The Assistant Principal Podcast

Why does it always feel like improving teacher quality is an uphill battle? One big reason is that our schools are not structured to facilitate consistent teacher growth. Focusing on helping teachers to grow requires us to focus on the structures that can support growth first. In this episode we look at on important structure, the teacher tracking document. The teacher tracking document helps us to develop and document a coherent and consistent approach to helping individual and groups of teachers grow.

Show Notes

The Assistant Principal Podcast
Episode X: Tracking Teacher Development

Why does it always feel like improving teacher quality is an uphill battle? One big reason is that our schools are not structured to facilitate consistent teacher growth. Focusing on helping teachers to grow requires us to focus on the structures that can support growth first. In this episode we look at on important structure, the teacher tracking document. The teacher tracking document helps us to develop and document a coherent and consistent approach to helping individual and groups of teachers grow.

Hello colleagues and welcome to the Assistant Principal Podcast. I’m your host Frederick Buskey. The goal of this podcast is to help improve the life and leadership of assistant principals. Today, I will walk us through how to use a teacher tracking document as part of a systems approach to teacher development.

After listening to this podcast, you might want to head over to my website,, to watch the video. There are several key graphics that go along with today’s show that should help you. I will also include images in the show notes.

Back in episode one I talked about the six dimensions of organizations. If we think about a three-sided pyramid representing an organization, the pinnacle is the organizational purpose. The three points along the pyramid’s base are people, structures, and resources. In the perfect organization, which doesn’t exist, the people, structures, and resources are perfectly aligned with the organization’s purpose.

In the simplest terms, the work of leadership is improving alignment between the purpose, the people, the structures and the resources.

Structures include buildings, the arrangement of space within those buildings, but also the rules, policies, expectations, and practices that shape our actions. A block schedule is a structure that is fundamentally different than an 8-period day. They exist for different purposes and if we try and teach during a block the way we did when we had 8 periods, it doesn’t work. 

Our skills need to align with our structures, and both need to be aligned to our purpose. When we ask people to work towards a specific purpose, yet we have structures that aren’t aligned with that purpose, it creates a situation in which people feel like they are constantly swimming up stream. Teachers experience this misalignment often:
  • Teachers are expected to plan rich and powerful lessons, yet they have 30-minutes a day to plan.
  • Teachers are expected to use formative assessments to inform their focus, yet we have pacing guides and benchmark tests.
  • Teachers are expected to become masters of pedagogy, yet they work under pressure and expectations that make risk-taking difficult and reflection almost impossible.

This misalignment makes it harder for teachers to excel at their core job and it increases pressure and frustration.

As assistant principals, you are experiencing a congruent set of circumstances.

The purpose of schools is to help young people develop agency over their lives and to become responsible democratic citizens. Or something like that.

The roles of the principal and assistant principal are integral structures. School administrators have tow primary functions that are core to the purpose of the school: 
  1. Keep everyone safe
  2. Create better outcomes for kids

However, we don’t teach kids and the #1 Influence on student achievement is the classroom teacher. So, the formula is simple:

Better teachers = better student learning.

Logically then, once we make sure that everyone is safe, our next priority is to focus on teacher development. If better teachers = better student learning then, outside of safety, the most important things we do are the things that help our teacher to continually grow.

The challenge is that there is all kinds of stuff that gets in the way.

Why does this happen? Because our structures are not aligned to our purpose.

What has happened in many schools, is that while the stated purpose of the assistant principal is to contribute to the quality of instruction in the building, the unstated purpose has become to deal with all the issues that come up in day-to-day operations. Our school structures have followed suit:
  • We communicate via email, which demands our constant attention.
  • We carry walkie talkies so we can always be reached.
  • We accept that interrupting what we are working on is part of the job.
  • We use a narrow set of observation practices that are more aligned to accountability than to teacher development.

The cumulative impact of these mis-aligned structures and purpose has a profound impact on how we lead:
  • We mistake urgency for purpose in our day-to-day behaviors, so the important purposeful work of teacher development gets displaced by urgent tasks. There are tasks that are both urgent and important- especially those dealing with safety. However, there are many urgent tasks that are less-important or not important. For example, the parent newsletter, school social media posts, or the report to the school board. I can hear you saying “wait, these things are important!” Yes and no. None of these things will improve student learning as much as helping a teacher to get better.
  • The problem is that all these things are urgent, so they feel important, even though – compared to safety and teacher growth, they are not.

