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Mrs. McGreevy and the Case of the Proficient Rating

At the earlier part of this week I had the opportunity to work with a great group of leaders in the upstate New York area.  They were enthusiastic, engaging, welcoming and honest. What a great combination of qualities. 

Our one day workshop was scattered with interactive discussions, presentation of information and case scenarios.  I know it was invigorating for me to see a roomful of leaders during their summer days off not just being there, but working hard to learn and share.

Case of proficient rating

Mrs. McGreevy

One of the case scenarios gave rise to some great ideas and observations. Here it is:

“Mrs. McGreevy has taught Regents earth science at Marble Middle School for 19 years.  She clearly cares about her students and their learning and is often one of the first teachers to arrive in the morning and one of the last to leave after school.   She volunteers for many student activities and often attends sports events to cheer her students on.  Parents love her because she is so clearly dedicated to her work, and her track record of students passing the Regents is excellent.  She lives in the community and is highly involved with local events. For years, Mrs. McGreevy received the highest rating under the old evaluation system, which had been a district developed check list. 

Ever since the Danielson Rubric was adopted as the evaluation instrument, Mrs. McGreevy has received Proficient ratings.  She has felt hurt and confused about how she went from being an outstanding teacher under the old system to one who is merely Proficient now.  She has struggled to understand what a ‘student centered’ classroom looks like and cannot accept that her teacher directed approach (which gets excellent results) is no longer good enough. 

Mrs. McGreevy has shared her discontent with parents, who are now ready to call a meeting with Principal Scott over what they consider his unfair treatment of a prized teacher like Mrs. McGreevy.”

What We Did

The group spent about 20 minutes working in groups.  Half of the group was asked to view the scenario through the eyes of the principal, Mr. Scott and the other half was asked to view the scenario through the eyes of Mrs. McGreevey.  Both groups delivered some great insights and comments. Here are just a few with comments:

It was hard to put my teacher hat back on and think like a teacher

As we move through different phases of our careers we are bombarded with new information and new responsibilities. These, naturally, fill up our day and our thinking.  However, it is important to remember where we come from –the experiences and challenges. First, they brought us to where we are. Second, they help us to have empathy for the people we are leading. They can remind us how we wanted to be treated as team members. These insights can help guide our actions as we try to foster relationship.

Did the principal explain the framework and the new rating system?

How we communicate information is important.  Participants felt that the principal probably did not sit down with staff members and go through the new framework and what the new rating system meant. And, if he did, it was not clear.  Did they explain criteria for each level?   If leaders think like their team, they would ask themselves, “What information would I want to know? What would make me feel more comfortable with this change?”

How was the new framework introduced to the staff?

This is similar to the point above, but different enough to merit a mention of its own.   Change is a difficult process for everyone.  In this case it was difficult for both the leaders who had to not only learn the new rating system, but explain it to their staff and then use it and it was difficult for the teacher who all of a sudden found herself, after years under one system, being evaluated with a new rubric and no longer at the top of list.

The group agreed that change is a thoughtful process. The unrolling of a new system that affects teacher’s performance rating and income, needs to be thoughtful.  The leader might have put together a team of administrators and teachers to plan how this could happen, to identify what were points of concern, what were the questions the staff had  and how best to communicate this information to the teachers.

Did the principal visit Mrs. McGreevy’s throughout the year?

Participants felt feedback is essential when guiding people through change. A good strategy is to visit classrooms on a regular basis and provide feedback on how they are doing in regard to that change.  Mr. Scott should have provided Mrs. McGreevy with specific feedback on what she was doing well and what she could do better.  This consistent flow of back and forth information would have kept both Mr. Scott and Mrs. McGreevy informed on her progress, her strengths and the areas that she needed to improve. It could have led to a discussion on HOW she could improve—specific behaviors that Mr. Scott was looking for. In addition, a one on one conversation asking Mrs. McGreevy what were her expectations and helping her design a plan on how to achieve them would not only be effective, but foster a strong relationship between them.

What kind of relationship existed between Mrs. McGreevy and Mr. Scott

This was a recurring question from all the groups. Why did Mrs. McGreevy choose to speak to parents about this issue as opposed to go to Mr. Scott? The most prevalent answer was that there was no relationship or at the very least, no trusting relationship between the two.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, relationships are key to successful leadership and especially leadership during change.  Making time in the day to establish and sustain such relationships is time well spent and pays in dividends as the relationship grows and matures.


Leading during change is a thoughtful process and leaders need to be mindful on how they introduce new ideas. Time needs to be taken to reflect, consult and create a step by step process to implement and support the change. Change takes work from both sides. Leaders and their staff both need to be proactive in asking questions, providing input and feedback and keeping the lines of communication open and clear. 

Hope Changes Everything

What is it about change that can be so disconcerting? The list can probably be pages and pages. Here are just 2 ideas:

  • Lawrence Lezotte tells us that the system in place is ideally suited to producing the results the school is currently getting-so when we talk about change we are telling people the system that have been part of, sometimes for years, is changing.  That is unsettling for many.
  • When we ask people, in this case teachers to change what they are doing, even when it is based on data, it is often perceived as a challenge to their personal belief. The feel the hard work they have invested in being devalued.  They feel devalued.

