Increase Student Achievement by Affirming Teachers

School leaders gain trust when he or she “recognizes and celebrates accomplishments and acknowledges failures” [Marzano et al.]. They build trust through the daily practice of intentional affirmation.

Maintaining a practice of affirmation does not mean the school leader only celebrates the success of teacher initiatives, student achievement, or parental community projects, but also affirms areas where the school is not succeeding and is transparent about those as well. The intentional practice of affirmation is most critical in the relationship between the school leader and teachers.

“There is widespread agreement now that of all the factors inside the school that affect children’s learning and achievement, the most important is the teacher – not standards, assessments, resources, or even the school’s leadership, but the quality of the teacher” [Hargreaves and Fullan].

Therefore, it is critical for the school leader to ensure that the school has quality, gifted, self-motivated professionals in those teaching positions.

Trusted school leaders elevate student learning and growth through the affirmation of teachers. In other words, trusted instructional supervisors keep a vigilant focus on the continual and constant quality improvement of their teachers’ instructional practices – celebrating successes and acknowledging areas for improvement. This is accomplished, in part, by ensuring there is accountability for classroom performance and teacher effectiveness. That accountability is maintained through transparent classrooms and instructional practices. Trusted leaders, who connect with their staff, are frequently in their teacher’s classrooms. They frequently review and affirm lesson plans, student work, assessments, rubrics, and even the teacher’s gradebook for the primary purpose of celebrating teacher work.

Data as a Source for Affirmation

Often the characteristics equated with making a connection between school leaders and stakeholders are warm and fuzzy emotional attributes. Yet, we know that connected school leaders are data-driven in their work, being intentional to triangulate the data they use, for example, to evaluate teachers. Thus, trusted leaders diligently document teacher meetings, observations, student and parent conversations, examples of teacher and student work, etc. – then utilize data to evaluate professional performance and provide guidance for improvement. However, all of those same data sources are excellent opportunities for providing affirmation – celebrating successes and acknowledging areas for improvement. Intentionally building meaningful and helpful connections with stakeholders is perhaps the best use and purpose for collecting the data.

One often-overlooked dimension of the evaluation process is consistently identifying areas to celebrate. Far too often, evaluations are conducted primarily to identify weaknesses. When this takes place, it can be at the expense of missing opportunities to build up, encourage, motivate, and engage the school community by identifying and celebrating success areas.

“The current emphasis on test results as the single most important indicator of a school’s effectiveness heightens the need for students, administrators, and staff to feel the pride that accompanies winning. Carrying out program evaluations can help meet this need since their ultimate aim is to determine how school outcomes can be improved. Even for those schools considered exemplary, assessing programs has the potential for taking student performance to still higher levels” [Tuytens and Devos].

One of the school leader’s most vital roles is providing support and assistance to their teachers as needed. Today’s teachers face greater demands than ever before. Affirming leaders have an understanding ear for their teachers’ frustrations. Their office is a safe and inviting place for teachers to share their burdens, challenges, failures, and successes. They are problem-solvers and resource providers. They are champions for their teachers. They challenge and prod others on to further excellence but are quick to defend them, provide public praise, and deal with private problems. They are TrustED!

©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

Recommended Reading:

  • Marzano et al., School Leadership That Works
  • Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School
  • Seyyed Ali Ostovar Namaghi, “A Data-Driven Conceptualization of Teacher Evaluation,” Qualitative Report 15, no. 6 (2010): 1504-1522
  • Melissa Tuytens and Geert Devos, “How to activate teachers through teacher evaluation?” School Effectiveness and School Improvement 25, no. 4 (2014): 509-530


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