Teacher liaisons provide communication safety net for evaluation system

Colorado’s new educator effectiveness evaluation system began in pilot programs for some teachers in the 2012-13 school year. One realization became clear as the selected districts put the ideals of a new law into practice – educator effectiveness requires a serious amount of time for thoughtful, successful implementation.

Integration liaison Cathy Epps (seated front center) at CEA Theory into Practice training.

Integration liaison Cathy Epps (seated front center) at CEA’s “Theory into Practice” training in Durango.

“Superintendents were saying, ‘We need help with this implementation.’ Everyone in this profession is pulled in many directions, and the evaluation work wasn’t getting completed,” said Cathy Epps, a veteran teacher who left the classroom to solely devote her time to the success of the evaluation system. “My job is to focus just on educator effectiveness, and it is a full-time job to do that and to support teachers.”

Epps is one of 18 teachers across the state serving as an ‘integration liaison’ in the pilot districts. Along with Jim Parr, fellow teacher and Education Association of Cortez member, they provide information and answer queries on the evaluation system for educators in the four southwest school districts of Montezuma-Cortez, Mancos, Delores and Delores County. They talked about their role at CEA’s “Theory into Practice” training for educators in Durango.

Jim Parr, right, during the CEA educator training session.

Jim Parr, right, during the CEA educator training session.

“I like to think that we bring a little bit of sanity to the situation,” said Parr. “People get overwhelmed. There is a long laundry list of initiatives, mandates and actions that are taking place in education in Colorado right now. If it weren’t for positions like we have, evaluations would be ignored until the last minute.”

“The communication piece wasn’t happening as strongly as it needed to, communicating what’s going on down to the classroom,” said Epps. “There’s so much going on in a school system. We’re in the middle. We’re not in charge of anybody – we’re more of a safety net for real communication. We get information sometimes before administration and other people do, and we share that out.”

Integration liaisons have lessened the anxiety of teachers feeling their way through the new evaluation reality, according to Epps. Teachers can take their questions and concerns to a fellow teacher who has the time and resources to work their issues.

“We’re also seasoned teachers. We’ve been in this for a long time, so we understand. We’re a safety net for asking questions, and we have the resources to get those answers,” Epps added.

In Durango School District 9-R, Durango EA members Dave McKeever and Jeb Holt serve as the integration liaisons. They spread the understanding that administration and teachers are on the same team.

“We really need to work together to get this done and to make a change,” said McKeever. “Communication of a consistent message that we are all on the same team is huge right now.”

McKeever also tries to connect ‘overwhelmed educators’ with each other across all levels, finding they weren’t always talking to each other as the evaluation system rolled out.

“I was surprised how disconnected schools are, even within a district. It’s not because the district is dysfunctional. But the educator effectiveness system is so complicated, you need more people on the same team that can work together, share ideas and help each other out,” McKeever noted. “Communication seems such a struggle, and I have felt rewarded by helping in that.”

Parr, Epps and McKeever talk about the integration liaison role with CEA Journal during a session break.

Parr, Epps and McKeever talk about the integration liaison role with CEA Journal during a session break.

The region’s integration liaisons also finished their first cycle of a peer coaching system, an important practice critical to successful teaching evaluations. In this system, teachers step out of their classrooms to observe another teacher and reflect on teaching practice together.

“The reflections of the teachers that were involved said it was by far the best professional development they’d ever had,” Epps said. “They had never learned more than by working with a colleague in their profession to develop better practices. It’s powerful to be able to implement a peer coaching system into our classrooms.”

“For our four districts, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities for professional growth in place prior to this,” observed Parr. “We didn’t have individualized professional development where teachers felt they were getting the most out of training. When we come forward and offer peer coaching, we’re bringing water to thirsty people. It’s been very well received and appreciated.”

The liaisons agree teachers have had a strong voice in developing the state’s educator effectiveness evaluation system. Teachers are leading the evaluation process in these school districts, which Epps calls an ‘exciting shift’ validating a larger ideal that teachers need to be viewed as the experts in the education field.

