Quality and Accountability in Lutheran Schools: Employing the Danielson Model for Improvement

Jul 30th, 2015 | Category: Elementary/Middle School Education, Secondary Education
By Patricia Hoffman and Paul Sims


Much attention has been given recently to the Danielson model (Danielson, 2007) of teacher evaluation. This model has become increasingly popular in many schools and a variety of states throughout the U.S. What’s the big deal about Danielson? How does this successful public school model apply to Lutheran and other private schools? Why should Lutheran educators consider it?

This series of articles in the Lutheran Education Journal will attempt to address how teaching and learning in Lutheran schools can be supported by the Danielson model. This first article will address quality teaching, a basic premise of Lutheran education; the second article will examine supervision and the role of the school leader and the role of the educator in this process, and a third article will review the purpose of evaluation in teaching and learning improvement by using the Danielson model and its four levels of performance. The fourth and final article will focus on the importance of ongoing, life-long professional learning for effective teaching.

It is our hope that, by combining the theological foundation of Lutheran education and the theoretical framework as proposed by Danielson (2007), Lutheran educators at all levels will find a means to explore the deeper context of teaching and learning. It is our intent that educators will open conversations about what makes a Lutheran school a Lutheran school in quality, accountability, and future growth.

What is Quality Teaching?

Think back to your own educational years. Which teachers were able to motivate you to learn? Which teachers got you excited about learning, even in those content areas that you disliked? What is it that those teachers said and did that made the difference? What did they do that invited you into the learning process? Then—dig deeper—what was it that made those teachers effective in the classroom?

Now think about those teachers that were not as effective. What was it about those teachers that bored you? What did they not do that should have been done to draw you into the learning process?

In defining quality teaching, standards-based initiatives have made considerable contributions toward clarification. One example of this is the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC). Further, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), was created in 1987 with the dual purpose of:

  1. Reforming the preparation, licensing and ongoing professional development of teachers, and;
  2. Ensuring quality teaching to increase student learning and performance.

This led to the creation of the InTASC Standards. These Standards have three purposes:

  1. The standards create a larger context for the vision of what effective teaching should become in schools and classrooms;
  2. The standards define a specific level of performance that must be met, and;
  3. The standards articulate the opportunities necessary for a teacher to meet these standards.

The InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards have become the foundation for many State Educational Standards as well as for the Danielson Model. As seen in Table 1, the InTASC Standards define quality teaching by identifying performance, essential knowledge, critical dispositions, and progressions held by excellent teachers (see www.ccsso.org, [2013] for complete standards).

Table 1: Standards that Ensure Quality Teaching


The InTASC Standards are organized into four general categories that provide a foundation for quality teaching. The first general category is about the learner and learning. Standards 1, 2 and 3 under this category are learner development, learning differences and learning environments. What makes this category significant is that it starts with the needs of the learner and recognizes that teachers need to take into account learner differences and the impact the environment can have on learning. Effective teachers need to differentiate their teaching based on the needs of students. In addition, effective teachers need to create a warm and welcoming environment in which all students are respected and given high expectations of what can happen in the classroom.

The second general category is content. Standards 4 and 5 under this category (above) refer to content knowledge and application. In this category, the content of the curriculum is highlighted. Effective teachers need to be aware of what they need to teach but also how this content can be applied to everyday life. Curriculum is not only content, but is also about teaching skills, methodology and content delivery methods. Effective teachers are cognizant of their state standards for each content area and grade level. With the recent introduction of the Common Core State Standards, effective teachers are knowledgeable of these standards and how to apply them to lesson plans that increase student learning and achievement.

The third general category is instructional practices. Standards 6, 7 and 8 under this category include assessment of learning outcomes, planning for instruction and instructional strategies. Assessments can be formative (in the process of learning) or summative (at the end of learning) and can take many forms such as standardized tests, quizzes, projects, portfolios or presentations. Balanced assessments measure student knowledge targets, reasoning targets, performance skill targets and product targets. Planning for instruction requires effective teachers to be well prepared and to have sound lesson plans that include an alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessment. A variety of instructional strategies also adds to the quality of teaching. Effective teachers have a repertoire of strategies that can meet the needs of diverse learners.