  • The tool that has helped me with this concept is the Eisenhower Matrix. The EM as I affectionately call it has four quadrants. The two upper quadrants are important, and the two lower quadrants are un-important, or less important. The two left quadrants are urgent, and the two right quadrants are not urgent.
  • What tends to happen is that school leaders focus on the two left quadrants – the urgent work, instead of the two upper quadrants – the important work.
  • Teacher development is quadrant 2 work. Quadrant 2 is important but not urgent.
  • This focus on urgency happens for many reasons, and someday I will do a deep dive on the Eisenhower Matrix and break it down. But for now, it is enough to know that there are three large barriers to working in quadrant 2:
    • Mindset. We need to move from prioritizing the urgent to prioritizing the important.
    • Processes. There are many urgent but less-important things that can be systematized and streamlined so that they require less time.
    • Structures. If we build structures into our work that support quadrant two activity, then we are more likely to engage in quadrant 2 activity. This podcast is about one of those structures.

  • If you are familiar with the flywheel concept, then you’ll be familiar with this structural approach to teacher development. If you aren’t familiar with the flywheel, I’ll give an MVP (minimally viable product) description now. The flywheel is the one thing in your work that, if executed consistently, over time will create momentum in your school and will propel you to the school purpose (better out comes for kids).

  • The flywheel in schools consists of:
    • Providing professional development for teachers
    • Evaluating implementation of the PD focus
    • Using the evaluation results to drive the next step in PD
  • When we do this repeatedly, always using implementation results to inform subsequent growth opportunities, we create positive forward momentum because teachers are consistently getting better.
  • There are two significant challenges with trying to improve your school using the flywheel concept. First, flywheels are hard to get started. It is like pushing a big tire up hill. Until you get to a place where you can build some momentum, every step takes work. Secondly, using a flywheel requires specific structures to be in place.
  • The flywheel structures that work for you may not be identical to the structures I’m sharing. That’s fine. What is critical is that you do have a flywheel, that you build the structures to support the flywheel, and that your structures work.
  • We can only have a working flywheel if we have structures in place to support it. There are multiple structures that we need to build, but today we are focusing on just one: the teacher tracking document. 
  • We are starting with the tracking document because, honestly, that is the focus of our APEx work this month. It isn’t the best place to start, but it is where we are right now. 
  • As you listen to this podcast it may get a bit complicated, but I encourage you to stick with it and when you watch the video or even just look at the images, it will all make sense.
  • The teacher tracking document is a fundamental component of instructional team meetings. The instructional team meeting is yet another topic I need to cover for you, but it is a set time every week where administrators and instructional support staff meet to analyze data from teacher observations and to use that data to inform the next round of teacher development.
  • When I talk about teacher development, that can take multiple forms. We might be looking at the entire teaching staff, if for example we are emphasizing student engagement strategies. We may be talking about a specific group of teachers such as grade level, topic area, or new teachers. For example, phasing in a new 6th grade ELA curriculum or implementing classroom procedures with four beginning teachers. We might also be talking about the needs of a single teacher.
  • The instruments we use and the data we gather will look different depending on who our focus is on. The data we collect for a school-wide implementation is very different from small-group and individual development. The teacher tracking document is designed to support small groups and individuals.
  • In the weekly instructional leadership team meeting, leaders will discuss what they have seen in weekly observations. They will discuss the implications of that observation data for professional development and plan future PD according to what the data suggests. This PD can be for the whole staff, but using this document we are more likely to focus on groups or individuals.
  • The first time we use the teacher tracking document we need to add some basic information. Before we proceed, I offer you a word of caution. If you do not currently have anything like this in place, please do not try and complete the whole document for your whole staff! You won’t be able to do it, will burn multiple hours and, in the end it won’t work for you. Start with just one teacher. 
  • This version of the form is not the only or even the “right” way to do it. You might want to change the form by deleting or adding. You might want to use a spreadsheet or data base, or something altogether different. The format is not as important as the purpose – to consistently monitor implementation of professional development. Free to make changes as you see fit. Okay, let’s look at the form.
    • The teacher tracking form is a table with 14 columns and a row for each teacher.