“The superintendents we work with really value teachers and what they’re doing. They listen to us, they trust us and say, ‘Okay, you’re speaking for all those teachers. Tell us what’s right and where to go to with this.’ I feel teachers’ voice is being heard in a really positive way more than ever before,” Epps concluded.

“For those people who will step up and participate, they do make a difference,” McKeever agreed. “The teacher voice is heard and it’s used, especially in the current administration and the culture we have now.”

The integration liaisons see their role in supporting teachers and administration continuing and growing into an embedded part of the evaluation system. They are rewarded by contributing to an overall state education system that is on the cusp of dramatic change.

“We are reshaping what education looks like, at least in our little corner of the world,” said Parr. “We put our teachers and our students first so we can have some meaningful results and outcomes, and watch our kids go onto better things when they leave us.”

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TELL Colorado Survey begins February 6

As educators know, there is a clear connection between teaching conditions and student learning. This is why CEA is working with statewide partners for the third time to offer the TELL Colorado Survey to teachers from February 6 to March 6. We want to find out more about Colorado’s K-12 schools from the people who know them the best.

The TELL Colorado Survey is an anonymous, online survey which gives teachers and other licensed school-based educators the opportunity to tell their perceptions of the teaching and learning conditions in their schools. The survey data will provide educators, schools, districts, the Legislature, Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and CEA and its partners with information we can all use to improve our schools and support pro-education policies.

The TELL Colorado Survey (TELL stands for Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning) was offered in 2009 and 2011, supported by funding from the Legislature. State-based versions of the survey are offered in a dozen other states in partnership with The New Teacher Center. CEA is working with CDE, CASE, CASB, the League of Charter Schools, and the Colorado Federation of Teachers on this year’s survey.

The TELL Colorado survey takes about 20-30 minutes and addresses issues of time, empowerment, leadership, resources, student conduct, community engagement, professional development, and mentoring. In their schools during the last week of January, educators will get individual letters with personal codes for taking the survey. After the close of the survey on March 6, The New Teacher Center will analyze data from all the schools that have sufficient participation for a written, school level report. Through this analysis, each school will have its own data to use in school improvement planning. The initial data will be available beginning in April.

Denver teacher offers her take on Won’t Back Down movie

Won’t Back Down is a work of fiction that looks to parent trigger laws as a strategy for school reform. I want to emphasize the word fiction for anyone who missed it the first time. Much has already been written about the film, for or against it. I will share what I know to be non-fiction, based on my 25 years of practice as an accomplished teacher. These things I know…

I am one of “those” kids. When speaking of kids living in poverty, many people refer to “those” kids. This is not a reason to feel sorry for them (or me) or to make excuses about why we cannot learn. But it is the first step in creating separation between people and factions.

In Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children, she suggests that as long as we consider “those” children as other people’s children and not “our” children, we will never provide all students the education that they need and deserve. Pronouns can mean a lot. I have been one of “those” kids and can speak from experience about what “we” need and what we don’t. But even those whose demographic data is different can help support our children. All of them.

Perpetuating separation and divisiveness maintains the status quo. Pitting parents against unions, teachers against parents, Teach for America teachers against career teachers, veteran teachers against novice teachers and ed reformers against unions ensures that we stay mired in division that simply maintains the situation as it is. Casting blame and shame only perpetuates the false dichotomy of us versus them. Meanwhile, our kids sit by day after day while adults play power games at their expense.

Meaningful change requires collective action. Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science, suggests that, “Real change happens…only when we take time to discover what’s worthy of our shared attention.”

As it turns out, it’s not so difficult to identify factors that are worthy of our shared attention. For example, teacher evaluation must improve to encourage individual teachers’ growth and, when necessary, allow for dismissal.  School leaders need to be equipped with the tools and resources necessary to support teaching and learning. We need to rethink school design so we can tailor instruction to students’ needs.

But creating systemic and sustainable change will require us ALL to work together to redesign the system for our kids. And teachers must play critical roles in identifying solutions—for we will be the ones who bring the changes to life in the classroom each day.