The fourth category is professional responsibility. Standards 9 and 10 under this category address professional learning and ethical practice, and leadership and collaboration. Professional learning asserts that effective teachers are lifelong learners who model ongoing learning for themselves and for their students. Another aspect of being professional is that effective teachers are ethical. This means that they are fair, just courageous and do the right thing for the needs of their students. Leadership suggests that effective teachers become teacher leaders in their department or grade level. Teacher leadership is a growing movement in schools today as teachers come to realize that school leadership is not a one person job. All members of the faculty and staff are required and assumed to be leaders in the school on the basis of sharing a mission and the building of the leadership team. Peer coaching and mentoring are additional examples of teacher leadership in schools. In addition to this, effective teachers encourage leadership and responsibility in all students. Collaboration is the cultural expectation of all teachers in the school if they are to become a professional learning community.

What makes the InTASC standards unique is that they now include learning progressions for teachers which serve as support tools for ongoing teacher learning. While some evaluation systems identify areas in need of improvement, they do not always include helpful support tools. The InTASC learning progressions articulate a continuum of growth and thus give teachers the experience of seeing what effective practice looks like. The progressions include specific professional learning activities for the effective teacher to complete and to practice.

Based on the InTASC standards, the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, IPTS (2013), provide nine specific teaching standards for competent teachers (column four of Table 1). These standards specify what competent teachers should be able to know (knowledge indicators) and be able to do (performance indicators). Notice how these Illinois standards follow the lead of the InTASC standards.

IPTS Standard One is Teaching Diverse Students. It asserts that the competent teacher understands the diverse characteristics and abilities of each student and how individuals develop and learn within the context of their social, economic, cultural, linguistic and academic experiences. The teacher uses these experiences to create instructional opportunities to maximize student learning. A quality teacher recognizes within her/himself that diversity is valuable for all For a quality Lutheran teacher, this also includes acceptance of all children as gifts from God with the God-given right to learn.

Standard Two is Content Areas and Pedagogical Knowledge. It asserts that the competent teacher has in-depth understanding of content area knowledge that includes central concepts, methods of inquiry, structures of the disciplines, and content area literacy. The teacher creates meaningful learning experiences for each student based upon interactions among content area and pedagogical knowledge, and evidence-based practice. A quality teacher builds the literacy and practice of the particular content area; a quality Lutheran teacher also builds the literacy and practice of Scripture and church teachings.

Standard Three is Planning for Differentiated Instruction. It asserts that the competent teacher plans and designs instruction based on content area knowledge, diverse student characteristics, student performance data, curriculum goals, and the community context. The teacher plans for ongoing student growth and achievement. A quality teacher designs good lesson plans that meet the needs of a variety of students; a quality Lutheran teacher plans for spiritual growth in believing and discipleship.

Standard Four is the Learning Environment. It asserts that the competent teacher structures a safe and healthy learning environment that facilitates cultural and linguistic responsiveness, emotional well- being, self-efficacy, positive social interaction, mutual respect, active engagement, academic risk-taking, self-motivation, and personal goal-setting. A quality teacher creates the atmosphere that enables academic, personal and social learning; a quality Lutheran teacher creates a community of faith.

Standard Five is Instructional Delivery. It asserts that the competent teacher differentiates instruction by using a variety of strategies that support critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, and continuous growth and learning. The teacher understands that the classroom is a dynamic environment requiring ongoing modification of instruction to enhance learning for each student. A quality teacher employs a wealth of learning strategies to engage students in learning and growth. The quality Lutheran teacher provides strategies for prayer, reflection, and outreach.

Standard Six is Reading, Writing and Oral Communication. It asserts that the competent teacher has foundational knowledge of reading, writing and oral communication within the content area and recognizes and addresses student reading, writing and oral communication needs to facilitate the acquisition of content knowledge. This is where the IPTS differs from the InTASC standards. A quality teacher in Illinois (and other states) emphasizes literacy across the curriculum with particular emphasis on the skills of reading, writing and speaking. Additionally, a quality Lutheran teacher provides opportunity to students to articulate and practice their faith.