The first point looks at “group” change and the second focuses in on the individual change. The fact is that are both connected and one can’t happen without the other.

In both cases, any change is going to require a change in core beliefs, and core values.  This is true for individual change and for group change.  If we want the change to be permanent and to grow, we must encourage people.  Change has two aspects.  We are going to look at the first, accepting the need for change (the second, as an FYI is managing the change.

Accepting the need for change

What is clear is sometimes the actual act of changing is as much a challenge as the actual change that is being implemented. I might even go as far as to say the act of changing is more of a challenge. 

Change is an emotional process. Yes, as leaders, we need to provide a rationale and a plan.  We need to present data and research, but at the end of the day people don’t follow data and logic, they follow people.  Leaders must draw on their Emotional Intelligence (EI) and connect at a heart-level.  They must offer hope.

Hope Changes Everything


Why is hope important? It moves people past their fear and resistance.  It provides them with a vision of something better—and we all want something better.  Hope helps the terminally sick to work toward their recovery. It helps the high school athlete dream about a career in the pros.  Hope allows us all to persevere as wait for what tomorrow will bring.

Questions to Reflect On

What does that mean for you? What does that mean for your staff? Is there overlap? Can or how can you use it to strengthen the relationship you have with your team? 

An Exercise in Reflection-Five Steps

What is the most precious commodity in any organization or even in any individual’s day? Time. Our days are so full and crowded with things to do, people to meet, and the perennial fire that needs to be put out, that we often don’t make time to think and plan.  The result is rather than thoughtful responses, we often react.  Summer time is a good time for reflection—with the goal of continuing the practice throughout the year.  Here are five steps to consider.

Learn from Reflection

Step One: Step Away from the Fray

The school year is over and students are enjoying their summer.  Just like most leaders, your work continues. The good news is that you can schedule some time to begin the practice of reflective planning.

For some, first thing in the morning works.  For others, later in the day is more effective.  What is important is to step away from the daily fray, and commit to carving out time for reflection.

Step Two: Leave your Bias at the Door

All of us see issues and situation through our personal lens. That, of course, is important because it allows us to use our experience, expertise and knowledge to interpret information and guide our actions. At the same time—and this is a balancing act that takes practice—we use our experience, expertise and knowledge leaders need to set the bias that is the result of experience aside. When reflecting we need to take time to look at information with a new lens-without the prejudice of past failures or even past successes. The goal is to improve and both the bias of failure and success can get in our way.

Step Three: Determine Your Focus

Reflection needs a focus.  The focus can be your goals for the next year. It can be a specific problem like teacher retention.  Whatever it is, identify the data you need to review to help you make informed decisions.  This presupposes that you have data to analyze. If not, then a good topic for reflection is what data needs to be collected during the year to help you make informed decisions.

Step Four: Create a plan

Create a description of your vision/position based on the data review.  What are you trying to accomplish? What behaviors are you looking for among teachers and students? What resources will be needed? How will you determine you if you are being successful or not?

Step Five—Sharing

Information, ideas, plans—knowledge—need to be shared with others.  Sharing, effective sharing, allows for input, especially input from the people that will be implementing your vision. The act of sharing is another instance when you need to set your bias aside and listen to others.  An indicator that you are sharing effectively is your vision or plan should be changed by the sharing.

Technology has made sharing easier and easier.  There are sites like SurveyMonkey-- https://www.surveymonkey.com/ --that offer a free option. Post your description and then set up a survey to allow for input and comments. Send it to all of your stakeholders. This can be teachers, parents, support staff and yes, even, students.

Here is an important part of Step Five that people forget.  Get back to the people and let them know the results of the sharing. Thank them for their participation and input. Be specific on how their contributions changed/improved your (really now it yours and theirs) plan.


Leading should be a thoughtful process. Time needs to be identified and set aside for leaders to identify what they want to accomplish or how they want to address an issue. Reflection is a time saving strategy.  Although we are often led to believe that leaders are born and what they do comes naturally to them, the truth is that leadership takes practice and reflection.

Friday Reflection: We teach by Example

What kind of culture do you want for your organization?  Most people, leaders and team members, answer “a positive one.”

Like everything else in leadership, creating and maintaining a positive culture is a thoughtful process-it just doesn’t happen by itself.  And like other things in leadership, culture is a reflection and function of your leadership. Your team watches and observes how you lead and how you react and they consciously and unconsciously mimic you.


Teach by Example

Students taught me this lesson years ago.  Each Friday students would gather for student government. Side conversations prior to the opening of the meeting were loud.  I would stand in front of the room and at 9:00 AM call for silence with my arms folded across my chest (please don’t do what I did, I have since learned much more effective behavior management).  Every once in awhile pearls would drop from my mouth like, “I have all day,” or “I can wait as long as I need to.”

