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Crime Scene Investigation Techniques for Data Driven Instruction

Apr 24, 2013

What’s the Connection between C.S.I. and a Day in the Life of a Principal?

by Dr. Paula Calabrese

C.S.I. is only a television series, but L.S.I. is a reality series in which principals take a leading role among a diverse cast of characters who often require them to go off script and ad lib to make it through the instructional day.

C.S. I., Crime Scene Investigation, is a popular television series whose premise has direct application to the role of the school principal. The special agents are consistently portrayed as insatiable examiners of crime scenes seeking objective, irrefutable evidence to identify the perpetrator and bring the investigation to a close…all within a 60 minute time period including commercials.

If there were a television series featuring the daily work of principals, it might be called L.S.I., Learning Scene Investigation. Although principals wear dozens of hats: they are counselors, mediators, disciplinarians, managers, leaders, facilitators and most importantly master teachers, they are also Learning Scene Investigators. In that role it is particularly important for them not only to know and understand best practices in teaching and learning, but also to demonstrate mastery of those practices as they supervise their classroom teachers. And the good news is that they have at least 180 days, without commercials, to conduct their investigations, identify the needs of their teachers, provide differentiated interventions and improve student achievement.

Although master teacher and instructional leader are the top hats, the primary responsibilities, of principals, these roles are often set aside to manage the crises that wreak havoc with every principal’s time management plan and daily to do list. Unfortunately L.S.I., also known as formative supervision of teachers, is the task most frequently neglected due to circumstances which often appear to be beyond the control of principals.

So how do principals don their investigative hats as L.S. I., escape the confines of their offices and take control of these distractions that separate them from their most important responsibility and critical challenge: providing informative feedback to teachers to ensure student achievement and to retain proficient teachers?

Offering a time management plan, suggesting a “to do” list and recommending a get organized quick formula would be the easy way out. For most principals, those ideas are untenable. In fact, most principals know and practice these concepts. The catch is that students, parents, facilities, central office administration, community members and other people, places and things very often make the principal’s “to do” list a “no can do list.” In other words school life gets in the way. That’s not to say that school life is not among the principals’ responsibilities, but rather, they very often seem more urgent and appear to need addressed immediately. So formative supervision again bites the dust.

How can principals truly become a L.S.I.? How can they make a difference in the lives of students through formative supervision of teachers? The very simple, but challenging answer is to set and maintain priorities.

Develop a Leadership Results and Evidence List

Get a yellow legal pad and make two columns on it. Label the left column the Results of being a visible L.S.I. Label the right column the Results of being invisible. You’ll get results in both columns, but which results do you really want to achieve? Set your priorities based on the student outcomes you want to achieve for your school. Look for the evidence that produces the results you hope to achieve.

Results of Being a Visible L.S.I.:Evidence of EngagementResults of Being Invisible::No Evidence of Engagement
1Teachers see me face-to-face1Teachers don’t see me very often
2Students see me face-to-face2Students don’t see me outside my office
3Parents see me out and about and view me as approachable3Parents may view me as aloof or uninformed
4I appear to be engaged in the life of the school4I appear to be disengaged from school life
5I informally learn more about the teachers and students5I miss out on informal interactions with teachers and students
6Students know that I’ll be in their classrooms to monitor their behavior6Students may behave inappropriately in classrooms and interfere with others’ learning
7Students know that I’ll be in the corridors and will see them as they move about7Students will think that I won’t see them, won’t know them and don’t care about them
8I can avert a crisis by intervening at an early stage8A minor issue might become a major crisis without early intervention
9I can answer questions quickly that will resolve issues before they escalate9Simple questions and concerns may fester without immediate answers
10I provide evidence that I’m available, I’m engaged, I’m interested, I’m supportive and I’m consistently gathering evidence of effective teaching and learning in my school10I provide evidence that I’m not available, I’m not engaged, I’m not interested, I’m not supportive…even though in my heart I want to be, but there’s no real evidence to show that I am.
Gather Evidence of Daily Time UsageIn his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey asks the question, “How do I spend my time?” He goes on to answer it through a time quadrant chart. The purpose of the chart is to analyze how time is spent throughout the day in terms of activities that are urgent, not urgent, important and not important and any combination thereof.

Examine the Time Quadrant Chart. Review the lists of activities that are typical of a principals’ work day. Add other tasks that are a regular part of the daily schedule. Where do they fit? Take some time to analyze the amount of time spent on activities that appear to be important, but are really not important and are not urgent. Those are the time wasters. Delete them to the fullest extent possible. Check out the important and urgent items. How do you feel when you spend the majority of your time in Quadrant I? Working consistently in this Quadrant causes stress that can result in mental and physical fatigue. Now think about Quadrant II. The activities listed are the most important roles and responsibilities of the principal. They are the ones that, when done well, provide job satisfaction and build a positive school environment for everyone. When duties in Quadrant II aren’t addressed over time, they move into Quadrant I and become urgent and force the principal to work under stress and perhaps reduce the quality of the work. Procrastinating on Quadrant II items creates Quadrant I crises. Decide what percentages of your time you spend in each quadrant. Then determine where you really should and need to spend your time. Set your priorities based on the student outcomes you want to achieve for your school.

Principal Time Chart resized 600

Empower Teachers to Also Become L.S.I.

Now that your priorities are set, let’s get them into action by starting with a faculty meeting to explain how your priorities will govern your time and actions. Affirm that your priority as a principal is to create an environment in which teachers can teach successfully and students can learn. Explain that you’ll do this by engaging teachers in more opportunities for formative supervision.

Take the time to help teachers recognize the differences between formative supervision and summative evaluation in terms of purposes and outcomes. Guide them in gathering evidence of effective teaching and learning.

SUPERVISION: Formative Assessment

EVALUATION: Summative Assessment
Focuses on teacher growth and development; an instructive processAssesses overall, comprehensive performance; a regulated, validation process
Recognizes the complexity of teachingFulfills Commonwealth’s obligation to protect children from harm
Highlights instructional strategiesIncludes both instructional and non-instructional duties
Encourages collegial relationship with supervisorRelates to evaluator in hierarchical, authoritative manner

Acknowledges the expertise of both parties

Views evaluator as having greater expertise and knowledge
Differentiates based on teacher’s individual needsHolds to standardized measures and is due process oriented

Views observer as a supporter with strategies to share; informs instruction

Views observer as a drama critic; teachers play a role

Allows teacher and supervisor to collaborate as L.S.I. partners in gathering and analyzing evidence of teaching and learning

Requires teacher to be primary L.S.I. who gathers, analyzes and present evidence of competence to the evaluator

Principals may wear dozens of different hats, but none is more critical than that of L.S. I. Gathering evidence of effective leadership, time management and teacher empowerment can make a principal a very special agent indeed.


Covey, Stephen. (1996). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York City NY: Simon and Shuster.

Danielson, Charlotte and Thomas L. McGreal. (2000). Teacher Evaluation To Enhance Professional Practice. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Nolan, J. and Hoover, L. (2008). Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: Theory into Practice (2nd Edition) Hoboken NJ: Wiley and Sons.

Sarver, Edward J. (2003). Friend, Colleague and Former Superintendent of the Southern Lehigh School District. Attribution of the analogy between C.S.I. and L.S.I.

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