would be an added incentive for teachers too, giving teachers another reason to do the difficult work of pursuing National Board Certification.

Meanwhile, there is no solution in sight.

The legislature created the more rigorous teacher evaluation system to make sure all the teachers in the state met high standards. Wouldn’t it be ironic if, in their effort to create more perfect teachers, they destroyed their principals?

14 thoughts on “TPEP Is Killing My Principal

  1. Mark

    I am torn… I remember getting into an argument with a national board certified teacher who claimed that all NBCT’s should be automatically distinguished. I definitely do not agree with that. However, what you suggest does make some sense. I definitely would want a principal to still have the legal right to put any teacher, even a national board teacher, on comprehensive if there was a reason to. Even though I think national board certification is an indicator of quality teaching, we now have thousands and thousands of NBCT’s… And that means that we also have the whole bell curve, including those who may not sustain the kind of high quality teaching that certification demands. Those are certainly the minority, and permitting principals to place teachers on comprehensive, as is current law, would be an important loophole to close.

    I think another valid discussion would be whether principals should necessarily be the only ones who complete teacher evaluations… What about grade level leaders, other teacher leaders or department heads in large high schools?

    1. sarah

      Great insight in this blog. I think that teachers will improve from TPEP. I do really believe it is possible. I also see the load on the principals as well as the teachers…it’s overwhelming for everyone now. I think it will get easier as we all get better.

      I am intrigued by Mark’s suggestion. I don’t think all NBCTs should be exempt. I think ongoing reflection beyond the portfolio is useful. I actually like the observation process (not the details but the overall experience, I will be honest) and I know that I have grown from the TPEP process. But can we share the responsibility as teacher leaders?

    2. James Boutin

      I agree, Mark. The notion that an NBCT be exempt is absurd. I don’t even agree that NB certification demands high-quality teaching. All it really demands is a few decent recorded lessons and a knack for writing the kind of entries that scorers are looking for.

      The notion that a new and improved teacher evaluation system was what was going to turn around public education was and is a total fantasy. Yea – teacher evaluation could use a revamp, but principals don’t have the time to implement TPEP and run a school in a humane, sustainable way. Rationale policy would consider the tremendous demands on time and energy in schools and direct our efforts elsewhere. As most states have shown, little change has occurred in the percentage of teachers achieving proficiency with new evaluation measures. It seems to be just as likely as it used to be that a teacher will keep or loose their job as a result of the evaluation. But it seems more likely that this approach will drive more good teachers and principals out of the profession because of the outrageous nature of it.

      We pushed for TPEP because we were receiving pressure from the feds and local legislators to ensure that we had a rigorous evaluation programs. So we mostly came up with this so we could say, “Our evaluation system is so good, we don’t need to include test scores in teachers evaluations to truly hold them accountable.” Well thanks, but no thanks. Instead, we could have invested that tremendous time, money, and effort into better teacher training, more sustainable work environments, better ongoing coaching for teachers, and restoring COLAs.

  2. Hope

    I’m with you in that I think TPEP overloads some principals, yet I’m fascinated by the fact that it seems to be forcing principals to step into more of an instructional leadership roll. When I read “excessive workload and managerial tasks that prevent more meaningful instructional leadership efforts”, I actually think of all the red-tape, district required nonsense that my principals have to deal with… not TPEP. I actually think TPEP is a better use of time than so many other things my principals need to daily.

    In regards to exempting NBCTs, I’m with Mark and Sarah. The certification certainly tries to ensure quality but sheer numbers indicate that there will always be those that have the cert without the high quality instruction. Additionally, as an NBCT I value the reflective process of TPEP. Yes, I’m annoyed with aspects of the paperwork and by the big business nature of corporate testing/standards; but, I drink the Koolaid in that I think it will make our profession better.

    Another point to consider is that not all teachers on comprehensive are “struggling” or in need of improvement. If you are new to a district, you are on comprehensive. Nine years in and three school districts later, I’ve had plenty of time hanging out in one version or other of a TPEPish, comprehensive eval. To me it make sense that all teachers rotate through comprehensive in order to “ensure” high quality instruction for our students.

    Teacher leaders as evaluators….I’m not sure about that.

  3. Meadow

    This seems like a tough issue. Having had several teachers that were national board certified, I can tell you that as a student I don’t think they were all on the same level, or that any one of them didn’t have room for growth.

