Perhaps most importantly, states should take advantage of the ability to reach all teachers on email. This form of electronic communication can be highly effective and is perhaps the only way to reach every educator directly.
Teachers Want to Know Details
Many of the teachers interviewed said they do not feel like they get enough face-time with policymakers and state and district leaders. Kim Vann, a special education teacher from Tennessee, suggested that superintendents spend more time in the classroom and that policymakers be given an opportunity to observe the new evaluations in person to better understand its implementation and impact.
When face-to-face isn’t possible, states should use a multi-pronged approach to take advantage of a range of other communications vehicles. Florida, for example, set up a teachers’ task force, a “what’s working” series of workshops, a video series publicizing the work of the committees and invitations to apply to serve. The state also held state-wide conference calls and invited teachers to listen in as silent participants.
- Informational materials - These can include Frequently Asked Questions, a “Myths and Facts” document, one-pagers with details about the new system and a timeline that highlights key points in the process. All of these materials should be made available on a dedicated, public-facing website and sent to districts in an easy-to-understand format for distribution to teachers and parents.
- Online content - States should consider either adding a page to their existing website or developing a new, public-facing site to post both high-level and detailed information about the new evaluation system. Some good examples of this already exist, including engageny.org.
- Traditional media - Pinkston advises states to keep state and local media updated and informed throughout the development and implementation of the new system. The more they understand how the evaluation system works and what it will mean, the better informed their reporting and writing will be.
- Social media - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, and other social media tools are increasingly becoming a go-to method to communicate with people directly. States can use these tools to blast out quick updates on a regular basis and generate online discussion and feedback.
- Surveys - Online surveys can be developed easily and at low cost using tools like Survey Monkey, and can be a powerful way to gauge understanding, support and concerns about an issue. These can be distributed widely among any or all audiences and provide feedback that can inform the work of the statewide advisory group. Officials in Delaware also conduct an annual survey of the state’s educators to gauge the overall success of the evaluation system itself to better understand how it’s working “on the ground.”
- Video-conferences - If in-person meetings aren’t possible, video conferencing programs like Skype, JoinMe and GoToMeeting should be considered as viable alternatives. Some allow for more participants than others. These tools are inexpensive, easy to use and can enable state officials to participate in staff and school-based meetings they cannot personally attend. Tennessee’s Tim Gaddis, who formerly led the teacher evaluation work, jokes now that he has become the “Skype King” in his state, noting that he was able to cover the whole state by holding multiple meetings via Skype.
- Video messages - Taped video messages allow state officials to speak directly to educators, but do not allow for the back-in-forth interaction made possible by Skype. These previously-taped messages can be sent to all principals and played at staff meetings to allow every teacher to hear directly from the education commissioner. Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre created six-minute videos and asked his principals to play them during faculty meetings; similarly, a video from Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is posted on the state Department of Education’s webpage.
- Webinars - Online webinars are another way to reach a wide range of people across the state without the need for travel. These need to be relatively brief, scheduled at times that are convenient for teachers, and allow for questions and answers. They also can be video and audiotaped and posted online to enable viewing after the initial delivery. When done right, webinars can be extremely effective in conveying formation and conducting trainings.
Perhaps most importantly, states should take advantage of the ability to reach all teachers on email. This form of electronic communication can be highly effective and is perhaps the only way to reach every educator directly. Officials in Delaware developed an email listserv that included virtually every educator; to overcome spam filters, they also send a weekly memo to all human resources directors for distribution to every teacher. New York also has had success with email: When www.engageny.org was first launched, the New York Commissioner alerted the teachers by email. Within two hours the site crashed because it received too many simultaneous hits. Other states have partnered with teachers' unions, which often keep e-mail addresses of members on file, to help get the message out.