Lesson 2: Engage Teachers Early and MeaningfullySince teachers are the most directly affected by changes in policies and practices, earning their understanding and support is paramount for successful implementation and ongoing refinements of the system. Getting their input at the front end, listening to their questions and concerns, and adjusting plans if necessary are essential to building their ownership and creating a partnership. Beyond crafting stronger plans, an additional outcome is that these teachers become authentic champions and ambassadors with their peers and parents (see Lesson 6)."This work must be locally owned and developed by
teachers and administrators. It's important that it's
being done with teachers, not to teachers."
— Stephen Hegarty (Hillsborough County Public Schools)"The key is to have teachers at the table, weighing in as experts. Teaching effectiveness is a buzz phrase. You need to go to teachers to understand what it really is."— Stephen Alford (Atlanta Public Schools)
Make sure to get ongoing feedback, make changes in response to input (as appropriate), and proactively communicate back to teachers that their voice made a difference. Districts used various mechanisms to get input. Some formed advisory committees. Others conducted regular surveys and focus groups. Others, such as Atlanta and Hillsborough County, set up online/phone hotlines for questions, with a promised response within 48 hours (Hillsborough) or a week (Atlanta).
The 500 teachers at the 19 Green Dot sites (part of California’s The College-Ready Promise, a consortium of four charter management organizations) have multiple opportunities to provide input and ask questions: advisory groups/focus groups on various topics (multiple measures, classroom observations, value-added scores, student surveys, special education teachers, teachers of nontested subjects, career ladders, etc.); online surveys; wiki conversations; and “lunch and learn” conversations over pizza."We have tried to create a variety of ways for teachers to weigh in on the work, including opportunities for teachers to participate from in front of their computers, in live webinars, at lunch at their school sites. We really try and work around a teacher's desire to provide input without having to commit too many hours to do so."— Julia Fisher (Green Dot Public Schools)
Also, know when to draw the line so that input does not become paralyzing or cause confusion. Hillsborough County, for example, reported that many teachers and administrators were getting confused and concerned by the number of policy changes being made in response to the input. Two primary lessons: Communicate the practical reality that you want feedback but cannot possibly incorporate it all, and make sure to set expectations at the front end about how decisions will be made.
Examples from the Field:Denver Public Schools (DPS)The school system and Denver Classroom Teachers Association invited teachers to apply to participate on a design team to review best practices and offer recommendations to the Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP) leadership team around key elements of the LEAP system. Some 35 teachers spent the spring and summer 2010 helping inform the design of the system. In addition, DPS solicited schools that wanted to participate in a spring pilot; the initial pilot schools were representative of the broader DPS school community, and all had high levels of staff support. More than 50 teachers from these initial pilot schools led the efforts to speak to other schools about their experience and were critical in getting 94 percent of DPS schools to agree to participate in the 2011–12 LEAP pilot. A sample worksheet shows how design team recommendations aligned to the district’s seven core values.
Aspire Public Schools
The public charter school network serves 34 campuses in three regions in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, and the Central Valley. It uses multiple mechanisms to gather input from teachers, notably 12–15, topic-specific teacher advisory panels, which meet four times a year in each region.
For example, a May 2012 advisory group addressed several topics affecting teachers of nontested subjects: brief updates; quick “buzz” survey (what is working and what is not); setting cut scores and determining levels of effectiveness based on multiple measures, from student growth to classroom observations; career paths; and creating a more robust support system.
For all issues related to evaluation and support, Aspire first puts most proposals before the teacher advisory board in each region. The boards do not have veto power but have a chance to discuss different components and offer their feedback. Sometimes input is incorporated into a revised plan. For example, advisory panelists helped reduce the number of questions on the elementary and high school student surveys.
Atlanta Public Schools
Atlanta conducts quarterly focus groups with teachers randomly selected from each school in a cluster of 25 schools. Regional superintendents lead the meetings while teacher effectiveness staff members take notes and recommend changes based on the input. Atlanta also conducts an annual online survey of all teachers and regularly uses its TGIF (Teachers Get Informed First) newsletter to solicit input and answer questions."Focus groups were by far the best thing we
have done, much more effective than town hall meetings where teachers could give feedback but often missed the messages that we were trying to deliver."— Angela King Smith (Atlanta Public Schools)Memphis City Schools
As a first step in its effective teaching strategy, the district established a teacher working group strategy to empower teachers to help lead the changes. During the 2010 school year, teachers worked alongside administrators, union leadership, researchers, and industry experts to develop a thoughtful approach to teacher evaluations.
By encouraging and enabling broad cross-functional collaboration with teachers in the lead, Memphis built the case for change at the same time it built the tools to drive that change. The result: the Teacher Effectiveness Measurement (TEM), a rigorous evaluation process designed by teachers for teachers. In July 2011, Memphis applied for and received approval from the state of Tennessee to implement the TEM as an alternative evaluation model. Teacher ownership was so pronounced that a teacher actually presented the district’s appeal to the board. Now, teacher working groups are convened as part of every major strategic decision process.
The graphical teaching and learning framework includes a five-point rubric for each of the four main priorities: plan, teach, cultivate learning environment, and reflect and adjust.