Month: September 2015

What makes an independent school independent?

When families send their children to an independent school, but those families did not attend an independent school, they aren’t always sure how independent schools and public schools are different, other than the fact that you must pay tuition (in addition to your taxes) to attend an independent school. There are two main differences:

Independent schools are governed independently.

Independent schools are financed independently.

Independent governance means that a group of volunteers, called “trustees,” meet regularly to ensure that the mission of the school is clear and that the mission of the school is carried out. The Board of Trustees is self-sustaining: nominating and ratifying new members to serve for a set term of service. The Board of Trustees hires a Head of School to oversee the day-to-day operations of the school. The Head of School is the Board’s only employee, and the Board is responsible for evaluating the Head, who must hire the rest of the school’s employees and ensure that those employees are qualified and evaluated. The Head is responsible for administering the academic and extracurricular programs offered by the school, in accordance with the school mission. The Board of Trustees is responsible for planning for the future of the school and for ensuring that the school has the financial resources it needs to carry out its mission. An independent school does not follow the state’s Department of Education standards of learning or any other policies, unless that school chooses to do so. Independent schools develop their own academic and extracurricular programs and may choose to be accredited by an independent school association.

Independent schools must pay their own way, through tuition, charitable giving, and alternative revenue streams, like facilities rental and summer programs. The Board of Trustees sets tuition each year, based on an operating budget that includes teacher salaries and benefits, as well as the expenses of maintaining the physical plant and providing the resources needed to carry out the program of the school. When an independent school needs to build new facilities, the Board of Trustees embarks upon on a capital campaign to raise money through charitable giving to pay for the construction of those facilities. The state does not provide financing for the running or the improvement of the school. Most independent schools seek to build an endowment that can support the operating budget with income from investments. Good financial management is essential for the sustainability of an independent school. Private schools that are affiliated with churches usually receive financial support from the church, but truly independent schools do not receive support from other institutions.

Teacher Self-Evaluation

The following is a tool for teachers to do a simple, “gut-check,” self-evaluation at the start of the school year. It serves to remind teachers of the various parts of their job, and it sets the stage for a conversation with the Head of School about possible targets for the teacher for the year.


A NISE Evaluation!

Read the description of each element of teaching. Decide where on this scale you are for each of these elements of teaching. Rank yourself. None of the rankings are “bad,” they are indicators of level of expertise and passion for a particular element of teaching. Don’t perseverate, but go with your gut instinct when you choose your level.

N – Novice: I’m just learning how to do this. I need more practice and guidance with this.

I – Intermediate: I understand this and I’ve had some successes. I still need practice and guidance.

S – Skilled: I have strong skills in this area. I can do this quite well. In this area I am reliable and competent. I could advise someone else.

E – Expert: I am so good at this that I could teach a course on it. I am tremendously passionate about this aspect of teaching. If you filmed me doing it, I would be proud to show the results. I have a strong reputation for being really good at this.


Elements of Teaching

The descriptions of each element aren’t meant to be complete, but should help define and illustrate that element.

_____Content Knowledge: I have deep factual and conceptual knowledge about the subject matter I am teaching. I continue to increase my background knowledge systematically in this area.

_____Pedagogical Knowledge: I have many tools for instruction, including, but not limited to: direct instruction, collaborative instruction, differentiated instruction, coaching, individualizing, scaffolding, using a variety of technologies, understanding how to make things “sticky,” having clarity of purpose of the lesson.

_____Assessment: I know the difference between summative and formative assessment, and I use both appropriately. I refer to standardized testing results as appropriate to ensure I meet the needs of my students. I have tried and true assessment strategies and a sense of “with-it-ness” in the classroom that, together, tell me which students understand and which still need support. I provide regular, useful, timely feedback to my students on their work.

_____Educational Technology: I am able to use technology easily to present material to students and to design activities in which students will practice using technology. I understand that technology is constantly changing, and I have an open mind to possible new applications of technology to enhance and accelerate learning. I continually study “cutting edge” technology.