    I also don’t think that a certification means that a teacher is exempt from criticism, or the ability to grow from it. I think it would be a disservice to both teachers and students to stop evaluations for all board certified teachers.

  4. Jan Kragen Post author

    Holy cow! This one got people excited!

    Please notice I did not advocate exempting NBCTs from any evaluations at all. I just suggested they do the focused evaluations instead of the comprehensive. And I agree with Mark that there would have to be a way to put a NBCT back on comprehensive if circumstances demanded it.

    I’m sure there are other ways to reduce principal overload besides converting some of the comprehensive evaluations to focused. Any other specific ideas?

  5. Hope

    Ah! Jan, that makes more sense now. I could get behind putting NBCTs on the shorter TPEP eval if there was something in place as per Mark’s suggestion.

    I can think of a few other ideas to reduce principal overload:

    1) Better utilize teacher leaders, not for eval purposes but for other responsibilities (create deans? ).
    2) Give principals more autonomy to hire staff with the teaching and leadership skills needed for that specific community.
    3) Give principals power to develop flexible schedules for teacher-leaders in their building (more flexible FTE maybe determined by something other than projected student numbers).
    4) Create district policies that support principal leadership and thus teacher leadership.

    Other ideas?

  6. Spencer Olmsted

    Thanks Jan, great post. I tend to agree with Hope that TPEP, though it adds an incredible amount of work for principals, has the potential to be the most important work a principal does. We need more instructional leaders. Some principals are very well suited to do this work and the school is small enough that it can actually be managed and meaningful. Unfortunately, this won’t always be the case. I am constantly amazed at how different the job of teaching is from school to school in the same district – not to mention from district to district. Someone is going to love TPEP and it will make them a better teacher (or principal), and someone is going to think it’s a joke.

  7. Gary Kipp

    I love the conversation here. Thoughtful comments, all of them. What we are discussing is the revamping of both the teacher’s and principal’s role to better serve kids. To this end, I commend to you Michael Fullen’s new book, The Principal. In it he describes the research that shows how students benefit from attending schools where principals are leaders of teams of teachers, rather than individual teachers, where feedback on practice is a part of the culture of the teaching profession, and where principals are considered not instructional leaders, but rather leaders of learning. You’ll find the difference between the two in the book and you will enjoy the read.

  8. Tom White

    Your suggestion makes a lot of sense. It would cut down on principal workload and honor the achievement of NB Certification.

    My district, by the way, went a different direction. We hired a bunch of Deans of Students and Assistant Principals to lesson our principals’ workloads. And it helped. the last thing we need in this state at this time is a massive principal turnover.

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  10. Todd Miller

    I only recently saw this post and I hope am not too late to add to it. I think you raise some valid points, however I believe your idea of exempting a group of teachers from the comprehensive TPEP evaluation based on their NBCT status while well meaning is also short sighted and could result in unfortunate unintended consequences.

    First it would create a two tiered evaluation system based on where teachers got their training. I know many NBCTs and all have them have told me that the rigor of the program made them better teachers than they were before. But couldn’t the same be said about where one got their initial teaching degree? You could argue that certain university preparation programs are better and more rigorous than others, do we extend the same privilege of minimal evaluations to graduates of one program versus another?

    Also it makes an assumption that NBCTs are the best teachers in their schools. This is exactly where the on the ground observations of a teacher in action are the most important. If Tip O’Neill had been a teacher he might well have said, “all teaching is local,” In other words what goes on in a classroom day to day counts. As one commenter noted part of the NBCT process is based on videos of the classroom that are teacher chosen, not exactly a unfiltered view of their classrooms. And as other commenters noted, your idea would undermine the whole goal of TPEP which is to routinely examine and improve one’s teaching with the reflection and consideration and feedback TPEP affords.

    Finally the proposal puts training over experience. After just three years in the classroom one can start the NBCT process. It takes more than training to become a great teacher, it takes practice. I know I was a better teacher after ten years in the classroom than after five and I am a better teacher after eighteen years than after ten. And the best teacher in our building was a woman who had honed her craft over forty years of teaching but who never got beyond her bachelors degree. I can imagine how insulting it would feel to have to undergo the full meal deal of TPEP while her junior colleagues get off easy.

    I appreciate that TPEP has added vastly to the workload of both administrators and the teachers they evaluate but we should look at that problem separately. Let’s lobby our legislators to either modify it or pay for additional evaluators to make the system they have created work.

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