Craig Randall

September 10, 2021by danagoodier0

Craig Randall received his Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Washington, his Master’s in Education in Guidance and Counseling from Saint Martin’s University, and his principal certification from Western Washington University. Craig has worked as an elementary and middle school counselor, including one intense year in the classroom with students with severe behavior issues. In addition he has served as an academic advisor at the college level. He has worked as a collegiate basketball coach. He has worked as a teacher at the elementary, middle, and high school levels as well as in college. Craig has also worked in the job of his passion and calling: assistant principal and principal. Craig has done his work at schools both in the US and overseas. Now, He is dedicated to training and consulting school leaders on the use of Trust-Based Observations, empowering them to build supportive relationships with their teachers, relationships which foster risk-taking, which in turn, dramatically improve teaching and learning.

Currently, Craig lives in the rainy but beautiful Pacific Northwest with the best educator he knows, his wife and new teacher mentor, Michele, and their recently graduated high-school twins, Acalia and Craigo.

Tell me about a time you were in the trenches and managed to crawl out: (Craig) I think the best examples are always the ones who really make mistakes and learn from them. I’ll share one of those. I was working as a school principal. And we had a model with our English language learner teachers that they did push in, and they co-taught. I would just periodically do check-ins just to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be. I discovered that one of my teachers was not pushing in, or I couldn’t find you’re pushing in very frequently, it seemed to be a matter of maybe she was just pushing him with more teachers that were friends than other teachers. I just happened to be talking to another ESL teacher who was an officemate of this teacher. She was talking to me about how difficult it was to push into classes and do her planning especially we had a block schedule where some days were tougher than others and, and I said, Oh, are there other teachers having the same problem? And she just had this sort of pained expression on her face that really told me everything. Then I said, well, what’s going on? And she said, Well, I was explaining the same issue about struggling to get into my classes with my my officemate, and she said, Oh, that’s just a guideline, you don’t really have to get into everyone. And she’s like, Well, no, no, I have to that’s my job. And she’s like, No, no, it’s okay. It just, you just get to the ones you can. And she’s like, No, I can’t. So that was a tough story to hear. It was tough for that teacher to share, because she put herself in a pretty vulnerable position. I went after school sometime in the next week or so to go have a conversation with that teacher about pushing in, just so we could fix it and move forward. I just basically told her that I’d been checking in and notice she hadn’t been in doing some of her observations or being in classes, co-teaching pushing in. She said, No, no, I’ve been to every single one. I always go to my things. And I’m just saying, you know, I’ve been I haven’t seen you and she said, Well, you must not have been there the entire class period, because I’m there at least some of the class period. Then I was just shocked that she had literally lied to me not told me the truth. So I reacted, not ideally, and I my voice raised and the anger was evident in my voice and and I expressed that I knew that wasn’t the true truth and, and she got defensive and then somehow I got myself more calm, and I said, Okay, well, you know what, I think I’m going to leave right now, and I did. Then we scheduled another meeting for a few days down the road. I decided that after consulting with my head of school, that as long as she admitted that she made a mistake, and I would give her every opportunity to have an understandable, acceptable reason for why that wouldn’t have, why that might have happened, that I’d be willing to work with her. I called her to my office, and she was involved in a lot of like Student Council and extracurricular and play things. I just kept throwing her all these things were like, take this life preserver take this life preserver and, and she wouldn’t grab it, she just kept denying and denying and denying. And at that point, I just realized I couldn’t. We were in a place where it was two year contracts, I couldn’t work comfortable with someone that wouldn’t be truthful about something so simple. So I let her go at the end of the year. I mean, I let her know that we weren’t gonna renew her contract. This is a larger company, not just one school, and human resources came to me saying that she’d filed a grievance about the way that I had treated her in that first meeting. We dealt with it, and I explained everything that happened and, and the grievance went away. It wasn’t a problem. But one of the things that I learned from that, and I write about it in the book is like, whenever we have a difficult or anything that can potentially be a difficult conversation, is that it’s really, really important to think about what are a potential negative answer that a teacher could provide, that you’re not expecting. Then prepare an answer to that ahead of time. And if you spend a little bit of time, 10-15 minutes thinking about that, then you’re not caught off guard, and then you can react where you can maintain your emotional even-keel to help things move forward constructively.
