6 Ways to Use the Characteristics of Professional Excellence

Vol. 16 No. 3

head eletter vol16 no3 excellence

We often refer to the Characteristics of Professional Excellence—a list of specific behaviors, values, and attitudes that every school must create to illustrate how its faculty acts to meet the school’s mission and helps mold its intended graduates.

ISM has developed a broad list of Characteristics of Professional Excellence that includes 35 items to guide private-independent school educators’ actions and behaviors. The majority of these are primarily centered around creating a culture of predictability and supportiveness for students. Some examples of these characteristics are:

  • knowledge of “cutting edge” content/process;
  • high—but not uniform—standards for/expectations of all students;
  • active support for colleagues; and
  • responsiveness to parent needs.

However, one school cannot expect its educators to keep 35 items in mind in their day-to-day activities. And, more important, your school’s characteristics should be central to your unique mission, culture, and values. In this way, each school has unique attributes for its faculty to strive toward.

Therefore, we often suggest that each school choose 5–8 characteristics by focusing on the question: What does a great teacher look like at our school? Each individual characteristic should be a difference-maker—a trait that sets your faculty apart from the competition.

As the School Head, create a committee of exemplary teachers who can be dedicated to defining characteristics for your entire faculty. It can often take several months and revisions to decide on your school’s characteristics. Once they’re decided, include a one- or two-sentence descriptor that adds clarity to the characteristic so everyone is on the same page.

With your school’s chosen characteristics for great faculty members in hand, there are many different uses for them.

  1. Build your interview questions for new teachers around your characteristics, ensuring mission-appropriate additions to your team.
  2. Create your new teacher orientation with the characteristics in mind for an aligned culture.
  3. Communicate these expectations regularly to your educators throughout the year.
  4. Use the list of characteristics as a guide through the formal and informal faculty evaluation process.
  5. Ensure teachers keep them in mind when developing their personalized professional development plans.
  6. Refer to them as a coaching tool for underperforming teachers to help them rise to meet your standards and mission.

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for Academic Leadership Vol. 10 No. 4 A Story of Teaching Excellence
The Source for School Heads Vol. 16 No. 1 Are Your Faculty Evaluations Effective?

Additional Resources for ISM Members:
I&P Vol. 31 No. 8 Purpose and Outcome Statements: Characteristics of Professional Excellence
I&P Vol. 33 No. 10 Characteristics of Professional Excellence: Faculty Interviews
I&P Vol. 37 No. 9 The Characteristics of Professional Excellence II

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