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Condition 1: Supporting a Common Language of Instruction

In the Marzano Evaluation Center’s Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model PD Updates Newsletter, we’re dedicating the next several blogs to how leaders can develop teacher expertise. This blog will focus on the first of five conditions and developing a common language of instruction. This series of blog articles is dedicated to helping leaders determine how best to develop teacher expertise.

In the five conditions of teaching expertise overview article, we encouraged you to reflect on your school’s current practices related to growth and professional development. Using a decision-making process, you prioritized five critical attributes for increasing teacher expertise (see Table 1) to determine where to focus going forward.

Moving that vision to action and determining how to address those prioritized areas will result in strengthening the school culture and increasing student achievement. That process begins with a focus on Condition 1: Common Language of Instruction

Five Critical Conditions for Increasing Teacher Expertise

  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, and Livingston (2011, p. 4)

What is a common language of instruction?


“The school leader must, first of all, have a vision for what effective classroom instruction looks like when aligned to a standards-based curriculum and what the desired outcomes of effective instruction should be” (Carbaugh & Marzano, 2018, p. 38). 

A common language of instruction is a well-articulated knowledge base for teaching that everyone in the school understands and uses. Ideally, it is based on an organized instructional framework strongly grounded in the research around teaching and learning, such as the Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model. A common language of instruction defines what good instruction looks and sounds like and includes a common set of terms educators can use to plan and discuss teaching.

What are the benefits of a common language for instruction?

team discussing document papers on desk

  1. Provide clarity for teachers to understand the vision of instruction: Consider the challenges of leading teachers to a destination if you don’t really know or can’t clearly articulate where “there” is. Determining and sharing a vision for instruction must be the first step and foundation that supports all actions and endeavors.
  2. Prevent miscommunication and misconceptions: It’s easy to assume everyone knows what was said and understands it, when in reality they may not. The leader may not even realize when miscommunication and misconceptions happen and may wonder why there hasn’t been more progress in the school. A school-wide framework and common language for instruction helps school leaders and teachers come to agreement about best classroom practices.
  3. Keep the focus on effective teacher practices to achieve the vision: Leading your teachers through the process of examining, analyzing, and reflecting on the instructional vision and on current practices is a strong step in the direction of increasing teacher effectiveness. That process allows a team to focus in on the areas that will provide the most positive impact in moving towards the vision.
  4. Clearly communicate across the system: An understanding of a common language and of common goals allows for clear communication across the system, both vertically (from district leader to school leader to teacher) and horizontally (between teachers and instructional support members and between teachers across the district).
  5. Offer specific and effective growth feedback for teachers: Having a common language of instruction that is research-based, like the Focused Teacher Evaluation Model, allows leaders to help teachers focus on instructional strategies and to give specific feedback that supports growth.

While most districts understand the benefits of a common language of instruction, their systems may not yet encourage it. Ultimately, a common language of instruction keeps district leadership focused on improving instruction, which in turn improves student achievement. Visionary district leadership understands that teacher behavior predicts student achievement and will utilize a common language of instruction as part of their decision-making processes (Carbaugh et al., 2013).

How do you implement a common language of instruction?


“This goes beyond one-on-one learning and coaching with teachers; it has to be a schoolwide, and preferably district-wide, effort. The common language needs to be developed and shared in multiple settings throughout the school day and year, including PLCs, staff meetings, walkthroughs, and evaluations. If leadership actively supports and structures these activities, it will happen. If not, it won’t” (Abla, 2019).

Once leaders determine the framework or instructional model for a common language of instruction, the next action is to ensure that all members of the school community know and understand it and are using it in classrooms and in professional development opportunities.

Ideas for Implementing:

  • Write it out: Ensure you have a written document delineating the instructional framework that you and your staff utilize in staff meetings, in PLCs, and in individual conferences.
  • Share and discuss it: In a staff meeting, review the instructional framework or model. Consider organizing all staff into teams to discuss and explore the model. Whether your staff has already been using the model or are just being introduced to it, it is beneficial to allow teachers to periodically “dive deeper” into the strategies or elements, to identify how they may already be implementing specific pieces, and to brainstorm and share ideas for future use. The Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model provides protocols for each element that not only describe but give many examples. These protocols can be used to give teachers dedicated time to explore and ideas from which to draw.
  • Dive deeper in book studies: Consider book studies in which teachers can focus on specific elements or strategies from the instructional framework
  • Incorporate into lesson plans and review those plans: Encourage PLCs to use the common language of the instructional model as they plan and discuss teaching and learning. Provide copies of the framework and supporting documents. Ask them to assess their lesson plans to see if the elements of the model are represented appropriately. Periodically review and give feedback as to whether plans reflect the agreed upon framework.
  • Inspect classroom evidence via walkthroughs and provide feedback: Use walkthroughs and informal observations to track the use of the instructional framework. Are you seeing the implementation of the agreed upon model? If not, provide feedback that helps teachers to make the needed transitions.

Common Language of Instruction:
How will you know when this attribute is strong in your school?

  • A written document (model of instruction) articulating the common language is available and commonly used in staff meetings, PLCs, and team meetings.
  • Teachers use the common language when discussing teaching and learning.
  • Teachers can describe the connection between their use of the key elements of the instructional model and student achievement.
  • District and building leaders support the use of the common language in professional development and other interactions.

About The Author: Kathleen Marx

Kathleen Marx, MSEd, is a leading expert in personal development across industries. Ms. Marx has worked very 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.


Abla, C. (March 14, 2019). Why we love to hear a common instructional language. McREL International.

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

Carbaugh, B., Marzano, R., & Toth, M. (2013). Common language, common goals: How an aligned evaluation and growth system for district leaders, school leaders, teachers, and support personnel drives student achievement.

Marzano, R. J., Frontier, T., & Livingston, D. (2011). Effective supervision: Supporting the art and science of teaching. ASCD.