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Condition 5: Recognition of Progress Towards Expertise: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Learners, whether they are five or fifty, have many similar needs. Our brains function best in continuing to be motivated to learn and grow when we 1) know what the goals are and 2) know how we are progressing towards those goals. As a leader, creating a culture of continuous improvement in which you recognize progress toward expertise is critical to the success of your team.

Five Critical Conditions for Increasing Teacher Effectiveness

  1. Common language of instruction (a well-articulated knowledge base for teaching)
  2. Focused feedback and deliberate practice
  3. Opportunities to observe and discuss teaching and learning
  4. Clear criteria and a plan for success
  5. Recognition of progress towards expertise

Table 1. Marzano, Frontier, & Livingston (2011, p. 4)

In previous articles of this series, we have explored four of the five critical conditions that are necessary to implement an instructional/evaluation model that truly supports growth. You were given the opportunity to assess your school or district’s current status in each. Additionally, suggestions for action steps and possible resources were outlined to assist you to strengthen those conditions.  Let’s recap:

  • Did you verify that your teachers, staff and administrators have a common language of instruction? Were you able to solidify their understanding of a shared model of instruction? As leaders, the task then is to continue to maintain focus on that model, to provide support around the constructs. If that common language does not seem to be solidly in place, refer to Condition 1: Supporting a Common Language of Instruction for resources and ideas to strengthen that critical area.
  • When you gave feedback to teachers, was that feedback objective and focused and did the feedback remain centered in the model of instruction? If so, your ongoing task is to provide multiple opportunities for the teachers to show growth on those initial data points. If you identified this as an area of ongoing need, refer to Condition 2: Focused Feedback and Deliberate Practice to help you build your practice in this area.
  • Did you implement, or increase opportunities for teachers to observe and discuss teaching and learning? When that practice is strong, leaders’ continuing role is to plan and support the sharing of ideas and expertise. In schools where these opportunities are still not a common part of teacher practice, Condition 3: Opportunities to Observe and Discuss Teaching and Learning will help leaders identify and plan supportive structures that build this type of learning culture.
  • Were you able to establish a clear idea of your destination, “overcommunicate” for clarity, and provide multiple exposures and opportunities to practice strategies? If this is a condition your building or district team needs to strengthen, Condition 4: Clear Criteria and a Plan for Success will provide ideas and resources for consideration.

Continuing the work on these Critical Conditions for Increasing Teacher Expertise, the next step is to dive deeper into Condition 5: Recognition of Progress Towards Expertise.  

Increasing Teacher Retention Through the Power of Recognizing Progress

One of the many challenges for today’s school leaders is supporting and retaining effective teachers. Dr. Robert Marzano identified a key element in his Focused School Leader Evaluation Model as follows: “The school leader effectively hires, supports, and retains personnel who continually demonstrate growth through reflection and growth plans” (Carbaugh & Marzano 2018, p. 73).

Naturally, the school leader has the responsibility to hire the best available candidate, support teachers as they grow, and retain them. The third part of that element, the need to retain teachers, has become more of a focal point in today’s world where many teachers are leaving the field for a variety of reasons.

By the end of the 2021-22 school year, teacher turnover increased 4 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels, bringing the national rate to 10 percent, according to a RAND study (Dilberti & Schwartz 2023).

In addition, an uptick in the number of teachers leaving mid-year has increased the stress on leaders and on other teachers in the building who are often left to absorb the students whose teacher resigned, or to mentor inexperienced teachers who were added due to the emergency situation and who may or may not have sufficient training for the task.

A few of the main reasons teachers cite for leaving schools or leaving the profession include:

  1. Working conditions (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017)
  2. The lack of respect shown to them as professionals (Streeter, 2021)
  3. Stagnant or decreasing academic achievement (Toth, 2021; Hanushek, Rivkin, & Shiman, 2016)

In the book Effective Supervision, the authors posit, “Capable people want to work in environments where they sense they matter. Using an instructional model to provide observations and feedback as engines of professional improvement signals that teaching is such an enterprise,” (Marzano et al., 2011, p. 139). The use of a system like the Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model allows teachers to get objective and growth-oriented feedback, and sends the message that they are engaged in a robust professional career.

In the Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model, Dr. Robert Marzano identified a critical element that teachers are asked to implement in the classroom for the benefit of their students, Providing Feedback and Celebrating Progress. How could this also be critical for the ongoing learning of adult learners?

Providing Feedback and Celebrating Progress
Focus Statement: Teacher provides feedback to students regarding their formative and summative progress as it relates to learning targets and/or unit goals.
Desired Effect: Evidence (formative data) demonstrates students continue learning and making progress towards learning targets as a result of receiving feedback.

Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model 2017

Consider the difference that feedback and recognition make for teachers and staff. When there are clear criteria for success (as outlined in Condition #4) and when they receive objective and responsive feedback along with recognition of their efforts and progress, teachers feel supported and valued. When asking teachers to continue to grow professionally, leaders need to ensure that they do not skip over the important aspect of recognition.

Reflect on Your Recognition Processes


The first step to improving your recognition of progress is to assess how your building is operating now in this critical condition.

Recognition of Progress​:

How will you know when this condition is strong in your school?