(Dana) Yeah, I think it’s quite a lesson, for many principals have either been in a similar situation. Imagine, if they’re, if they’re walking into a difficult situation, it doesn’t hurt to roleplay, maybe, with somebody, that’s maybe not attached to the situation or, a version for yourself, of answers that the teacher might have, right. So you kind of know what to expect, based on your knowledge of the person’s personality. You gain that knowledge, just in case. You gain that perspective through years of experience working with teachers and evaluations, and like you said, it’s kind of individual as to how people react.
Walk me through the writing of your new book Trust Based Observations, Maximizing Teaching and Learning Growth, and why principals need this today more than ever:
(Craig) I guess explaining why it’s maybe a need is to look at the current model first. The current model where there’s one or two observations for a year, and there’s a pre-conference where we talk about what’s going to be taught, and then we go and observe. Then we rate the teachers on these quite lengthy rubrics of all these indicators of good teaching. Then we have a post observation conference, where we tell the teachers how they did, hopefully highlight some strengths, and then talk about what they can do to improve. That’s the standard model. The research is really the big key in a lot of ways because the research is that it doesn’t improve teaching and learning. The most clear example of that is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did a seven-year $200 million study. Basically, where their goal was to improve the quality of teaching to improve the quality of student learning outcomes and graduation rates through basically what amounted to a more robust devaluation observation process. And seven years to $2 million in the research basically said that there was no sustained improvement. The world has done a bunch of qualitative research on observations and evaluations. What has been discovered is that as soon as we start to evaluate to the right teachers, they start playing it safe. Therefore we lose creativity and innovation and teaching. Those are the reasons it’s not working. So for me, the start of it really was my own frustration with having a two- year period where I wasn’t observed at all. Just feeling like what is going on here? Then with the standard observation, when it was done well to seem like it wasn’t enough and wasn’t accurate. I started around the same time my principal certification program, and came across my mentor. I remember the first class that I had with him as a supervision class, and he just started talking about you have to be in classes all the time, you have to be in classes every day, observing teachers having reflective questions with teachers, supporting them and helping them grow. I remember asking them, well, how long? I think like a lot of people that are really naturally gifted at something he never really thought about it. He was just doing it all the time. Then he finally said an hour a day, and then that became really the first part of trust base observation is we do 3 20-minute observations a day. Then we would practice doing observations all the time in that class, we put on a little 10 minute mini lessons, and then we would then one of us would observe and then we immediately practice the reflective conversation and then have a reflective conversation on the reflective conversation and it was really, really powerful in those. Those conversations were anchored by two questions that still drive trust observations today. They were, what were you doing to help students learn? And if you had to do over again, what, if anything, might you do differently? So without knowing it, I certainly didn’t know I was creating anything new. That was the start of it. Then when I became an assistant principal, shortly thereafter, I started doing it. Then I had the beginning of the reflection conversation after those questions, I was a little reluctant to give feedback. I think was partially because I was a new guy and wanted to be liked. I think it was partially because I’d only seen them once or twice and up offer suggestions already felt like it was almost arrogant of me to start telling them. What I started doing instead was I just started sharing what I observed. And notice, which is really noticing the strengths. Teachers responded so well that many of them had said they hadn’t even had anybody really do that before, I think because the traditional model didn’t really call for that. Then what was even more remarkable to me was that shortly thereafter that many teachers started saying, okay, but what can I get better at. Then without really realizing, that was probably the start of the trust observations piece. It just kept developing from there, on and on to what it is today. At some point along the way, somebody said, you want to protect your stuff, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. I was like, really, and then I presented at a conference. I wrote an article, and then I wrote a book. So that’s how that really came to be. If we talk about how we needed today, there’s no question for