Education Insights

Building Relationships to Bolster Professional Learning in Boulder

What would you do if you had the chance to recreate your approach to teacher evaluation and professional development? When the State of Colorado passed SB191 to transform educator evaluation, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) could have taken the easy road and merely complied with the new legislation. But it didn’t. Unlike the vast majority of other school districts in the State, Boulder forged its own path.



“In order to create a teacher/principal evaluation system that is effective and used as a productive tool to enhance student learning, it must be developed through a partnership with educators and leaders.”

Shelly Landgraf, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources

The school district didn’t do it alone. Rather, BVSD and its teachers’ association, the Boulder Valley Education Association (BVEA), joined together to establish an Educator Effectiveness Committee. BVSD and BVEA worked integrally together – building the sense of respect and trust that is so needed to successfully support educator growth.

What key lessons can others districts learn from their partnership?

Build your team. 

The Educator Effectiveness Committee initially consisted of 20-25 team members representing BVEA members from high-quality elementary, middle, and high school levels, education specialists, the District Accountability Committee, the School Board, central administration, and BVEA leadership. Shelly Landgraf, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, co-led the team with the BVEA Vice President, with additional active involvement from Superintendent Dr. Bruce Messinger and BVEA President Tina Mueh.

Listen first – and often.

The Educator Effectiveness Committee kicked off with three full-day sessions. It didn’t stop there. They followed up with focus groups, a districtwide survey, and opportunities for reflection on the envisioned approach. The group leveraged a Memorandum of Understanding process to facilitate discussions around areas of growth, evidence, dialogue, artifacts and more. They worked through questions with teachers and principals like “What does teacher leadership in a building look like?” “What does it mean for a teacher to promote numeracy in their content area?”

Center your work on core beliefs and values.

The new committee didn’t dive into solutions – the group invested time upfront to develop a unified set of beliefs and values to drive the entire process. See sidebar for details.

Start with the why.

As Simon Sinek made famous in his popular TED Talk, great leaders inspire others when they start with the “why” before they establish the “what” or “how.” And that’s just what the Boulder Valley team did.

Why:  Every employee should have access to quality professional learning experiences that are aligned with BVSD’s values and goals to support student success.

How:  We fuel learning, discovery and advancement in all of our employees by linking innovative and relevant opportunities to targeted goals.

What:  We are a comprehensive resource committed to supporting relevant, high quality professional development aligned with BVSD goals and effectiveness standards, from required learning to innovative coursework.

Take your time.

The group took two years to create a new evaluation system aligned with trust and respect to help teachers grow professionally. And, as Shelly shares, once you’re ready to test the system, you “don’t just send it out and say ‘good luck!’” Rather, the committee undertook a one-year introduction of the system, so that educators could become more familiar with the new approach. As reported in the local news, one principal shared, “Looking at this as a ‘hold harmless’ year has given us freedom and flexibility to really dig into the document. We’re practicing the new evaluations. That’s the best kind of learning.” Further, Lynn Jackson, a classroom teacher and then vice president of BVEA, expressed, “Teachers are really enjoying the opportunity to self-direct their evaluation and align it with professional growth.” (Source: Amy Bounds, “Boulder Valley testing out new teacher evaluation system” (Boulder: Boulder Camera, 1/25/14))

Let educators establish what to aim for.

Boulder Valley teachers have clarity on what to aim for – they helped to establish the goals. Once the committee had created a solid framework, educators continued to be involved in the process. In the 2014-15 school year, a working task force of teachers, administrators, and BVEA members continued to edit elements of the evaluation. And over 200 teachers and directors recently created detailed content connections that demonstrate examples of effective classroom instruction.

“Professional educators must define their profession, and I believe it’s in that spirit that BVSD educators have collaboratively developed a system that will enhance professional practice and ensure high-quality instruction in every classroom.”

Tina Mueh, BVEA President

Boulder Valley School District Belief Statement for Principal and Teacher Effectiveness

Boulder Valley School District’s evaluation system is a process that

  • Is a collaborative, equitable process based upon trust and mutual respect
  • Has a shared understanding among all participants of what quality performance looks like
  • Shares the goal of maximizing individual student, teacher, and administrator growth and potential
  • Is based upon a valid reliable, qualitative (e.g., self, supervisor, peer observation; student and parent (feedback) and quantitative body of evidence that draws upon a variety of sources for data (e.g., formative and summative assessments, portfolios, videos, lesson plans, etc.)
  • Is timely and specific
  • Includes peer observation, self‐reflection, and goal setting
  • Drives professional development
  • Is supportive, worthwhile, and has integrity

Boulder Valley School District Demographics

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Students:  30,000

Employees (Teachers and Staff): 4,300

Schools: 56

Written by:  Callie Turk, Founding Partner, Intersections in Education Consulting