  • The first six columns compose a baseline for the teacher. The information in these columns may change over time, but not week-to-week.
  • Column 1 contains the teacher’s name, column 2 their 9-box rating, and columns 3-6 capture their strengths and weaknesses in some key areas.
  • Column 1, the teachers name, is simple enough.
  • Column 2 is the teachers 9-box rating. That’s another show, but 9-box is a really handy tool for getting your team onto the same page regarding a teacher’s potential versus their performance. 9-box can help guide the type of professional development and the coaching styles that will work best for each teacher. If you don’t do 9-box you could substitute your state teacher evaluation rating or some other metric. The importance of column 2 is that it provides guidance on overall performance level of a teacher, and the type of support that is likely to be most helpful for them.
  • The next block of columns, 3-6, relate to key teaching areas. This is an optional section of the tracking chart, but many schools have specific points of emphasis, and these columns allow us to be mindful o how each teacher is doing in those areas. 
    • In my example, column 3 has rows for classroom management, student relationships, curriculum, and pedagogy. 
    • For each of these areas, there is a rating in column 4. You could use your state evaluation instrument here or something else. 
    • Column 5 is the strengths for each area, and 
    • column six is the weaknesses. I like having this block because it helps as a reference point when we are talking about multiple facets of teacher performance and it can help us think more strategically about the most important PD topics for each teacher.
    • You can change the topics in the rows to suit your specific school needs. For example, maybe you are emphasizing literacy across all subject areas, so you want that to be one of your areas.
    • If this seems daunting, then skip it for now. Again, don’t feel tied ot the format I have. The critical thing is that you begin tracking teacher performance and documenting your work and commitment related to helping your teachers grow.
  • Columns 7-11 are for planning the specifics of professional development.
    • Column 7 is for the focus area. For example, classroom procedures. We could be more specific – say, the entering class procedure. More specific is better, but it may take some time to get into the habit of thinking in terms of small incremental changes for the focus area.
    • Column 8 is the goal. The goal should address the impact that the focus will have. For example, implementing an entering class routine should increase available instructional time and decrease student off-task behavior.
    • Column 9 is the A-B step that the next professional development cycle needs to focus on. The concept of A-B is that incremental changes are more likely to lead to success than big changes. An A-B step should be able to be completed in one week or less. “Implement five classroom routines” is not an A-B step. Observing students entering Ms. Smith’s and Mr. Garrot’s classes once each is an A-B step.
    • Column 10 is for who is responsible for the A-B step. It is common to have more than one person responsible. My teacher is responsible for doing the observations, but maybe I am responsible for letting Ms. Smith and Mr. Garrot know what’s going on, or for covering the first 10 minutes of the teacher’s class.
    • Column 11 is the type of support being given. This relates to another framework called the cube of development, but for now you can just indicate whether this is an individual or small group form of support. If I am only working with one teacher on the entering class routine, then it is individual coaching. If I am working with three of our first- and second-year teachers, then it could be coaching or group PD.

  • Columns 12-14 constitute the final part of the document, the observations section. This is an essential element because it is where we hold each other accountable for conducting meaningful classroom observations. This mutual accountability is one way that we focus ourselves on the work of quadrant 2. The data we gather from our observations is also what helps us to identify the next A-B step.
    • Column 12 is who will be doing the observation. If more than one of us will be observing, and that is good practice, then we will include multiple names.
    • Column 13 is when. Observations should be scheduled for a specific time and we should know when our colleagues are doing observations so that we can cover those things that will invariably “come up” when someone is scheduled to be in a classroom.
    • Column 14 is where we summarize the data we gather from an observation.

Now that we have reviewed the entire tracking sheet, let’s talk about implementation.

The first consideration is the context. If you are the principal or if your principal is on board, then schedule your instructional leadership team meeting, throw the teacher tracking document from my website into a google doc or other shared platform, and dive right in.

If this isn’t going to happen right now at the school level, then at least use it yourself. Create your own structures to support your instructional leadership. This will work if you are the assistant principal, instructional coach, or in another teacher support role. An advantage of starting on your own is that you can figure out what works and doesn’t work for you and then make changes accordingly. You will still need to schedule an instructional leadership meeting with yourself and adhere to it. Maybe Fridays at 3:30?

The first time we use this document we only want to do it for ONE teacher. Not ten, not two, ONE. This is an A-B approach. If something in the format doesn’t work or isn’t essential for you, you will find out before you invest a lot of time. One teacher.

Let’s use Ms. Franks as an example. Ms. Franks is a third-year teacher. Her growth as a teacher has been understandably disrupted by the pandemic. Ms. Franks did well pivoting to online instruction her first year and worked hard to build relationships with students. She went beyond expectations in being available to students and in encouraging them to contact her.

Ms. Franks did well in her second year when students were on an A-B schedule and class sizes were small. She struggled this fall, along with many other teachers, with the return to full size classrooms and the period of adjustment that saw a large increase in discipline issues. During this time Ms. Franks had referral numbers similar to other teachers, but observations showed high numbers of students off task and Ms. Franks was asking students to be quiet multiple times during each instructional segment.