everybody, principals, students, teachers, this is incredibly challenging, and much harder than it has been in the past. So with that comes feelings of vulnerability, and struggle, and not knowing what to do and not necessarily having answers. If we look at research, it really points out that when people trust, they’re more willing to take risks. If there was ever a time when we want to teach us to be willing to try new things, to see what works and doesn’t work. It’s now and so if we can create differentiated individualized, trusting relationships with teachers, they will be more willing to take risks. One of the things that we always say to our teachers as part of trust space observations, because risk taking is such a vital element and growth is that if I come into your classroom, and you’re trying something new, and it completely bombed, you can rest assured that the next day you’re going to going to receive a congratulatory fist bump for taking risks, because we know eventually that will lead to growth. If there was ever a time for that now would be that. (Dana) I really think that this was the time we needed a wake up call, because different states use different things. Some people use the Danielson Framework, some people use state evaluation tools, some people just have the evaluation tool that their own district has made, but it’s always just been that checklist, right? Having taught for many years, and then moving into administration, I always felt like it was just kind of a duty they had to do, right. They got in your classroom twice a year, they checked off the list, you really didn’t get much feedback. You’re saying, you even you even started discovering this already during your principal licensure program, which I found interesting is doing those practice mini lessons and giving peers feedback. What type of feedback should you give? It wasn’t until I started looking into the Principal Center with Justin Bader and learning more about that tool that I started learning about, this is the whole practice of a teacher that lies beneath the iceberg. Then the more you get into classrooms, the more you see and having those conversations not necessarily just based on their teaching, but also outside of the classroom and building that trust, as well.

How do you see our teacher evaluation system shifting, or maybe how it’s already shifted in your state of Washington?
(Craig) it hasn’t shifted in our state and our state, really, you’re required to use some version of Marzano Danielsen Framework, there’s another one called SEL five D. So it’s tough right now. Really since the 1983 report a “Nation at Risk”, there’s been an increased and seemingly ever increasing movement, that if we just create more accountability that will create better teaching and learning. I think that’s what ended up resulting in this. If we even if we look back at Danielson at the beginning, she didn’t create it to be an evaluation model for principals to use on teachers she created for teachers for their own self growth. Then somewhere along the way, it morphed and then Marzano same thing, it became a model and and so it I don’t think it has changed yet. I think that there is a hope, would I say, what we’re doing now, like I said, at the beginning with that research, it’s not working. So if it’s not working, then why not make a change? If we think that the best way to make to help them, and improve, help them and support their improvement and growth, is by writing them up? When we see O’Leary’s research says that works the opposite way, then let’s stop doing that. Let’s realize that teachers have huge hearts. It’s such a vulnerable process to be observed to having someone come in, pull out a laptop and watch you do your job. Then to just put it down to all these elements, and no one would argue that any of these elements aren’t great elements in and of themselves are indicators of good teaching. But you don’t have to have all of those to be good teaching. Teaching will always be craft and art. One of the things about trust based observations is because you’re in classes so frequently, you get to see who’s really, really good at what and is part of seeing who’s really, really good at what you see, there’s all kinds of different ways that you can be amazing. If what we’re doing isn’t working, then I’m calling for a change, like, let’s ditch that, and let’s change the whole process, because what’s happening isn’t working. At least let’s do some big research studies on trust based observations to see if that has a bigger effect on it.
We talked a little bit in the pre-chat as well about that “dog and pony show”. Because when when we only go into classrooms twice a year or something, and the teacher knows we’re coming, they’re going to put on a show, we’re going to have that pre-observation chat, so we’re going through the lesson already, so kind of know what to expected. We’re looking for all those elements on the rubric during that one observation that semester, and not necessarily going to see all those elements. So whatever the tool is that we’re using to evaluate, if we have multiple evidence points to gather from, then we’re will be able to, evaluate them a lot more effectively.
