Cory Elementary School

School Level or Grades

Number of Students

Number of Teachers

1-5 382 26

2016-17 SPF Rating


Years Implementing TLC

FRL- 13%
ELL- 9.6%
SPED- 4.7%
Students of Color- 21%
School photo shoot at Cory Elementary School in April 2015.

Overcoming Fears of Teacher Evaluating Teacher: How Cory Elementary Embraced a New Model for Growth

Not On Board

When Principal Jennifer Harris and her team at Cory Elementary began the process of figuring out how Teacher Leadership & Collaboration might work in their school, the fact that teachers would be evaluating other teachers was a tremendous concern within her staff. Senior Team Lead Caleb Melamed agreed and noted that the concerns were also tied to the LEAP Framework for Effective Teaching, DPS’ growth and performance system, which was not yet seen as a way to improve instruction but more as a punitive evaluation tool..

“I feel confident in Senior/Team Leads’ ability to contribute to LEAP evaluation scores.”

  • Teachers who are not evaluated by a Senior Team Lead – 68% agreed
  • Teachers who are evaluated by a Senior Team Lead – 81% agreed

2016 Talent Management Survey

Jennifer realized that TLC would never be fully successful at her school without substantial buy in from Cory teachers and that more time was needed to get everyone on the same page. Having the flexibility to slow the process of implementation helped immensely. “Two years ago there was a lot of resistance, but then we were given another year to design. That (additional) year to design really helped us because teachers were really able to ‘grieve,’ and then once we began working on the design team, they were really able to think about the possibilities of teacher leadership.”


A Design by Teachers for Teachers

All schools that implement TLC go through a four-month process called Teacher Leadership & Collaboration design. Through a series of workshops and with supports from the central office, each school develops a distributive leadership structure for the upcoming school year as well as long term. This includes building teacher teams and determining what teacher leader roles best serve its needs. In addition to giving her staff more time to adjust, Jennifer sought to establish trust and support by ensuring that the Cory design process was transparent and inclusive.

Jennifer included grade-level and specials-team representation on the design team. She noted that the teachers who were part of the design team had a huge impact not only on the model they helped put together but in getting other teachers on board. “The people who were represented on the design team were highly respected by the staff, and they were people who weren’t afraid to really test the system and ask hard questions. I could say things until I’m blue in the face and staff wouldn’t believe me as much as they would believe their peers from their grade level that they really trusted.”

Not only was there diverse representation on the design team, but what took place at design workshops and decisions that the team was considering were fully open to the staff. Cory team members hosted their design team application on a Google drive that everyone was given rights to view so, as Jennifer noted, “they always knew what was happening and they always had access to the application, and they were able to ask questions on it if they needed to.”

She added: “It was available so it didn’t seem like anything was being done behind closed doors, which I think was important for those people who have a hard time with change and don’t trust a lot.”

“The people who were represented on the design team were highly respected by the staff, and they were people who weren’t afraid to really test the system and ask hard questions.”

Caleb agreed, “During design, we brought back many of the ideas and discussed them in staff meetings and let people give feedback and ask questions.” Another Cory Senior Team Lead, Sarah Clark, reported a similar experience: “When designing, the administration was very open and shared clearly defined expectations with us. Before design deadlines, the design team would meet with the whole staff and allow staff to discuss in depth what they did or didn’t like and why.”

Transparency in Team Building

The strategies of openness and transparency extended beyond the design process to the Senior Team Lead selection process as well. Lauren Vertrees, a teacher at Cory for the past three years, pointed out, “The process of weighing in on who the Senior Team Lead would be was difficult because we were deciding who would be evaluating us, but it was important and valuable to be involved.” Jennifer singled out the selection of the two Senior Team Leads as integral to the overall success of TLC. “The teachers (who became Senior Team Leads) had been at Cory for a few years, so the staff already knew them and had a good relationship with them,” she said. “Choosing two people that the team trusted made the transition a little bit easier for the staff, especially since they’ve known them not only as teachers but also in a professional development setting as well.” Jennifer felt strongly about hiring teacher leaders from within, particularly given the qualified candidates already in the school building.

An additional piece of Cory’s change management strategy was the support Jennifer offered the Senior Team Leads as they began initial observations of the teachers on their teams. Because she knew that teachers were especially wary of peer evaluations, “We made sure that I was in the classrooms with the Senior Team Leads for the first partial observations and feedback conversations, and I think that helped the teachers to see that we were really calibrating on our scores so they might be less concerned about the evaluative piece.”

Changing Minds

Shifts in teachers’ attitudes are happening. Caleb Melamed noted that he brings the LEAP framework to every feedback conversation he has, which has helped teachers see it as more of a growth tool. “I log every observation so teachers know what they did and how it’s aligned with each indicator or why it might not align,” he said. As the year has progressed, Caleb said that teachers have become more accustomed to his weekly presence in their classroom.“They are seeing how this has helped with their practice. They are actively seeking me out about being observed and wanting feedback.”

89% of teachers said their Senior Team Lead is an overall effective leader.

88% of teachers said their Senior Team Lead ensure that they receive feedback and coaching that improves their job performance.

2016 CollaboRATE Survey

Sarah Clark has seen similar results with teachers on her team, as well as how more frequent observation and feedback has helped teachers see the LEAP framework in a different light. “There’s a more positive feeling toward it because teachers understand the indicators and are able to see it as more of a growth tool rather than simply evaluative.” Lauren Vertrees, who is on Sarah’s team, agreed. “Since TLC, it is more clear in my mind why LEAP is effective and how the indicators work.” Lauren illustrated the shifting attitudes regarding teachers evaluating other teachers as well: “The evaluation component has not been a challenge. I haven’t been surprised by any of my scores because my Senior Team Lead knows my curriculum and she’s in my room all the time. She gives feedback at least once a week, so I know what I’m working on and how I need to grow.”.

87% of teachers say that their Senior Team Lead effectively uses all of the measures in LEAP (observations, professionalism, student perception survey, student growth) to provide actionable feedback focused on growth.

2016 Talent Management Survey

Jennifer is most proud of the quality of feedback and observations Cory teachers have received from Senior Team Leads and how this is improving instruction in classrooms every day. She hopes to increase the number of Senior Team Leads in the school over time, building on the strong, transparent systems that helped teachers to reimagine their own role in coaching, evaluating and supporting each other to continuously grow.