It has become clear that Ms. Franks has not established classroom procedures. Though she has good relationships with students and they are rarely disrespectful, there are often multiple students talking at once, even when Ms. Franks is trying to speak. There are also students frequently moving around the room with no clear purpose and student discussion during group tasks has a high rate of off-task content.  

In your conversations with Ms. Franks, she admits that the students are loud but says that is due to the pandemic and expects it will get better soon. She says that she has classroom routines, but that students don’t always follow them. She insists that she taught the routines at the beginning of the year.

Ms. Franks is committed to group work and wants high levels of student engagement. She is frustrated that students frequently aren’t able to demonstrate meaningful outcomes from group work and she wants to improve that area.

In her efforts to keep students engaged, Ms. Franks uses lots of activities, some of which she purchases on Teachers Pay Teachers. As designed, most of the activities in her room are engaging, but they often are misaligned to either that standard or the depth of knowledge.

You have heard from another teacher that Ms. Franks is discouraged and questioning whether she is cut out for teaching.

Now, in the ideal school, every teacher is in the tracking document and receives appropriate PD based on the data. But we know that most schools exist in a real, not ideal world. We also know that administrators, especially assistant principals, may be hard pressed to consistently support even one teacher or one group of teachers. So, if you haven’t gone far on the journey of teacher support, then choose just one teacher to work with. 

If you are only coaching one teacher, then you better choose the right teacher! I did a whole episode of The Assistant Principal Podcast on how to select the right teacher to work with. Look for episode 8 if you haven’t listened already. Assuming you aren’t going to pause and dial up that episode, here are three reasons why I think Ms. Franks is a good person to coach:
  1. She is willing and wants to get better.
  2. There is big bang for the buck – she could be much better if we can take care of some little things, AND my life might be easier as referral rates should decrease.
  3. She needs help in some areas that I know well enough to be helpful with. 

So let’s look at how we’re going to get Ms. Franks into our tracking document. I first add her name, her 9-box rating, and the ratings, strengths, and weaknesses in four areas: classroom management, where I scored her as 1/4, Student relationships (4/4), curriculum (2/4) and pedagogy (2/4).

The ratings should be based on evidence. Those could be formal or informal observations, discussions with Ms. Franks or other instructional leaders, or anecdotal data such as hearing students say how much they like Ms. Franks. 

If you are working alone, you will drop this information in by yourself. However, a really powerful thing happens when we complete this as a team. It is likely that we will disagree in some places on the ratings we give teachers. Working on the form together enables us to come to consensus and provides for rich discussions on these different teaching areas. It is common for us to observe teachers through our own biases, and when we talk with others it can help us better understand these biases.

You may also see through Ms. Frank’s ratings – a 1 in classroom management, 2s in curriculum and pedagogy, and a 4 in student relationships, that there appears to be a clear area that we should emphasize, in this case classroom management. So, is classroom management what we will focus on. The clear answer is that it depends.

In the situation where a teacher is either oblivious to their needs, or is completely drowning, it is appropriate for us to determine the area of focus. If someone is drowning, we don’t ask them whether they would like a blue or brown rope. We look for the most expedient way to get them out of the water. It is the same for a teacher that is crashing and burning.

In this case however, Ms. Franks is aware of at least some of her problems and she is not on fire yet – though we can smell smoke. In a situation like this, my preference is to allow teachers to choose the area of focus for these reasons:
  • If the teacher chooses it, the teacher owns the results. If you choose it, you own the results.
  • The teacher will probably be more motivated to work on their own problem than on your problem.
  • The teacher might actually have a better understanding of their needs than we do – ouch!
  • When the teacher chooses, it is crystal clear that we are serving the teacher’s needs, not our own.
  • A successful collaboration will build trust, which will lead to more successful collaborations.
  • Finally, an improvement in any area is a win. In Ms. Frank’s case, she might achieve better classroom management, or get better outcomes for group work, or align her activities better with her curricular objectives. All these are wins!

My first conversation with Ms. Franks is going to be about her perceptions and her priorities. If I already have observation data, I can bring that into the conversation where appropriate. In this situation I am serving Ms. Franks so I want this conversation to be about her and her needs. If she asks for my input, I will give it and point to the data that I’m using as the basis for my thoughts.

Let’s play with a couple of options for her focus. In terms of needs, classroom management is a priority with needs being “clear structures and reinforcing routines.” Curriculum activities don’t align to the standards – that is important, and for pedagogy Ms. Franks has stated that she wants to improve her prompts and procedures for group work. If there were five APs on this show trying to decide what the best area of focus was, we would get at least two different answers, so don’t be surprised when Ms. Franks chooses a different area than you would and don’t be overly confident that your idea is the best.