We WILL change the system when we actually muster up enough will to do so. As long as all of the different factions involved in education hold tight to oppositional roles, we will not muster the will to actually change anything. When we REALLY decide that ALL students deserve a quality public education—when that becomes our genuine priority and is the outlet for our energy and motivation— then we will make that change happen. It is as simple as that.

Our kids and our country deserve better.

I, for one, am ready to collaborate. Are you? I don’t care what factions you’re part of, what label you wear, or what your history (or your organization’s history) may have been. I am willing to work alongside all who are truly dedicated to supporting the collective action and systemic change that is so sorely needed by our most vulnerable kids.

Our kids do not have time to waste on adults slinging mud like children. Our kids and our country deserve a better public education system and I intend to help provide it for them.

Who among us is willing to lift yourself up out of the divisiveness, connect around a common vision and create a system that works for all children? While some “won’t back down,” I Will Stand Up for our kids, for our community and for my profession. Will you join me?

Lori Nazareno, NBCT
Teacher in Residence, Center for Teaching Quality
Denver Classroom Teachers Association-CEA-NEA Member

NBC Education Nation starts in Denver tonight

NBC’s Education Nation and its annual focus on public education is right in our backyard. Channel 9 TV, an NBC affiliate, is the major partner in the events through April 20.

You can expect to hear a lot about Colorado’s education reforms of the last few years: the recent overhaul of the state’s academic content standards; CSAP-to-TCAP-to-New Assessment changes; the emphasis on literacy and grade-level reading at the Legislature; SB 191 and teacher evaluation; Innovation Schools in Denver. (Wonder if we’ll hear about our billion dollar shortfall in school funding?)

Tonight is the first big event, a Teacher Town Hall at the new Colorado History Center near the State Capitol in Denver. Many Association members will be there. Watch the Teacher Town Hall and participate in a live chat at EducationNation.com or watch the event on Denver Channel 20. It’s tonight from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Read about all the events this week at the Events section of Education Nation.

April 11: State Board to consider SB 191 teacher evaluation appeals process

Tomorrow the State Board of Education will vote on the appeals process in Senate Bill 191, the teacher-principal evaluation system. The board’s vote is part of the rulemaking process on education legislation. After the State Board’s vote, the new rule goes to the Legislature where the House and Senate will vote on it.

The new law provides for a system to evaluate the effectiveness of licensed teachers and principals. In the past, state law required districts to rate educators as satisfactory or not satisfactory. When the law is fully implemented, principals’ evaluations will put teachers in one of four categories (highly effective, effective, partially effective, ineffective), and a teacher’s nonprobationary status will be based on effectiveness in the classroom.

Beginning with the 2013-14 school year, each district shall ensure that a non-probationary teacher who objects to a second consecutive Ineffective or Partially Effective rating has the opportunity to appeal because, at this point, the teacher is at risk of losing non-probationary status.

President Beverly Ingle’s CEA Journal column (April-May 2012 issue) outlines the district-level appeals panels our Association believes are critical.

Honor the State Council’s work on appeals process by adopting its recommendations
Our Association has supported the work of the State Council on Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) since the council convened in 2010 in connection with Senate Bill 191, the teacher and principal evaluation law. Three CEA members have served on the council for many months on behalf of all Colorado public school teachers: Amie Baca-Oehlert, District Twelve EA; Kerrie Dallman, Jefferson County EA; and Jim Smyth, Mesa Valley EA.

Now the State Board of Education is developing rules for an appeals process that will be part of the new evaluation system. In the last few months, SCEE – not only teachers, also school board members, principals, a parent, a businessman, a university professor, others – crafted well researched, thoughtful recommendations for the process for a teacher to appeal a second consecutive rating of Partially Effective or Ineffective in the new evaluation system.

From my perspective as a classroom teacher, the council’s recommendations are an impressive example of how a large group of people with different interests and expertise can come together and reach consensus for the benefit of our students.

