• Lesson 9: Partner with the Teachers Union

    All of these sites entered this work through close collaboration with their teachers union or association. Ongoing coordinated and collaborative communication with the union has been important as well. Union leaders played a role in all sites except Atlanta, which has no union, and three of the charter management organizations without teachers unions.


    Tulsa says the communications alliance has been key — not only for the creation of its own evaluation system but also for its adoption by about 90 percent of the state’s other districts.

    "In developing a new teacher evaluation system, we sought union involvement at the very earliest stages. Teachers, principals, and union representatives all provided early as well as ongoing — input. As a result, teachers wholeheartedly embraced our new evaluation system. This played a significant role in the selection of TPS' evaluation system by 499 school districts and career tech centers throughout Oklahoma. This would never have happened had it not been for the support of our teachers union. Union collaboration is key to building support for most districtwide initiatives."
    — Christopher Payne (Tulsa Public Schools)


    Similarly, Prince George’s County (MD) has monthly meetings and “a good relationship” with its teachers union, which has provided a reality check on language and helped with FAQs and distribution. In addition, Prince George’s teacher Bridgette Blue is one of the union’s appointees on the state advisory council on educator effectiveness.

    "The state advisory council has been a great asset in our efforts to implement our educator effectiveness
    initiatives. It allows us to exchange ideas with our
    colleagues and gives us insight into how well others
    are doing in implementing this work

    — Briant Coleman (Prince George's County Public Schools)

    Examples from the Field:


    Denver Public Schools (DPS)


    Denver’s website elaborates on the collaborative approach. Major announcements always have been done jointly, not just top-down from the administration. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) played an important role in nominating teachers to serve on the design teams and advisory committees. Two full-time DCTA representatives serve on the core project team, including a communications liaison and a project liaison.

    The full-time outreach liaison has been a key part of the overall communications team. A different teacher staffs the position each year and then returns to the classroom. This role is very grassroots oriented — the liaison spends most of his time in schools with teachers, fielding questions, surfacing issues, addressing concerns, offering feedback, and clarifying misunderstandings.

    In combination with other feedback mechanisms, the communications and operations teams bring the major issues to senior leadership for resolution. The liaison role was designed as a rotating position so that the teacher has recently experienced the Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP) system and identifies himself or herself primarily as a teacher, further increasing credibility.

    "DPS and DCTA are jointly committed to the  
    success of LEAP. By having a full-time DCTA liaison on the project leadership team, we are able to ensure that DCTA has a voice in the design and implementation process. Our DCTA liaison has helped us avoid numerous missteps by proactively identifying where communications messaging or design decisions could be misconstrued by our teachers in the field

    — Jennifer Stern (Denver Public Schools)



    Pittsburgh Public Schools

    The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and district collaborated to enlist teachers and administrators in redesigning the evaluation system. The project’s website was jointly designed by the district and union. The union has been sending monthly letters to its members with regular updates; district staff members help with messaging. Teacher leaders/building representatives in each building helped principals deliver professional development on these issues.

    "We modeled the ‘new world’ of collaboration. Unions recommended teachers for these teams. It’s been a real win for everyone."

    — Lisa Fischetti (Pittsburgh Public Schools) 


    The collaboration weathered a very public controversy during spring 2012 over how to handle the layoffs (“furloughs”) of about 300 teachers because of huge budget shortfalls: the current seniority-only-based system or using the performance tools that had been developed in the past few years combined with seniority. Communications Coordinator Susan Chersky offered the following advice for coping with setbacks such as this:

    • Stay cordial, and stay focused. The superintendent and union president continued to have weekly meetings, and work goes on. Chersky said, “This issue has caused strains, but it hasn’t deteriorated relationship overall. This is how unions and districts work.”
    • Be clear, consistent, and transparent. Through videos and other mechanisms, the superintendent was very clear and consistent in her messaging about these issues: why the layoffs were necessary and why seniority-only-based layoffs were not in the best interests of students. The district also was very transparent about the budget realities that led to the layoffs, preparing teachers and the public months in advance that budget cuts could lead to layoffs. Plus, the district worked closely with teachers to make sure they had accurate data about their certifications and other information.
    • Be sensitive. Understand that this is about people’s livelihoods. Make sure messages communicate the human element. Proactively provide support through employee assistance programs and hold numerous information sessions.
    • Communicate directly. The district used Constant Contact and emails to communicate directly to all teachers — setting expectations, giving them regular updates, linking to topic-specific FAQs, and regularly monitoring click-throughs. It also set up a centralized call number, a one-stop call center to funnel calls to the right person.
    • Make sure to keep the public informed. The district proactively relied on third-party partners to help communicate more broadly: A+ Schools (a local education advocacy group), foundation leaders, and community leaders. Their shared message: “We need to look for a better way.” (See Lesson 11 for more.)

    Supporting Effective Teaching
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