Conducting a Summative Marriage Evaluation
I recently read Doug Reeves’ book From Leading to Succeeding and he used a very impactful fictitious example of a couple conducting a summative marriage evaluation. In that scenario he depicts a couple at a restaurant celebrating their anniversary. The story unfolds as the couple begins by conducting a summative marriage evaluation for the past year. The approach is very clinical yet very similar to the way thousands of annual summative evaluation of your school superintendent are conducted. Very impersonal, post facto and more of a laundry list of the good, bad and ugly. Worst of all, no ability to immediately rectify straying off course or to recognize desired practices to repeat.
In a relationship as personal, interconnected, codependent and important as a marriage I would never conduct a single summative evaluation. Rather, the entire year is filled with progress monitoring so to speak. The stakes and importance of the relationship are too high to be disingenuous with a single summative evaluation. If I screw up I want to know immediately so I can make the necessary corrections- and buy flowers! If I do something that pleases my wife I want to know that immediately as well because I am all about “banking chips”. All the while I am conducting ongoing progress monitoring to ensure that through immediate corrective actions I am always be in the positive column.
As a superintendent of 9 years I experienced 9 annual summative evaluations very similar to the fictitious anniversary example. While those ritualistic experiences ran the gamut from congenial to convoluted they all had one thing in common- they did a great disservice to the importance of the relationship between my role as the superintendent and the Board of Education. They felt artificial, laden with perceptional data that lacked substantiated merit, and each time left me less inspired that the evaluation process was a value add to my professional growth.
In most, but not all, cases the shortcomings were not the fault of the individual board members. I am happy to say that I walked away from most of them feeling warm and fuzzy but not quite knowing what exactly would help me grow as a professional. I also expereinced chasing individual board members ghosts. Thankfully most of the board members I worked with were good hearted servant leaders with honest and transparent intentions. Let’s face it, board of education members are elected with little to no technical knowledge or experience in being the CEO of a school district. Because of this they resort to information provided to them by the superintendent, neighbors, spouses, personal impressions, axes to grind and covert political allegiances. In any case, the data provided or produced by them is leading.
At a time when school districts are moving from being measured solely by high stakes tests and towards a growth model, the superintendent evaluations are not following suit. The role of a superintendent, much like that of a school, is way too complex to be measured by a single snapshot in time. Rather, just like being married, there should be continuous progress monitoring of growth that not only capitalizes on reinforcing desired behaviors but also to quickly rectifying undesirable behaviors. Schools are measured by technically trained experts within the industry but the CEO of the district is not. I can assure you I wouldn’t ask a neighbor to evaluate my marriage but communities ask neighbors to evaluate their schools’ CEO.
Can you imagine conducting an annual marriage summative evaluation? Imagine you were just elected to serve on your local school board. Can you imagine conducting an annual evaluation of your superintendent? Do you feel prepared and equipped with the technical knowledge to do so?
Performance evaluations of superintends must be rooted in a growth model mindset. They need to be narrowed to the top 2-3 most urgent initiatives in the school district. There must be continual progress monitoring that is not punitive rather, is focused on providing immediate feedback for reflection and correction. The technical aspects of the job performance should be vetted by people with the expertise to do so. And above all- performance evaluations must be approached with the same level of care, dedication, devotion and honesty as one would expect in a marriage.