Christi Bergin, a research professor in Educational, School and Counseling Psychology, pondered those questions in 2010 at a standing-room-only annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. States anticipated President Barack Obama would soon be offering waivers for specific requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act in exchange for rigorous plans that included, among other things, improving teacher evaluations. Educators were eager to learn more about the teacher evaluation component.
“Historically, teacher evaluation programs told teachers whether they met expectations, but didn’t identify or provide resources to help those teachers improve specific teaching practices,” says Christi Bergin. “On top of that, principals weren’t trained how to evaluate teachers.”
What makes a good teacher great? How can principals help teachers become even stronger teachers through evaluation?
She felt passionately about developing a research-based approach to teacher evaluation that would give principals a more useful way to measure a teacher’s performance and provide teachers with concrete tools to improve their teaching. With her extensive background in educational research, she began working on a system. “I knew whatever system I developed, it had to be easy to use, yet powerful.”
At the same time, Marc Doss in the College of Education, was pondering the same questions from the perspective of a K-12 educator. Doss is a former Missouri school teacher, principal and superintendent who served as the director of the Heart of Missouri Regional Professional Development Center.
Bergin and Doss teamed up to develop the system. “Marc and I made a great team,” says Bergin. “It was exactly the type of partnership between researchers and practitioners the College of Education does so well.”
Bergin continued to refine the system while Doss recruited 33 school districts to participate in the fee-based program, which was named the Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE).
“By the end of 2011, we had 100 school districts on board and it continued to spread like wildfire,” says Doss. “Today more than 270 districts use NEE and we train more than 1,500 principals and administrators every year how to conduct effective teacher evaluations,” says Doss.
“Our building administrators have grown tremendously as professional evaluators,” says Jeff Miller, associate superintendent of human resources for Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. “They are in the classroom more often and have a laser-like focus now that we are evaluating four or five indicators instead of 26.”
Randy Luebbert is a principal at Warsaw High School and his district is one of the 33 original NEE members. “With NEE, our administrators have had the best conversations and feedback with teachers I’ve seen in my 25 years in education,” says Luebbert. “NEE takes the emotional aspect out of evaluations and creates positive conversations for improvement. Our entire district now speaks the same language instructionally.”
One key component of NEE is its comprehensive data. “We have the ability to track and store data and artifacts for each educator, building and district, as well as provide comparable data,” says Doss. “For example, districts can evaluate how their first-year teachers are doing compared to other first-year teachers in similar school districts, or pull aggregate data for all of their teachers to see if there are any consistent issues within the district that need to be addressed. There is no other vendor in the nation that provides this type of data.”
Professional development plans for teachers are another key component of the NEE system. “If teachers need to improve in a specific practice, they can immediately access professional development plans geared to that practice through an online training library known as Ed Hub as well as peer videos,” says Doss. “Those teachers also benefit from more frequent mini-observations and short feedback conversations with the principal after school.”
Doss says NEE also conducts student surveys. “The student surveys usually confirm the principal’s assessment or point out areas where there are discrepancies. It’s another way to ensure the accuracy of the principal’s evaluation.”
“Thanks to Christi and the other members of the NEE team, we have created a uniquely comprehensive and effective teacher evaluation system that is affordable for school districts of all sizes,” says Doss. “While NEE is designed to help teachers and administrators, the real beneficiaries are the students. Effective teaching improves student engagement and learning–it’s that simple.”
To learn more about NEE, contact Marc Doss at firstname.lastname@example.org.