By Dr. Patrice Pujol
Patrice Pujol (right) with former G.W. Carver Primary School Principal Latatia Johnson. Johnson currently serves as the instructional supervisor at Ascension Public Schools, supporting the most at-risk schools in the district.
Equity Across America by Patrice Pujol in Principal magazine, a publication of the National Association of Elementary School Principals
NIET Notes: Your Teachers Are Not Equitably Distributed. How Do You Know? What Can You Do?
Ms. Brown is a remarkable teacher with tremendous student results. Her classroom is a model of innovation and student engagement. Students read high-quality works of literature and nonfiction, engage in animated discussions and complete assignments that require deep analysis and thought. Students are challenged and bring energy to their assignments. They know exactly what is expected of them and Ms. Brown encourages them to improve their work until it reaches the highest standard of excellence. Consequently, all students are successful. Ms. Brown makes sure of it.
It's always heartening to hear stories about inspiring teachers, but after hearing these stories of success, we should stop to ask, "Which students does Ms. Brown teach?" Most schools have at least some Ms. Browns, but in too many schools across America these successful teachers are rewarded by their principals with the opportunity to teach the advanced or honors classes. These classes are often full of students who come to school prepared every day and who have dependable support systems at home. Being assigned to work with the "best" kids in the school serves as a badge of honor and a symbol of status in the school.
All students deserve to be taught by a Ms. Brown, but on every faculty there is a continuum of practice and talent that principals have to deploy to meet the needs of students. As principals, we have to think about how to best utilize the Ms. Browns on our faculties to ensure that each student, not just the "best" kids, has equitable access to great teachers.
We can start by asking questions such as, how might we structure and organize our schools differently to leverage our Ms. Browns to assure more students' success? How could we use Ms. Brown to impact other teachers? How could we use Ms. Brown to impact more students, not only the students who come to school ready to learn, but also those who may have barriers to learning and fewer resources and support systems at home?
In addition to asking these questions, let's consider five actions a principal can do to ensure all students have equitable access to highly effective teachers every year:
First and foremost, principals must hire highly effective teachers. Period. Nothing else is as important to students' success. Principals must prioritize recruitment and hiring of quality teachers above all else. They must become astute in their judgment of teacher quality and aggressively seek out the very best teachers for their students. Principals cannot wait on the human resources department to send teacher candidates their way. They must develop relationships with teacher preparation providers and create a network of professionals who can recommend high-quality teachers for their school. Successful principals engage their current teachers in recruiting new teachers and use them as cheerleaders for the school so that other strong teachers want to come there. Seeking out and attracting talent is a continuous process. Great principals are always on the lookout for potential quality candidates and have a deep pipeline of future hires.
Second, a principal has to create an environment in which all teachers can do their best work. The principal has to build a culture of success for teachers and students. They have to create the supportive conditions in which teachers want to work. Everything from the way the schedule is devised to available instructional resources to the cleanliness of the facility to daily encouragement and respectful feedback sets a tone for how teachers perform with students every day.
Patrice Pujol (center) at the 2017 forum of the Education Commission of the States.
Third, a principal has to match his or her strongest teachers with the students who need them the most. The use of teacher effectiveness data, including both teacher observation data and student growth data, is essential in this decision-making process. Principals must become masters at analyzing educator effectiveness data in determining how to assign teachers. Which teachers are most able to move which subgroups of students? Who can really move students who are way behind? Who connects best with students of color, with students who don’t speak English, with students with dyslexia? These are all questions that can be answered by making good use of the data and assigning teachers to students accordingly.
Fourth, a principal must leverage the talents of the most effective teacher leaders to improve the practice of other teachers. Principals have to create time and structures through which the most effective teachers on the campus can lead collaboration with other teachers in a cycle of continuous improvement. This collaborative professional learning must be embedded in the school day and driven by teacher and student need. Teachers must analyze student work, determine appropriate next steps towards students meeting the standards, decide which strategies will best accomplish these steps, and then have accountability for employing these strategies in the classroom. Teacher leaders should provide feedback and coaching to other teachers throughout the process in order to improve everyone’s craft and instructional practice.
Fifth, a principal needs to engage the most effective teachers in instructional decision-making. The most effective teachers on the campus have expertise and insights critical to the success of all students. These teachers must be at the table on all important instructional decisions for the school. Successful principals engage these effective teachers so that their expertise and influence are felt by all students in instructional decisions. When highly effective teachers are working with the principal to make decisions about curriculum, instructional strategies, assessment and resource allocation as a part of a coherent instructional program, all teachers can perform better and all students are better served.
By employing these practices and strategies in their schools, principals will attract and engage effective teachers in driving school success, target skills to students with the greatest barriers to learning, and use teacher expertise to build instructional excellence across the faculty. Over time, this will lead to schools where principals are able to ensure that the highest-need students are benefitting from the Ms. Browns in their building.
Dr. Patrice Pujol is co-president and chief strategy officer of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. A former superintendent, she brings over 40 years of experience working hand-in-hand with principals to strengthen teaching and learning.