·         A detailed plan is in place to recognize and celebrate every teacher’s formative and summative progress.​

·         Multiple forms and types of evidence-based recognition are implemented.​

·         Evidence demonstrates that current forms of recognition result in teachers feeling their efforts are valued.​

·         Teachers connect their growth in expertise to student achievement.

·         Teachers and staff participate in recognition of others.


If your self-assessment indicates that your building is “not there yet” in terms of having a system of effective recognition of teachers’ progress, what can you do?

First, reflect on and assess current recognition processes:

  • With a building team, list the various ways in which your building or district provides feedback to teachers on their growth.
  • For each of those processes, gather information about how effective that recognition is: to what degree to teachers and staff respond positively to that recognition. Surveys, polls, and team conversations can be used to assess. Ask, “To what degree do our recognition processes result in teachers feeling valued and motivated to continue growth?” For instance, a principal may have a favorite recognition method that includes calling out a high-achieving teacher for public acclimation. The principal believes this to be a very positive recognition. However, some teachers may respond negatively to that public praise.
  • Assess current practices to ensure a variety of approaches to recognition that take into account the diverse needs of the staff. Seek teacher input on preferred or proposed recognition practices.
  • Refine your list of recognition practices to reflect the feedback.

Once your team has assessed the current plan, it is time to develop and refine recognition processes.

5 Steps to Systematize Recognition of Progress


1 – Make a plan with each teacher: Begin the year with individual meetings with teachers to discuss and plan for their professional learning (deliberate practice) goals. Review the teachers’ growth plans and help them  access resources, plan for learning opportunities, and consider how they will monitor their growth. Plan when you and the teachers will meet throughout the year to measure progress.

2 – Observe and provide feedback: Utilize formal, informal and drop-in observations to give teachers feedback on their selected growth element(s). Ensure that there are multiple opportunities for teachers to demonstrate their learning and growth on the use of these elements. In reflection conferences following the observation, ensure that feedback focuses on any increases in the effective use of the targeted element(s). The Marzano Evaluation Center’s ieObservation tool will provide tracking of teacher progress as feedback is entered into the system.

3 – Engage in mid-year conversations: Prioritize meeting with teachers one to two times during the school year to discuss and monitor their progress on their growth goals. Ensure that these conversations include: 1) specific feedback that focuses on recognizing progress, including making connections between teacher growth and increases in student achievement, 2) coaching to help teachers recognize how to utilize the element(s) at a more effective level, and 3) resources and ideas to support their ongoing work.

4 – Implement thoughtful and varied recognition practices: Throughout the year, implement recognition practices that are specific, concrete, and designed to address individual preferences.  Ensure a mix of public, one-to-one, written, verbal, etc.  Consider how you will celebrate “small wins” (see detail below).

5 – Lead end-of-year individual reflection sessions: Confer with teachers at the end of the year to reflect on overall and specific growth. Show teachers their growth trajectory over the course of the year and help them connect that growth to areas in which their students made gains.

Celebrating Small Wins


Our brains are wired to respond to positive feedback and rewards. Celebrating the completion of small accomplishments leads to the completion of larger goals. According to research from Harvard Business School, people who tracked their small achievements over short periods of time (monthly, weekly, even daily) enhanced their motivation. “Of all the things that can boost inner work life, the most important is making progress in meaningful work,” (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).

Build on success. As accomplishments are celebrated, it creates a deeper hunger to build an even stronger base and strive towards greater victory and triumph.   It raises the  standards for what is possible and develops the rituals and habits necessary to make success a sustainable part of the culture.

In developing your overall recognition plan, consider how to help teachers track their small wins over time. There are many ways to acknowledge small wins. You might wish to discuss this as a team, and develop some team approaches to celebrating small wins, such as having a “small wins” board or a round table review of small wins in weekly or monthly PLC and staff meetings.

Fcusing on recognizing and celebrating progress and accomplishments along the way will create a culture of continuous improvement, growth, and success.


Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2011). The Power of Small Wins. Harvard Business Review.

Carbaugh, B. G., & Marzano, R. J. (2018). School leadership for results: A focused model.

Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). Teacher turnover: Why it matters and what we can do about it. Learning Policy Institute.

Dilberti M.K & Schwartz, H.L. (2023). Educator Turnover Has Markedly Increased, but Districts Have Taken Actions to Boost Teacher Ranks: Selected Findings from the Sixth American School District Panel Survey. RAND Corporation.

Hanushek, E. A., Rivkin, S., & Schiman, J. C. (2016). Dynamic effects of teacher turnover on the quality of instruction (CALDER Working Paper No. 170). National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

Marzano, R.J., Frontier, T., & Livingston, D. (2011) Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching. ASCD.

Streeter, L. G. (2021, October 18). Why so many teachers are thinking of quitting. The Washington Post Magazine.

Toth, M. D. (2021, October 2021). How Florida’s lowest-performing school improved from an “F” to an “A.”

About The Author: Kathleen Marx

Kathleen Marx, MSEd, is a leading expert in personal development across industries. Ms. Marx has worked closely with Dr. Robert J. Marzano and the Marzano Evaluation Center team in developing content and training new staff developers. Her background in classroom teaching, gifted education consulting, school counseling, life-success facilitation, and school leadership  give her unique insights into leading strategies in implementing research-based instructional and evaluation models. She earned her master’s degrees in educational leadership and school counseling from the University of Dayton.