Rubrics as Growth Pathways for Instructional Practice - The Principal Center

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Rubrics as Growth Pathways for Instructional Practice

Who's the best person to decide what instructional practices to use in a lesson?

Obviously, the teacher who planned the lesson, and who is responsible for teaching it and ensuring that students learn what they're supposed to learn. 

Yet too often, we second-guess our teachers. 

We do it to be helpful—to provide feedback to help teachers grow—but I'd suggest it's often not the best way to help teachers grow.

Over the past couple of days, I've been arguing that we're facing a crisis of credibility in our profession.

Too often, we adopt reductive definitions of teacher practice, because so much of teacher practice can't be seen in a brief observation. 

It's either beneath the surface—the invisible thinking and decision-making that teachers do—or it takes place over too long a span of time. 

We've been calling these two issues “visibility” and “zoom.”

Sometimes, when we second-guess teachers, we tell them they should have used other practices:

“Did you think about doing a jigsaw?”

“Did you think about using small groups for that part of the lesson?”

And hey, this can be helpful. Every day, administrators are giving teachers thousands of good ideas.

But sometimes we're making these suggestions without a clear sense of the teacher's instructional purpose

The practices must match the purpose, and a quick visit may not give us enough information to make truly useful suggestions.

The remedy to most of this is simply to have a conversation with the teacher—to treat feedback as a two-way street rather than a one-way transfer of ideas from leader to teacher. 

But we shouldn't enter into these conversations alone. 

There aren't just two parties involved when a leader speaks with a teacher.

The third party in every conversation should be the instructional framework—the set of shared expectations for practice. 

Why? 

Because a framework serves as an objective standard—an arbiter. 

It turns a conversation from a clash of opinions into a process of triangulation.

A more formal definition:

An instructional framework is a set of shared expectations serving as the basis for conversations about professional practice.

The best frameworks aren't just descriptions—they're leveled descriptions…

Or what we typically call rubrics. 

When you have a rubric, you have a growth pathway.

When teachers can see where their practice currently is—on a rubric, based on evidence—they can get a clear next step.

How?

By simply looking at the next level in the rubric.

If you're at a 3, look at level 4. 

If you're at a 1, look at level 2.

Now, we usually have rubrics for our evaluation criteria.

But what about the instructional practices that teachers are using every day?

Do we have leveled rubrics describing those practices?

Often, we don't bother creating them, because they're so specific to each subject and grade. 

They don't apply to all teachers in all departments, and we prefer to focus on things that we can use with our entire staff. 

So we miss out on one of the highest-leverage opportunities we have in our profession:

The opportunity to create clear descriptions of instructional practice, with subject-specific details that provide every teacher with pathways for growth. 

We can do it. In fact, teachers can do it mostly on their own, with just a bit of guidance. 

So let me ask you: 

What areas of instructional practice could your teachers focus on?

Where would it be helpful to have them develop leveled rubrics?

I'm sure it's specific to your school, and you wouldn't want to just download a rubric from the internet. You'd want teachers to have ownership. 

So what would it be?