Lesson 8: Invest in Staffing
Implementing a new teacher support and evaluation system is complex and complicated, with many details and politically charged nuances. Explaining these changes requires both deep content knowledge and communications expertise. Having embedded communications professionals is important not only for getting messages out but also for facilitating the collection of input, measuring understanding and progress, and supporting the changes that are occurring.
To that end, many of the sites have chosen to embed a communications professional within the department managing the work, closely coordinating with the district’s communications office. These embedded professionals are the content experts and primary “translators.” The communications department retains responsibility for overall strategy, coordinating outreach, managing the tools (web, email, media relations, printing, etc.), and overseeing vendors.
Some district leaders warn against creating too many materials that appear slick and costly."We've been very cautious about having flashy stuff that looks expensive. Most of what we do does not cost much money. Ninety percent of the expenses are for our two dedicated staffers (one on loan from the union) and paying teacher ambassadors for their outreach time."— Jennifer Stern (Denver Public Schools)
Examples from the Field:
Atlanta Public Schools
As the organizational chart shows, the district has a seven-person Effective Teacher in Every Classroom office,
which is responsible for all aspects of program implementation. Communications is a key part of everyone’s job — regular meetings, responding to emails and phone calls, etc. — but a dedicated communications staff member provides basic tools and on-demand support for principals, teacher ambassadors, and others. She works closely with district’s communications department, which helps with materials (including two videos and a monthly TV show).
Hillsborough County Public Schools (FL)
The five-person Effective Teaching Office has a full-time communications professional who is mainly responsible for content, with frequent outreach to the schools. Meanwhile, the five-person communications department handles the traditional PR functions: earned and paid media, radio/TV, speechwriting, publications, and other means.
Denver Public Schools
The Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP) system team has a full-time senior communications manager who oversees communications about evaluation as well as about the district’s broader Teacher and Principal Talent Management work (recruiting, new teacher experience, tenure/renewal, principal recruiting, principal evaluations, etc.). She also oversees a communications manager and the communications liaison to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, who is responsible for day-to-day outreach to schools, responding to concerns, gathering feedback, and clarifying confusion. A major part of her job is to monitor and analyze the regular input that comes through the dedicated website.
She reports directly to the executive director of talent management and strategic programs so that she is in the loop on all teacher and principal talent management strategy decisions. But to ensure that messages, schedules, and tactics are aligned, she also “dot-lines” to the Communications Department, attending its staff meetings and supporting its work. A dedicated, five-person operations team also responds to every piece of feedback and questions that come through the website, email, and phone line.
Memphis City Schools
Much of Memphis’ communications and outreach has focused on opinion leaders and the general public and was originally organized and funded by the Memphis City Schools (MCS) Foundation (see Lesson 5). The senior leader there created the concept and strategy for the I Teach, I Am teacher recognition campaign and then assembled a group of external partners to develop and design the videos and robust website. Meanwhile, the school district’s Communications Department manages all aspects of media outreach.
Much of the communications and engagement work described in this toolkit, including hiring embedded communications staff, has been supported by the grant funding. However, Partnership sites attest that clear and regular, two-way communications is such a high priority, it is important to prioritize it in planning and budgeting.
Make two-way communications and engagement a districtwide priority. Improving teaching effectiveness is central to every school district’s work. As we hope this guide makes clear, you cannot do this work without significant engagement throughout the process from those most directly affected: teachers and principals. You cannot do this work without broad-based understanding and support, starting internally. If staff members are not clear about the changes, and how they will positively affect them and their students, the work will not happen.
As the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program’s guide to developing effective teacher evaluation systems put it: “Supporting professional growth and motivating breakthrough performance demand engaging, informing, and inspiring teachers. And this requires two-way communication — lots of it, with multiple audiences, throughout the process of design and implementation.” (The guide includes useful advice and do-it-yourself templates.)
Building that understanding and support requires communications expertise. If the work itself is a districtwide priority, then communicating about it must be, too. And as this guide showcases, communications involves a lot more than writing a press release, posting a document on a website, or creating a new PowerPoint presentation — although all of these are useful steps. Making the funding case to your organization’s leadership is job one."You have to send a clear message early on that this is not an initiative or a project. Those things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This work doesn't. This is the way we do business. That helps to eliminate the 'flavor of the month' problem and encourages people to incorporate it into their daily work."— Stephen Hegarty (Hillsborough County Public Schools)"To quell anxieties from the many stakeholders in this work — teachers, parents, school boards, etc. — it is essential that some investment is made in clear communication due to to the large amount of misinformation in the airwaves that often doesn't represent the actual local district's teacher effectiveness model."— James Gallagher (Aspire Public Schools)
Use existing resources. It is not especially time consuming to update your website with at least basic information about what is being done with teacher and principal evaluations, why, and when — and how people can learn more. Many teachers are great writers. Ask them to create minutes for the various committees. Spread the costs among various departments: academics, professional development, etc."All of the systems we use have become Green Dot-wide systems and are only partially funded by foundations, making them the responsibility of more than just one department."— Julia Fisher (Green Dot Public Schools)"A lot of our resources are being repurposed. So, for instance, it's the same professional development budget we had before, but now it's focused on this work."— Stephen Hegarty (Hillsborough County Public Schools)
Pittsburgh Public Schools has made a concerted effort to turn multiple administrators into key communicators. A project charter offers a one-page worksheet for developing a mini-communications plan, addressing the key questions about goals, key audiences, key messages, and timing. “We’re training them to think like communicators,” said Communications Coordinator Susan Chersky.
Find local funding and partnership support. Denver, for instance, has used multiple funding sources for this work; two local funders have helped pay for the communications resources, supplemented by a Wallace Foundation grant and general funds. See if your local teachers association or union can provide support, as those in Prince George’s County (MD) and Pittsburgh have done, among others. Take advantage of local advocacy and school reform groups such as the Memphis City Schools Foundation and A+ Schools in Pittsburgh."I definitely think this is a priority funding need. We were able to secure local support by emphasizing the stakeholder-engagement and best practice-sharing components of our communications work: communications as a way to engage teachers, capture feedback, and ensure we are sharing back our work with the state."
— Jennifer Stern (Denver Public Schools)