I was approached to write an article about principal evaluation that might inform Clarion’s readership about the pitfalls and benefits or merits of such an evaluation. What would be prerequisites for this evaluation and how would it best be conducted? What standards would be used for measurement? Should principal evaluation be done in the context of school evaluation or independently? In a Reformed context, how should we go about evaluating the manager or the leader of the school?
There is great deal of professional literature regarding principal evaluation, much of it not germane to our local, parentally-controlled Christian schools. I will confine my research to three documents1 related to schools similar to ours and offer some critique and commentary.
The introduction to the booklet Staff Evaluation from Christian Schools International sets the foundation for evaluation within the context of Christian organizations. To understand and appreciate what the desired attributes and responsibilities for a principal ought to be, one should examine the nature of leadership in Christian organizations, and more particularly, in the Christian school. Paul says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us ... if it is leadership, let him govern diligently” (Romans 12:6, 8).
Leadership, as explained in Scripture, is a gift or capability to be used to equip others for ministry and for building up the body of Christ. In Christian schools, God provides leaders to help teachers educate children well. While all people lead others to some degree, God equips certain people, especially for leadership. Furthermore, Scripture indicates that those persons possessing leadership ability are to be acknowledged and are to exercise this gift within and for the body. Paul tells the Ephesians that leaders (teachers, pastors, administrators) ought to use their gift “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). Some believe God’s model of a good elder or “overseer” applies in some ways to Christian school leaders; these overseers will be “above reproach ... self-controlled, able to teach.”
The principal’s primary supervisory responsibility is to serve the people in the organization to help them accomplish their tasks. The service that Christian leaders provide is nurture, a caring and feeding of the individual or group. The major focus of a leader’s supervision is to assist followers and help them grow. In situations where individuals do not grow within the body, the leader needs to direct and correct. The responsibility to exhort and admonish is inherent in the leader’s task.
All of the principles of evaluation normally applied to teachers apply to principals as well. The focus of an evaluation for administrators ought to be on improvement. It ought to be regular, fair, comprehensive, and direct. It ought to follow the principles of Matthew 18. It ought to be based on a clear job description, so that whoever evaluates the educational leader of the school is not doing it arbitrarily but on the basis of previously decided written responsibilities of the administrator. It ought to consist of multiple viewpoints (board members, education committee members, teachers, etc.). It ought to include both written comments and a face-to-face meeting with the people who employ the leader. All persons who make observations should “speak the truth in love” for the benefit of the school leader. And its success ought to be measured against the prime goal of enhancing Christian education in the school.
School boards must make clear distinctions between the role of the Board and the role of the principal. Board members sometimes make the mistake of “administering” the daily functions of the school; principals sometimes decide policy when they should be insisting that the Board make policy. The Board must put in place policies that best carry out the purpose of the school; it should not administer the policies. Administrators should insist that they themselves will implement the policies set by the Board. The Board ought to make these distinctions clear in establishing its job description for the principal. If a school does not have a written job description for its leader, it ought to form one soon, with the help of the administrator. The job description ought to include statements about administration, educational leadership, spiritual leadership, staff supervision and leadership, instructional leadership, student leadership, facility and site leadership, board leadership, education committee leadership, community leadership, etc.
Who is responsible for evaluating the principal? Certainly, the Board is responsible overall, but it may include in its process Education Committee questionnaires, faculty questionnaires, etc. How a school decides to evaluate its administrator depends somewhat on the size of the school and the Board’s policies for evaluation. Almost all schools use either of the following models for evaluating the administrator, essentially different in the number of people involved in the evaluation:
1. Evaluation by a Few
In this procedure, the Board appoints a committee of three people to evaluate the administrator. This committee makes all the observations, compares the work of the administrator to the criteria for the position, interviews the administrator, and keeps the written record of the evaluation. This committee provides the full board with a general summary of the committee’s evaluation.
2. Evaluation by Many
In this procedure, the Board may appoint a committee to conduct the evaluation, but many people participate in observing and evaluating the work of the administrator.
Board members must realize that the evaluation of the principal is designed to enhance the quality of administration in the school; it is not an occasion to get things off one’s chest. Personal matters ought to be handled personally, according to Matthew 18.
The Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools and the Ontario Christian School Administrators Association published a handbook in 1995 dealing with evaluation of Christian School Administrators. The title of the document, Growth in Christian Leadership, is indicative of their model for principal evaluation. They assert that principals need continuous development and renewal in their professional competence and educational insights. The board, through the evaluation process, can challenge the principal to explore new areas. They state that the challenge to grow is scriptural and cite numerous references to support their position. However, I believe that many of their references do not support their call for continuous growth in competence. Let me cite some examples.
“Paul, in his letter to Timothy, makes it quite clear that being an ‘overseer’ is a ‘noble task.’ This ‘noble task’ requires evaluation by the school board on a regular basis.” Paul indeed makes it clear that being an overseer is a noble task, but to follow with the sentence that this noble task requires evaluation by the school board on a regular basis seems to me to be most inappropriate. Paul is specifically speaking about the office of overseers or bishops or elders in the church. Further, he does not suggest any evaluation process for them.
“The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that if the body (Christian school community) is to speak the truth and grow in the Lord educationally (Ephesians 4:15-16) members must ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ (Thessalonians 5:11).” The Scriptures indeed make it clear that it is the task of the body to build up and encourage, but, in my mind, that is not a metaphor for formative and summative evaluation. The Ephesians text speaks specifically of growth in the unity of faith, not of growth in competence.
“Principals need continuous development and renewal in their professional competence and educational insights. The challenge to grow is scriptural. In Romans 15:14 Paul says, ‘I, myself, am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.’” The text does not support the assertion. In fact, with emphasis added, it refutes it. I, myself, am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to instruct one another (emphasis mine). One who is full, complete, and competent need not be evaluated for growth.
I am not suggesting here that one ought not to evaluate administrators. I am merely stating that the texts quoted in the document do not support the premises attributed to them. The procedure seems to adopt a continuous growth model, very popular in many circles. Think of those in sales, where their targets for performance increase every year. There is little notion here of saying to an employee that we are satisfied with his or her performance; there is always room for improvement. The scriptural model, it seems to me, calls for continuous growth in faith, not in competence.
The League of Canadian Reformed School Societies in Ontario charged a School Evaluation Organization Committee to propose a procedure for Formal Assessment of the Principal, a report which was presented to the League in September 2003. The Committee used the OCSAA policy as a resource document in formulating their report. They recommend, among other things, that a formal evaluation take place every three years, that the Board appoint an ad hoc committee for that purpose, and that one of the tools involved in the process will be questionnaires to be completed by Board members, Education Committee members, and staff. Among the stipulations for the procedure is the understanding that any serious personal concerns have been addressed with the person(s) involved before appearing on a questionnaire, according to the rule of Matthew 18. The questionnaires in the documents include questions that are not really a function of the competency of the principal, but that is a small matter that could be easily corrected.
Certainly, principals should be evaluated, as most people are in their jobs. I think that the position is somewhat unique and the evaluation process should recognize that. In a sense, principals are evaluated at every Board meeting and there is a general understood sense of competency related to the day to day functioning of the school. Many people have an anecdotal sense of the principal’s competence or lack thereof. Nevertheless, a process should be implemented so that there is a summative record that clearly indicates the Board’s formal opinion of the principal’s professional competence.
I believe that there are some important principles for effective evaluation. First, evaluation should always be done against a known standard, against known expectations. It is difficult to evaluate someone for whom there is no job description. Second, I strongly believe that people should be evaluated by those to whom they are accountable. As students are evaluated by teachers to whom they are accountable, and teachers are evaluated by the principal to whom they are accountable, so principals should be evaluated by the Board to whom they are accountable. We do not have our teachers evaluated by their students, neither do we circulate questionnaires amongst the student body to evaluate teacher competency. The Board may need to make some use of questionnaires, but I believe that they have at least the potential to be problematic. They place teachers in a potentially awkward position to have to make evaluative comments about a person to whom they are accountable. They also open the door to potential abuse of the Matthew 18 principle, regardless of the up-front warnings against such action.
Principals should be evaluated regularly and professionally so that they can be effectively supported in their leadership of the school communities they serve. May Christian school principals continue to serve diligently, joyfully, and competently. And may our school communities continue to have high regard for those who labour faithfully amongst us as Christian leaders.