(Craig) I agree completely. I mean, one of the things that I hear teachers say now and it’s sad to me, they’ll say the principal came in and said everything was really great. So next time, can you make sure to do xyz, so I can check it off. It’s like, this is supposed to be about improved teaching and learning. So let’s put 100% of our efforts into that, instead of something that is not really functionally fun or productive for either one of us.
We talked a little bit also about eliminating the pedagogy rating in the teacher evaluation system and replacing it with mindset. So what are some rubric questions that would go along with mindset that could go into rubrics?
(Craig) What I would say instead of talking about the rubric is maybe setting it up. So we’re developing growth mindset and just through the whole process of it and so Trust Based Observations in its effort to do that connects professional development directly to the teacher. Observation evaluation process. Research also says that anytime we have more than 10 areas that we’re looking for principles start to or observe, start to lose the forest through the trees, and don’t see that teaching going on because they’re looking to check things off. On the trust-based form, there’s only nine areas. Basically, we’ve got professional development communities that we have for those nine areas that will run every year, and they’re led by teacher leaders, but then we do have the on that we do have a rubric for the template, but it’s for teachers to use. The teachers get to do that, and then rate themselves and with that, they pick up a they choose an action research, big goal related to summer pedagogy that they want to improve. Then they tie an action research plan to it. They participate in that professional development community all year. So just the act of doing that, choosing a goal and choosing to work on it. Then one of the other questions that we’ve added to the observation, reflective conversation conference is tell me how things are going with your action research goal this year. Because we’re constantly putting that in teacher’s mind, and we’re letting them choose, really just that built into the process alone built a proficient mindset. Because we’re empowering teachers at the same time, because they’re participating and facilitating these conferences, and even leading them and maybe I learned something new this year, and it become really excited about it, then maybe I can lead it the next year. All of that is really empowering teachers and increasing teacher efficacy. Those all just in and of themselves develop a growth mindset. You’d have to be really resistant to not end up with proficient in that in mindset.
I think the more we’re able to you develop teachers to be leaders, to even want to be willing to share what they do in the classroom to other staff members in their building, or put on professional development at conferences, or help lead book club discussions, those type of things. It’s developing leaders, it’s bringing out the best of what our teachers are doing in the building, which a lot of these tools that have been used in districts for many years, don’t they have a professional growth area. But there is not really that what are you doing to grow right, as a leader, except for going to conferences and doing that passive listening, right?
(Craig) what are you doing to actually support that growth along the way, and so we built it into the process. It’s differentiated because teachers generally get to choose. Now sometimes there might be a teacher where we strongly encourage them to go in one area, because that that’s necessary if someone were on an action plan, but it does empower them and they know be more willing to take risks and grow their practice.
What are ways you see a teacher showing evidence of growth this year, especially if they’re teaching only in a remote setting? Looking outside the limits of whatever the evaluation tool is that principals are using this year?
(Craig) That’s a really good question. It’s a really tough question, because to look at this year, like any other year is not really fair. To look and expect the same types of growth is not really fair. I mean, I think we could even go beyond that. It’s certainly it’s important to have literacy and numeracy functioning at a high level to help, just basic success in the world. But I think we’re also missing things in terms of like social emotional skills. I would like to see us add something like that to a yearly regular assessment for all students on on the grand scale of things. This year, we’re looking at talking about growth, I think we have to, I mean, each teacher has to know their own students and figure out what works best for them and learn and but I think if we can look at our social emotional growth of our students, I think that would be really, really powerful. I think potentially, there’s possibilities to maybe look at, like the same units we did last year and compare growth, but like to expect superior growth when we’re in a different setting. I’m not sure that’s a realistic, fair expectation. In some ways, if we’re just persevering, and continually trying to find ways to be effective, and engaging our students this year, and maybe that even surveys with our students, I think we’re a success. I think we can’t necessarily look at down the road and say, these kids are going to be behind because I don’t think they’re going to be behind in the grand scheme of life. There will be things they’ve learned from this that will make him successful, and they’re not going to be any less successful because they were in school and 2020 and 2021. I know that’s not an ideal answer, but it’s really an ideal time and I’m not sure there is an ideal answer.