One Friday a student approached me and asked if he could kick off the meeting. I said, “Sure.”

The young man got up in front of the group and at 9:00 AM sharp proceeded to do a perfect imitation of me. Arms folded. My tone of voice. The words I used. He had been watching and I had been teaching. He had been learning without knowing. I had been teaching without knowing.

  • What do your actions teach your team?
  • Are you aware of your impact on people?
  • How can you influence people for the good?

Identify a behavior you would like to see your staff emulate and think how you can best model it for them.

5 Low Preparation Strategies Every Teacher Can Use

Differentiation can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.  Not all differentiation strategies require intensive planning.   After developing the habit of observing your students carefully and paying attention to the factors of high quality instruction, you can begin to add 3 or 4 strategies that require low preparation. Use these weekly for the entire year. By the end of the year, these things will have become second nature to you- they will be at an automatic level.

Here are five low preparation strategies that can be used to differentiate your instruction, your assessments and can also be used as formative assessments.

One: An Easy Way to Begin

Work with a small group for just 5-10 minutes a day. Review what they have learned thus far in the unit. Remediate anything they have mis-learned or failed to learn--help them “fill the potholes.”   Don’t forget to provide enrichment for those who are already rock solid.

Fill the pot holes

Two: Homework Assignments

  • When creating homework assignment, have two available rather than just one. One might be an extension activity for students who have mastered the basics, the other a review or practice of the basics. You might provide the two levels of assignments in folders of 2 different colors so that you can assign by color, not by a degrading label such as the “bluebirds” and the “buzzards.”
  • Another option would be to provide practice of the skills that have been taught in two different assignments, but allow for a choice on the part of the students. Most of the time, homework comes from the adopted curriculum and does not require much teacher preparation.
  • Below is an example of multiple choices for homework in vocabulary. This could be used over and over again, each time a new list of vocabulary words is to be studied.
    • Use any resource available at home to find other words that have the same prefix, suffix, or root word as the vocabulary words.
    • Write the vocabulary words and definitions on flash cards. (Tomorrow, you will trade with a friend.)
    • Create a short story using all of the vocabulary words.
    • Draw and color pictures that represent the meaning of the vocabulary words.
  • Here’s a math example.  The class assignment is to complete 15 problems, adding fractions. The directions for higher achievers is:

“Instead of doing all of these problems, pick two – just so I know that you remember how to add fractions. But I’d like you to spend the remainder of your homework time thinking through one of my dilemmas: We teachers tell you that fractions and decimals are the same. I’m not sure if that is true. When I add 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3, I get 1. When I add 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating], I get 0.999 [repeating]. Those aren’t exactly the same. Can you help me figure out why? What happens to the extra 0.001?”

Three: Use a KWL chart

 KWL Chart

This is a simple 3 column chart.  The first column is labeled with a K for what is already known about a given topic.  The second column, labeled with a “W”, for what you want your students to know from the lesson.  The third column is labeled “L” for what is actually learned.

You can use these charts like cheat sheets to spot strengths or gaps in students' base knowledge. This chart attends to the meta-cognitive thought processes of our students- students must know what they know, but more importantly know what they DON”T know so they have fix up strategies- rereading, for example. Also attaching new knowledge to background knowledge your children already have ( K) enhances and deepens comprehension. When reading about the country, if I have only lived in urban areas, a lot of prep time on the part of the teacher would be necessary to ensure I could learn about this new content. IF, however, my grandparents had a farm I would have much more in depth and immediate knowledge of a rural area. These can be done as a class, or individually by students.

Four: Exit Tickets

Print two exit tickets. Present one or the other to each student based on their readiness. Every student is expected to know about the topic but the questions are based on skill level and degree of knowledge.

In the example below, students have been studying simile and metaphor. All students are expected to know both terms, however, you can offer two options for demonstrating that knowledge. Explaining the difference and giving examples, as seen on the first card, is much more sophisticated that simply identifying whether a phrase is a simile or a metaphor, as seen on the second card.

Exit Ticket #1: Explain the difference between simile and metaphor. Give some examples of each in your explanation.

Exit Ticket #2:Happy as a clam is an example of: Circle the correct response- Simile or Metaphor

Five: Non-Compromising Strategies

You can also offer assistance that does not compromise the integrity of what you are trying to accomplish. For example, provide a word bank for difficult words that may need to be used on a test or writing assignment. (Are you testing spelling or students’ understanding of weather? If you are testing knowledge of weather, providing spelling help does not invalidate the test.)

Offer to read any unknown words on any test other than a reading test.

Provide a multiplication table or number line for math. (Yes, we know all students should become fluent in basic facts- maybe you’ll remediate that during small groups. However, a multiplication chart may make it possible for everyone to work on the current skill.)


Remember, start small. You don’t need to create a new differentiated assignment each day for each subject. You can’t. You just can’t. Choose one subject. As you get more comfortable with differentiating assignments, add this strategy to other subjects.

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