_____Educational Innovation: I believe that it is my responsibility to be aware of current educational research in pedagogy, assessment, and core content, and I read widely to ensure that I know of new developments. At the same time, I do not innovate simply to do something different, but instead, I innovate when I think it will result in more effective enduring understanding in my students.

_____Planning and Preparation: I start my unit planning from my ultimate curricular goals. I know the enduring understandings (factual, conceptual, and skill-based) that I expect my students to gain from my teaching. I plan backwards from those ultimate goals. I make plenty of space in my unit and daily lesson plans for serendipity/student passion/teachable moment, and I balance that with “sticking to the knitting” and accomplishing my goals. My goals are connected to the essential topics listed in the school curriculum guide. I bring my instruction back to essential questions that lead students to enduring understandings. I am ready for each day with thorough plans, and I provide regular, useful, and timely feedback to my students.

_____Child Development: I have a deep understanding of the developmental needs of the children I teach, and I ensure that the activities, readings, and materials I provide are appropriate for them. I refresh my memory of child development on a regular basis.

_____Classroom Culture: I establish a trusting, safe culture in my classroom where no one fears intimidation, embarrassment, or humiliation from anyone. My classroom routines are purposeful and serve to reassure students that I understand them, respect them, and have been thoughtful about the activities we will do each day. I encourage collaboration, questioning, and curiosity in my classroom.

_____School Culture: I am invested in the entire school culture. I want each child, whether I teach them directly or not, to feel safe, cherished, and challenged each day at school. I am willing to intervene when students from another grade or area of the school need social or behavioral coaching. I respect my colleagues and treat them as I would wish to be treated. I am a team player and volunteer to help when practical and possible, while maintaining a balance in my life to be as effective as I can be.

_____Student Relations: I treat all students with kindness, and I model the character traits of: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship in all my relations with students. I take advantage of conflicts to coach students on how to repair social mistakes and how to treat each other using good character. I believe all students can learn.

_____Parent Relations: I treat all parents with kindness, and I model the character traits of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship in all my relations with parents. I do not gossip. I share with parents difficult information about their child, when necessary, but in such a way that they can “hear” it and still know that I care about their child. I do not allow parents to treat me unkindly, but I do understand that most poor behavior on parents’ part springs from anxiety, and I have a bias toward forgiveness. I see parents as essential partners in education.

_____Collegial Relations: I treat all colleagues with kindness, and I model the character traits of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship in all my relations with colleagues. I do not gossip. If I am a parent, I do not take advantage of being at school to ask a colleague to do a ‘drive by’ conference, nor do I take advantage of being at school to initiate an impromptu conference with a colleague who is the parent of a student I teach. If I have a concern about a colleague’s behavior, I address it directly with my colleague before going over his or her head to the administration.

_____Professionalism: I dress like a professional. I am on time for work. I am on time for meetings. I meet my deadlines for academic comment writing and for comments for parent conferences. I treat everyone I meet at school with respect and friendliness. I follow policies and procedures and don’t ask for special, last-minute favors for scheduling or purchasing or field trips or facility use. I read the hand-books and I know the safety procedures. I never leave my students unsupervised.

_____Communications Skills: I am able to articulate my thoughts and ideas clearly and understandably, to students, to colleagues, to parents. I write clear and appropriate academic comments. I share good news and concerns with parents promptly and honestly. I share good news and concerns with the administration often.  I am a good listener. I participate appropriately in meetings.

_____Professional Development: I am a life-long learner. I seek to develop the elements of teaching on a regular basis. I have a network of experts whose work I admire and to whom I go for advice and counsel. I take classes, attend workshops and conferences, read, and study. I present what I am learning, either formally at a meeting, or informally in conversation with others. I try new things in my classroom, I’m willing to take a leadership role with my colleagues, and I am not afraid to fail.