What is obvious to me is not obvious to you and vice versa. Remember, no matter which one of these things she picks, if we are successful, the kids – and Ms. Franks – will benefit.

So, let’s imagine that Ms. Franks wants to use better prompts for group work. This isn’t what I would have chosen, but it is more important for her to be invested than for me to be right.

Remember that columns 7-11 are where we document our specific coaching plan and teacher support.

In column 7, I am going to put the focus area. Narrower is better. For Ms. Franks we will put “Use prompts that lead to answers that align to the curricular focus.”

Column 8 is our goal. It is helpful to think about impact here – what do we want to happen as a result of our work? Ms. Franks wants students to come up with meaningful answers as a result of group work.

Column 9 is our A-B step. This is where it gets complicated. I have gotten tripped up many times. My inclination for Ms. Frank’s goal would be to hand her some guidelines on writing good prompts and ask her to try them out, but that probably would not work. Part of the issue is that her group procedures are weak, so even with good prompts she may not get the results she wants. If I simply ask her to try some prompts and they fail, then what?

If Ms. Franks doesn’t really understand how to create good prompts, then – if group work fails – she won’t know whether it is the prompt or something else. So maybe the A-B step is that she reads something on prompts, and that she takes five prompts she has previously used, and thinks about how to change them. 

In column 10, we record who is responsible for the A-B step. In this case Ms. Franks is responsible for reading, pulling five old prompts, and reflecting. I am responsible for following up with the IC to make sure there is a good reading available.

In column 11, I put the type of support being given, in this case coaching. If I was working with three of our new teachers on the same thing, this might be small-group PD instead and that would change the nature of the conversations and tasks.

In my example, the “observation” is actually a review of her updated prompts. I reviewed Ms. Franks on March 3rd and noted that the prompts were aligned to the standards and that the type of task was appropriate to the standard. In another week, when we start using new prompts, then I will want to observe what happens in groups with the new prompts and I will schedule times to observe. I have included that in the example, noting that I observed on March 10th and that answers were related to the standards, but that off-task discussion was still high and that a single student did most of the talking.

As Ms. Franks and I work through the process, the teacher tracking sheet will get updated with new A-B steps.

Okay, I hope this all makes sense. 

In wrapping up, let’s reiterate some key points:
  • Ideally, we use this document as part of an instructional leadership team meeting, but you can use it on your own.
  • There is nothing magical about what I have included and excluded in the chart. Change it to fit your needs.
  • If you are just beginning, use it on just ONE teacher. You can listen to episode 8 of the Assistant principal Podcast to help you decide which teacher.
  • As a general rule of thumb, let the teacher choose the focus area.
  • Break down the desired outcome into incremental, A-B steps.
  • Plan and document your observations.
  • Remember that there is a video on my website,, and that there are visuals in the show notes. I may also develop a handout but can’t promise that right now. 

At this point I have invested about six hours into developing this podcast and you have invested about 30 minutes in listening to it. If you are inspired to try a teacher tracking document, or to take better advantage of something you have in place, then the time that both of us have spent on this is well worth it.

However, if this podcast episode didn’t help you, then it was a lost opportunity – for both of us.

The only way I know whether or not I am hitting the mark is by getting feedback from you. The hardest part of producing a podcast is not knowing how you are doing. Our download numbers are going up each episode, but every episode is different and I can’t tell what’s working and what’s not just from the numbers.

Please. Help me make this podcast better. Are these deep, sort of nerdy dives into a specific tool or choice helpful? Would you rather just have interviews of other people? What topics do you really need to hear right now?

You can email me at I would love to hear from you.

If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe and rate this podcast. This is the only show in world (that I can find) that is devoted to assistant principals. Subscribing and rating will help your colleagues find this series.

If you’d like more content tailored towards the needs of assistant principals, you can head over to my website at You might want to consider looking into APEx, the Assistant Principal Exceleration program. You’ll get weekly emails, tools, and be able to participate in monthly group coaching and webinars. I’d love to get to know you through APEx, but no worries if now is not the right time.

That wraps up today’s show! I’m Frederick Buskey and I hope you’ll join me next time for the Assistant Principal Podcast. 

My email: 
The Assistant Principal Podcast website: 

What is The Assistant Principal Podcast?

A bi-weekly podcast to improve the quality of life and leadership for assistant principals.