1. How and to what extent are teachers using teacher evaluation data, particularly classroom observation data, to guide practice improvement?
2. How and to what extent does school context influence teacher use of evaluation data?
3. How does the interaction between the teacher evaluation system and school-level instructional improvement support systems shape teacher instructional improvement?
We interviewed 44 teachers and 7 administrators in 7 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) at three time points from 2017–18. We looked specifically at whether and how the state-mandated teacher evaluation system in CPS—Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago’s (REACH) Students—prompted teachers’ instructional improvement. This study found three categories of organizational elements that influenced instructional improvement efforts in schools:
- Colleagues were the most cited influential resource supporting instructional improvement efforts.
- School leaders shaped teachers’ perceptions and attitudes toward REACH, and impacted teachers’ use of REACH data to guide improvement via the expectations, culture, and structural supports they establish in their schools.
- School culture and context, especially related to formal collaboration opportunities and programmatic stability (or programmatic instability), functioned as a support (or hindrance) to instructional improvement efforts.
This study and its findings raise a key question for district, school, and teacher leaders: how can they best support developing the complex organizational conditions captured in the research findings in all schools—especially schools with limited instructional support systems—so that all teachers have access to important instructional support and resources?
1. Colleagues and Collaboration
- Collegial relationships and trust provided the basis for many teachers’ willingness to share and discuss, reflect on, and use REACH data.
- Schools in which teachers felt respected as knowledgeable professionals encouraged collaboration among colleagues and the leveraging of internal expertise to support REACH-related practice changes.
- Formal Collaborative Structures/Settings
- Teachers identified several formal collaborative structures and opportunities existing in their school which, when utilized for learning, supported improvement efforts.
- Structures that facilitated personalized, practice-focused opportunities for teacher collaboration around classroom observations were particularly impactful to teachers’ practice improvement efforts.
- Coach and mentor teacher relationships were highly supportive for teachers attempting REACH-related instructional changes.
- Departmental, grade, course, and vertical team meetings were by far the most common collaborative structure teachers had access to, however teachers’ ability to productively use them to support REACH-related practice changes was limited.
- Teachers’ ability to leverage learning from large scale professional development for evaluation-related improvement was generally predicated on individual teachers’ ability to connect and transfer professional development learning to those efforts.
- Principals’ attitudes toward REACH shaped teachers’ attitudes toward REACH.
- Teachers who trusted their principals were more likely to welcome and use REACH feedback.
- The clarity, communication, and coherence of school-wide professional expectations and instructional priorities provided by school leadership could promote or hinder REACH data use for improvement.
- Teachers who had evaluators they perceived as knowledgeable instructional leaders or as having relevant classroom experience were often more open to evaluation feedback.
- Principals who employed an “open door policy” supported teachers’ ongoing instructional improvement through intermittent, informal coaching and collaboration.
3. School Culture and Context
- Consistency and stability of school programs and initiatives facilitated teachers' ability to make individualized practice improvements.
- Schools with improvement or learning-focused professional cultures promoted teachers’ confidence to make REACH-related practice improvements and collaborate with colleagues to the same ends.
- The population served by the school or classroom was, at times, perceived as limiting potential REACH-related practice changes teachers considered.