Build Channels for Interactive Communication
Large-scale, effective engagement takes time, resources and capacity, and many state education agencies are not equipped to do this well. While they may be accustomed to pulling teachers together for statewide conferences or celebratory occasions like the teacher of the year announcement, most state education agencies rarely – if ever – are able to sustain deep and thoughtful engagement of educators on policy.
Staff capacity is often the problem, and as states embark on this process they should assess their existing bandwidth and infrastructure needs. Some states have reassigned staff or even created new offices to oversee educator evaluations. Regardless, the person in charge should have the experience, capacity and bandwidth necessary to oversee a change of this magnitude.
States should review and assess their infrastructure strengths and weaknesses and consider their ability to interact directly with teachers. States tend to assign this work to communications officers, but engagement differs significantly from traditional public relations, and should be assigned to someone with that particular expertise. States should consider who will lead the work, if they have access to email addresses for educators, and if they have the staff capacity to produce communications tools like newsletters, email blasts and videos.
If the assessment reveals that your state does not have the capacity to do this work effectively, consider either hiring additional staff or working with contractors or partners in the field. External advocacy organizations can help fill in infrastructure gaps and provide additional resources to outsource some of the workload.
Tennessee SCORE, for example, helped with analysis of Race to the Top scopes of work and a well-received summer 2010 convening of teachers. The state also partnered with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching to conduct statewide trainings, The New Teacher Project to develop a public-facing website and with Hope Street Group, SCORE and Education First to support their policy development and engagement efforts.
Delaware partnered with the University of Delaware to provide coaches to train principals in 60 schools on implementation, observations, improvement plan writing and other tasks. The state also partnered with the Delaware State Educators Association (DSEA) to recruit teachers for state teacher workgroups.
External groups also can facilitate meetings and help manage uncomfortable conversations. That said, the most difficult, delicate conversations should still be handled by state and district officials in person, warned Jesse Register, Director of Schools in Nashville. “Having an outsider instead of the superintendent or an insider affects the game,” he said.
Infrastructure will also be an issue at the district level: School districts will need to build their internal capacity to conduct the new evaluations well. Without question, the new systems being developed now will take more time to administer properly. Recognizing both the importance of not rushing the evaluations and the need for principals and other evaluators to continue to do the rest of their job, Tennessee is actually leaning on its teachers to help. Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre trained his best teachers to be lead teachers, peer observers and peer evaluators, and to work hand in hand with the administrators to do evaluations. This has proven to be more than just efficient, he said, noting that “observation conversations are more powerful when they are colleague to colleague.”
Use Financial Resources Wisely
Educator engagement efforts will take financial resources. Sending out surveys, hiring staff to carry out the engagement plan, and establishing a website where teachers can comment will all generally cost money. Building a website, for example, could cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars -- or web space could be established on an existing medium such as Facebook for free or on an already-created state Web page. Planners should establish the most cost effective way to establish the engagement infrastructure based on the financial resources available.