In a 2019 paper in the journal Teachers College Record, “Developing the ‘Will’: The Relationship between Teachers’ Perceived Policy Legitimacy and Instructional Improvement,” Kim and colleagues Min Sun of the University of Washington and Peter Youngs of the University of Virginia focus on how teachers’ perceptions of teacher evaluation policies influence their efforts to improve their instruction. The paper is one of the first to assess the degree to which teachers’ perceptions of teacher evaluation policies influence changes in their instruction.
Kim and her colleagues drew on the framework of perceived legitimacy, which posits that if individuals believe that a policy is proper, just and valuable, the policy will be effective in shaping their behavior.
“When a group of teachers thinks, ‘This is a really legitimate process,’ versus another group of teachers who think it’s not really legitimate for whatever reason, they react to teacher evaluation differently in terms of their instructional practice,” Kim explains. “We found that when they feel like the policy is legitimate, fair and effective for their own students, they grew more [as teachers] based on teacher evaluation ratings.”
Kim and her colleagues combined two data sets from a pair of Virginia school districts: two years of survey data and three years of teacher evaluation ratings. Principals evaluated teachers based on documented professional growth objectives, evidence of improved student growth and class observation. Teachers then answered survey questions about the accuracy of the teacher evaluation instruments used, procedural fairness and the worthiness of the policies. Together, the two data sets provided evidence of an association between teachers’ perceived legitimacy of teacher evaluation policies and their instructional practice.
The researchers then examined which factors might affect those perceptions and how schools can make adjustments that will help legitimize evaluation processes. They identified three strategies that can promote teachers’ perceived legitimacy of policies—and, in turn, their willingness to comply with them. The first, principal leadership, has to do with teacher perceptions of how principals act, how much they know and what they stand for.
“We argue that maybe it’s not really absolute skill or absolute amount of knowledge that the principal had, maybe it’s about perception of the teachers and how they feel about [the principal],” says Kim. “It has to do with rapport, relationships. … That’s based on [the principal’s] skill for sure, but another piece of it is communication, too.”
Professional development, the second strategy, can be used to train teachers to make better use of teacher evaluation policies, the researchers say. If a teacher understands how to use a policy to improve his or her instruction, the policy will seem more legitimate.
Kim and her colleagues claim that the third strategy, providing teachers with sufficient time and resources to complete the evaluation process, helps present the process as an opportunity to improve teaching skills rather than as an unnecessary burden.
Teachers spend so much time and energy delivering quality instruction to their students, says Kim. She seeks to help them be as effective and efficient as possible.
“I truly believe that the success of any policy depends on people on the ground,” says Kim. “I know how difficult it is to work as a principal and teacher on a daily basis. As a researcher, I want to support them.”
Illustration by Jeong Hwa Min
This story originally appeared as "Perceived Legitimacy" in the 2019 Lehigh Research Review.