Standard Seven is Assessment. It asserts that the competent teacher understands and uses appropriate formative and summative assessments for determining student needs, monitoring student progress, measuring student growth and evaluating student outcomes. The teacher makes decisions driven by data about curricular and instructional effectiveness and adjusts practices to meet the needs of each student. A quality teacher monitors, measures and evaluates student growth and learning; a quality Lutheran teacher models and assesses student growth academically, behaviorally, and spiritually.

Standard Eight is Collaborative Relationships. It asserts that the competent teacher builds and maintains collaborative relationships in order to foster cognitive, linguistic, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual development. This teacher works as a team member with professional colleagues, students, parents or guardians and community and congregational members. A quality teacher is not a Lone Ranger. He or she works as part of a professional learning community and, in parallel fashion, a quality Lutheran teacher invites everyone to be a part of this faith community.

Standard Nine is Professionalism, Leadership and Advocacy. It asserts that the competent teacher is an ethical and reflective practitioner who exhibits professionalism, provides leadership in the learning community, advocates for students, parents or guardians and for the profession. A quality teacher does the right things, acts and speaks appropriately, takes responsibility and speaks out for the needs of the learning community. A quality Lutheran teacher bases these decisions and actions on Scripture.

Both the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2010) and the National Lutheran School Accreditation (NLSA, 2014) provide equally important standards for quality teaching and learning. While other standards address PreK-12, the distinctiveness of NAEYC is that these standards address needs of children from birth through age 8, with particular focus on the early, foundational years of teaching and learning. NAEYC provides two sets of standards; one that addresses initial licensure (teacher preparation) standards and another to address advanced professional preparation (teachers already in the field). We will focus here on these advanced standards that apply to teachers in the field.

The NAEYC standards have been designed to promote the early childhood profession as a whole, and to be relevant over a variety of roles and settings (NAEYC, 2010). They continue to promote the unifying themes that define the early childhood profession. The standards are core standards that promote what early childhood educators should know, understand, and be able to do. The standards can lead to accreditation of Associate of Arts Degrees, as well as for baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Programs with accreditation or recognition through the NAEYC standards are recognized for their quality and provide a level of acceptance, or a “stamp of approval,” within the early childhood community. Programs that choose to apply for accreditation or recognition undergo a series of intense quality assurance assessment steps that demonstrate evidence of sound theory and practice in meeting NAEYC quality standards.

As indicated in Table 1, column 2, the NAEYC standards focus on the development and background of the early childhood educator as a professional. The first three standards, Promoting Child Development and Learning, Building Family and Community Relationships, and Observing, Documenting, and Assessing to Support Young Children and Families, focus on what the early childhood educator must know, understand, and be able to do before entering the early childhood classroom. Standards 4 and 5, respectively, Using Developmentally Effective Approaches to Connect with Children and Families and Using Content Knowledge to Build Meaningful Curriculum, focus on content and methods of teaching young children. Finally, Standard 6, Growing as a Professional focuses on the life-long learning of the teacher while Standard 7, Early Childhood Experiences gives support to field experiences and clinical practices (NAEYC, 2010).

For purposes of this article, we will focus on Standards 4 and 5 both of which address quality content and methodology of early childhood education. NAEYC supports early childhood educators who have a broad background in the liberal arts and who are then able to support children’s learning through their own broad background of knowledge. Similar to their  elementary and secondary counterparts, quality early childhood educators understand that they must use a wide variety of developmentally appropriate approaches, instructional strategies, and tools to connect with children and families. Quality educators are held accountable for their ability to connect with children (and their families) and to positively influence each child’s development and learning (NAEYC, 2010). Quality Lutheran Early Childhood educators recognize the role of parents as the first educators in the life of the child, and build positive relationships grounded in Scripture and the local church community.

Quality teachers develop appropriate curriculum based on children’s interests, their own knowledge, standards, positive relationships, and supportive interactions. Quality Lutheran Early Childhood Educators give priority to curriculum that is a road map to learning, believing, and practicing the Lutheran Christian faith.