Hopefully we’ll gain a lot of knowledge from our tools that we’ve used this year, and be able to take that back into regular classroom setting whenever that time will be for most schools and be able to rethink the evaluation tool, because I know some districts threw that out at the end of the year when everybody won’t remote, some districts that are currently hybrid aren’t really doing the same type of thing. We don’t want to put pressure on teachers this year. Like you said, it’s just being in that space, if you’re observing them, virtually, but also looking at what they’re doing to connect with the families, what they’re doing to connect with students who maybe have haven’t showed up for those virtual meetings. Also maybe looking at what they’re putting on google classroom or some of the student work can also be evident.
(Craig) one thing I’ll add to that is that just as an observer, if we can still get into classes, be it virtually or whatever, and see what teachers are doing in their classes, there’s a real potential to discover some gifts, because there will be teachers that will be doing some amazing new innovative things in their classroom. If we’re in our classes as frequently as we are, we’ll discover those. When we discover those, we can use that to have that teacher help empower their other teachers by sharing what they’re doing with other teachers. Many of those things, as you sort of alluded to have the potential to moving into become a regular part of practice in the future, as well. I think that’s another advantage. Even now, adopting a trust-based getting in frequently is seeing teachers and then finding ways to be able to help other teachers, as you discover pockets of real brilliant, innovative teaching that are going on that are effective in this crazy way that we’re having to do it this year.
What do you envision trust based conversations evolving to be after this year? How would a admin team at a school go about implementing it? Let’s say in the fall of ’21, after reading this book, or maybe having a book study with their admin team, possibly in the summer and wanting to really dig deep into this?
(Craig) That’s a good question. I think there’s potentially multiple ways to do it. The plan is to provide trainings for that to want to school by school basis, or district by district basis, as needed, and the ability to come in and talk with people. Above all to practice, like we did in that supervision class and weave them amongst ourselves, and put a little mini lessons in there practice asking and answering these questions and learning it, if we’ve been doing things one way, it’s so tempting to want to get feedback right away. Because I mean, really, we could look at almost any lesson, I certainly feel like I’ve seen many lessons where I couldn’t pick out anything that they could improve, or certainly nothing that was big enough to do it. I think it’s so tempting to want to offer a suggestion on something. If we’re really going to start and really realize that the best way to foster growth is creating a trusting relationship. Just take a step back, observe, ask those questions. Share your strengths. And leave it at that and do that for it in we talk about when you start trust based observations for at least the first three observations, don’t offer any suggestions, even if you’ve been doing it some other way. Tell your teachers, you’re going to take a step back and just take a new look at it and you’re trying this new thing. And your main goal is to build trust with you so you feel safe taking risks. However we can get there, whether that’s a training or a book and a book, study and practicing amongst your own, your own leadership team, starting there is going to be the path to building relationships that lead to teachers, sense of vulnerability, reducing enough that they’re more willing to embrace taking risks, being innovative and creative, trying new things.
I think that’s the way to go. Like I said at the beginning, just have those I would say those spot checks small observations where you’re just getting a feel for the teachers practice, right? Resisting necessarily giving the feedback or anything that’s necessarily critical at that time. You’re not saving that for the relationship building once once the relationship has been built. I really enjoyed learning more about trust based observations out of everything we discussed today.

What’s one thing in particular you’d like listeners to remember? “Teachers are a most valuable resource, leaders need to build trusting, supportive relationships so we are there for them”. Then we will see more growth happening. Find Craig online via his website:, email: Linkedin: @CraigRandall Twitter: @trustbasedcraig

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