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Tapping Into Teamwork

Leadership teams that include principals and master teachers can boost both academic achievement and teacher morale.

With a job that pulls them in 10 directions at once, principals may find that fair, thorough teacher evaluations get lost in the shuffle. A program developed to support teachers has the potential to turn a challenging, sometimes adversarial process into an opportunity for improving the entire school. TAP (Teacher Advancement Program) helps principals set up a collaborative approach to mentoring and evaluating teaching staff.

A leadership team consisting of the principal, a master teacher, and a mentor teacher shares the workload. The master and mentor teachers meet regularly with classroom teachers to identify professional goals. Principals are kept in the loop but have more time to be instructional leaders.

TAP offers administrators a field-tested model for evaluation and mentoring they wouldn't have the resources to build from the ground up, says Kristan Van Hook, of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, which developed TAP. "TAP provides a structure so the principals don't have to rely on personal influence."

TAP is in place in 500 schools across 17 states. The structure is simple but potentially rich: A mentor teacher and a master teacher are added to the staff or developed from within. They serve as the principal's eyes and ears in every classroom in the building-observing instruction, offering feedback, conducting professional development, and, ultimately, evaluating teachers.

Mentor and master teachers receive a stipend beyond their salaries, and they usually teach fewer classes. Classroom instructors can earn bonuses based on their students' performance and that of the entire school. Federal Race to the Top and Teacher Incentive Fund grants are both potential sources for financing the program.

"If the old way of teacher evaluation was ‘Gotcha!' this is anything but that," says David Dresslar, executive director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis. "The process is very transparent. Instead of just informing the teacher of where they need help, the evaluator does professional development on those weaknesses. This program allows administrators to be instructional leaders in a way they never could before."    

How Do TAP Bonuses Work?

  • Teachers can get bonuses based on students' academic achievements and classroom performance, as assessed by multiple, trained evaluators.
  • Teachers and principals may receive bonuses based on school-wide academic progress.
  • Each TAP school creates a fund of about $2,500 for each teacher. Some schools receive federal grants; others use Title I or Title II money.
  • Bonuses can reach $10,000. "It's very rare, but it does happen," says NIET's Kristan Van Hook. But, she cautions, "incentive is a misnomer. A bonus doesn't incentivize, but it does signal what's important. Teachers should be recognized with more than a pat on the back."

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