National Lutheran School Accreditation standards are, of course, unique in that they specifically address what makes a Lutheran school distinctively Lutheran. The NLSA self-study is based on three assumptions:

  1. Lutheran educators believe that a high-quality educational program is required of our schools in order for them to be good stewards of the blessings given by Almighty God.
  2. Lutheran school administrators willingly cooperate with governmental agencies unless such cooperation inhibits the free sharing of the Gospel.
  3. Entities which own and operate Lutheran schools strive to meet and, where possible, exceed all local, state, regional and federal guidelines for public schools (NLSA, 2014).

Additionally, the stated purposes of NLSA are to:

  1. Help Lutheran schools, early childhood, elementary and secondary, to improve.
  2. Assure school quality by evaluating a school’s compliance with required NLSA standards and indicators of success.
  3. Help all Lutheran Schools to evaluate themselves based on their unique purposes and on national standards.
  4. Give appropriate recognition to schools that successfully complete the process.

While Lutheran schools generally provide Lutheran education from birth through grade 12, each congregation or association determines the age range of education provided. Compliance with state and local requirements also figures into the responsibilities of the local congregation or association as owners and operators of the school. Configurations may include birth, 4 or 5 year old programs, childcare programs, pre-school through grade 5, 6, or 8, middle and secondary education, secondary education (grades 9-12), and before and after school care.

The NLSA standards (see Table 1, column 3) focus on school improvement through a self-study process that is intended to highlight school strengths and identify areas for growth and improvement. Therefore, the NLSA standards are unique in that they address relationships between the school and church and the school and the community (Section 2). In addition, the NLSA standards include a study of the leadership of the school (Section 3) as well as student services (Section 6) and the school facilities (Section 7). This is a “big picture” view of the school which is not addressed by other standards. Section 4, Professional Personnel and Section 5, Teaching and Learning are of concern in this context and will be discussed in further detail.

The overview of Section 4 describes a qualified and competent staff as an “essential quality related to an accredited Lutheran school” (NLSA, 2014). Staff is defined as instructional, administrative, and auxiliary personnel, all of which function as one unit. According to the NLSA standards, quality teaching does not only require that educators have the qualities and qualifications necessary for success in their defined area of service, but appropriate certification and/or licensure (LTE, State, Federal) is required along with background checks and other necessary documentation.

Beyond educator qualifications, NLSA encourages the ongoing support of continuing education for all teachers. This is done in order to encourage, empower, and equip teachers and administrators to effectively complete their assigned tasks in a quality manner.

Section 5 of the NLSA document deals with curriculum and its role in leading to quality in Lutheran schools. Quality in this area requires a written curriculum for every grade level, along with current schedules and an analysis of school wide assessments. The goal is to develop curriculum that leads to the development of life skills, critical thinking, and applied learning, all within the context of the Lutheran Christian faith. Spiritual nurture is to be integrated throughout the day, and not limited to the daily, “Jesus Time.”

Final Thoughts:

Take a moment to reflect on the above standards in the context of your own teaching. By looking at the InTASC Standards along with the ITPS, NAEYC, and NLSA standards you should begin to see a pattern of quality teaching and learning. Where does your school fall on the continuum of these standards? Where do you, as a professional educator see yourself on the continuum of standards?

Quality teaching and learning is a complex issue that combines standards, experience, and on-going education along with deep conversations between teachers and school leaders.

Reference List

Council of Chief State Officers (2013). Model core teaching standards and learning progressions for teachers 1.0: A resource for ongoing teacher development. Washington, D.C: Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC).

Danielson, Charlotte. (2007). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. (2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Illinois State Board of Education (2013). Illinois professional teaching standards. Retrieved from: http://www.isbe.state.il.us/PEAC/pdf/IL_prof_teaching_stds.pdf.

NAEYC (2010) accessed at https://www.naeyc.org/accreditation.

National Lutheran School Accreditation accessed http://www.lcms.org/schools > Accreditation.

Author Information

The authors serve on the faculty of Concordia University Chicago: Dr. Patricia A. Hoffman as Professor of Education and Coordinator of Early Childhood Education and Dr. Paul Sims as Associate Professor of Educational Leadership.

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