The Teacher Career Pathway at KIPP Austin, Part 2

Emily Schneider-Krzys is the Chief Talent Officer for KIPP Austin, a district of 10 public charter schools in Austin, Texas. In her role, Emily leads the district’s recruitment, human resources, and talent development functions. Previously, Emily served as the National Director of Training and Support for Citizen Schools. We recently had the chance to talk to Emily about overseeing and implementing the Teacher Career Pathway at KIPP Austin.

In Part 1 of this series, Emily shared with us her thoughts on getting the design of a career ladder right, including the obstacles her team encountered, the structure of the KIPP Austin Pathway, and the values the program is based on. The KIPP Austin Teacher Career Pathway uses a series of evaluations to determine how teachers advance. The following diagram shows the 3 categories in which teachers are evaluated and how the categories are weighted:

Thriving Schools: Let’s dig into the evaluation aspects of the Teacher Career Pathway. The first component, student growth and achievement, represents 40% of a teacher’s overall score. Could you tell us more about that?

Emily: Sure. Every course that we offer has between 3 and 8 student growth achievement measures, each having 4 bands of student performance – (1) does not meet, (2) approaches, (3) meets, and (4) exceeds expectations. So for instance, a 4th grade ELA teacher might have as one of their growth and achievement measures the percent of students achieving college readiness targets on a test. A teacher with below 30% passing might receive a “1,” 31-65% might be a “2,” 66-85% would be a “3,” and 86% and above would be a “4.” And each of those ranges is set based on historical performance results for what we’ve done at KIPP Austin and contextual ranges based on what our peers in Texas or others using the same assessment are achieving.

Thriving Schools: Is there any room for individualizing or personalizing these performance targets?

Emily: The process is very individualized by course. And for teachers in certain areas, like special education, it’s highly, highly individualized because the number of students they have is smaller. But again, we want our courses to help students achieve mastery as determined by its course-specific assessment. And if you’re a teacher of that class, we make it clear what students need to achieve.

Thriving Schools: Moving along, if the only component of a teacher’s evaluation was student achievement, I could see how that might lead to frustration. But like you’ve mentioned, that’s only 40%. The next 40% is based on a teacher’s planning and instruction. Can you tell us about this?

Emily: Yes. So these scores come from a series of observations that occur throughout the year. And when we designed this, we were 100% sure that we did not want a scheduled observation process. The average KIPP Austin teacher is observed weekly or bi-weekly and most teachers get scored about 8 times a semester. So the score a teacher receives for their planning and instruction is holistic and takes into this large series of observations.

Thriving Schools: What challenges did you face when designing this aspect of the career pathway?

Emily: You have to be really, really careful about the unintended consequences of the decisions you make in designing your evaluations. So we knew that we wanted our observations and debriefs to be developmental in nature. And we absolutely did not want to create an environment in which they became evaluative. We didn’t want our teachers to be fearful of their managers coming into their classrooms just to give scores. Rather, we wanted to create relationships with our teachers that are focused on how we can help them become more successful.

Thriving Schools: We love the fact that your evaluation process emphasizes development and growth. How did you come to that thinking?

Emily: Because the first thing that you have to do when building a teacher career pathway is to define what excellence in teaching looks like at your school. And that process also provides the foundation for how you will develop teachers. We use the same definition of excellence in all of our organizational decisions. We all want to know what excellence looks like so that we can get there.

Thriving Schools: Gotcha! The last category that you evaluate teachers on is called “Self and Others.” This is the remaining 20% of a teacher’s evaluation. How does this category work?

Emily: We surveyed our teachers when designing the pathway and realized that there needed to be a place for this component. Our teachers universally told us that teaching is a team sport and that teamwork is a core part of what it means to be an excellent KIPP Austin teacher. And just like the other 2 categories, we have a rubric for this. Our “Self and Others” rubric measures 11 different behaviors which are aligned to our 5 core values. And the rubric was written almost entirely by our teachers. We gave them samples of rubrics from other schools and organizations. We had them complete exercises where they thought about qualities of teachers they admired and the impact they had on them. And that’s how we narrowed down our rubric to the 11 behaviors that we think define a good teammate. The way it works is managers use a guided protocol to select 5-7 peers for each teacher, which usually includes teachers in a grade-level team and the special education teacher that supports them. So it’s definitely not a popularity thing where you pick the people who like you. It starts with the people you spend the most time working with. And then their manager rates them on those same 11 behaviors and the teacher gets to talk through their scores.

Thriving Schools: The last item we want to ask you about is differentiated PD. As you advance through the Career Pathway, teachers get more opportunity to direct their own development. Can you give us some examples of how this might work?

Emily: Sure. Teachers are excited and really happy about this. A lot of our teachers use stipends to attend conferences. But another thing that’s cool is that at different stages of the pathway, teachers can earn residencies in other teachers’ classrooms. This is a way we describe extended observations in another teacher’s room. And as a teacher moves up the pathway, these residencies increase in length and geographic distance (so that you can even observe another teacher across the country). But here again, all the things we chose were items that teachers had decided on and had said were things they wanted. But because this is still so new, not all of our teachers are taking advantage of it quite yet. So that’s a problem we’re still trying to crack. They’re like, “Wait, you’re going to meet with me to figure out how I want to spend a few hundred dollars?” And we’re like, “Yeah!”

Thriving Schools: What resources, organizations, or links would you recommend others look at if they wanted to get started on creating a pathway?

Emily: There are so many! I have had a ton of help from friends at YES Prep and Achievement First, both of whom have been big leaders in this area. I can’t say enough about how helpful Sarah Rosskamm and Hendy Avenue were. And I would also say if I could go back and time, I would’ve just used TNTP’s instruction and planning rubric instead of creating our own. Because I think that team is really smart and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel on a lot of this. These are all amazing people and teams!