We fully support SCEE’s recommendations for the appeals process. The State Board is considering them and other groups’ ideas from March 30-April 11. CEA has urged the State Board to defer to the council’s recommendations and adopt them. Here’s why:

  • The premise guiding the council’s work is that educators need a fair, credible evaluation system if they are to be effective educators. To make sure that the evaluation system being developed under SB 191 is fair and credible, we believe we need an appeals panel that has an equal number of teachers and administrators on it. This appeals panel would promote shared leadership among teachers and principals and give a teacher an evenhanded opportunity to present information to show that the rating should have instead been “effective.”
  • A teacher who appeals an ineffective or partially effective evaluation rating must be able to put his or her trust in the evaluation process and the appeals process. The teacher must know that the data and evidence the evaluator used to determine the rating was accurate data and the evaluation process was followed.

We do not believe that school districts should use any appeals process other than a panel of equal numbers of teachers and administrators. For example, a superintendent or other district official should not hear a teacher’s appeal and decide whether he or she deserves the ineffective rating.

We expect that the system the council designed and recommended to the State Board may need some adjustment as we travel through the uncharted waters of a new evaluation system, first with the pilot districts and later in statewide implementation.

We are in complete agreement that the Council’s recommended appeals process will meet the needs of our students, teachers, and school districts. We urge the State Board of Education to honor the council’s work and adopt the council’s recommendations on April 11.

For a teacher, the appeals process is an assurance that an impartial panel of one’s peers and administrators thoughtfully reviewed the teacher’s evidence to determine if it warrants a decision to uphold the evaluation rating.

For teachers, the appeals process is an affirmation that Colorado’s teacher evaluation system is thorough and rigorous. The appeals process is a means of demonstrating that we own our profession. We are helping shape our profession, we care for its well being, and we are responsible for its successes or failures.

CEA working in partnership with education groups, others on early literacy

During February 27-March 2, the Colorado Education Association (CEA) was proud to play a role in Colorado Literacy Week, a vibrant movement led by Governor John Hickenlooper, Lt. Governor Joe Garcia and literally scores of groups around the state.  Literacy Week was the outgrowth of a broad coalition of partners including business, elected and community leaders, along with CEA, organized to focus attention on and address the challenges we face with early childhood literacy.

Friday, March 2, as part of a nationwide program by the National Education Association called Read Across America, CEA helped sponsor and conduct special reading events in dozens of classrooms around the state.  CEA believes it is unacceptable for even one student capable of reading at grade level to fall short of this critical standard.

As Gov. Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Garcia emphasized in the Colorado Reads: The Early Literacy Initiative report issued last week, literacy neither starts nor stops in school.  When it comes to the classroom, however, CEA members have been working for decades on advancing literacy.  We supported the 1997 Colorado Basic Literacy Act as a critical foundation for making teaching literacy a top priority.  CEA members were also instrumental in revising the Colorado Academic Standards and integrating literacy into all academic content areas. Our members are committed to bringing the highest quality instruction to all public school students, especially those who struggle to read.

CEA has dedicated increased resources and energy to promoting strategies that are clearly effective in raising early literacy skills. This means first ensuring students have the resources, time and support to be successful readers and teachers have the preparation and training to effectively meet the needs of their students.  It also means focusing attention and awareness on approaches that have been proven to make a meaningful difference in helping our kids read, such as all-day kindergarten and summer reading programs. 

CEA members who are experts in early literacy and work with the most challenging cases every day emphasize that these kinds of programs are essential to helping kids read.  Success also means broadening awareness of the role school readiness, parental involvement, and early intervention play in literacy.  Moreover, we must acknowledge that achieving lasting results in early literacy involves confronting the other critical factors that greatly impact our system of education, including poverty and drastic cuts in school funding. 

Our mission is to capitalize on every opportunity to improve public education and early literacy.  CEA has been working in close partnership with other education groups, the state legislature and the Hickenlooper administration on a broad-based approach to early literacy.  A bill now before Legislature that looks to update rules regarding literacy teaching, HB 1238, is one part of this effort. CEA is working with others to amend the bill and collaborate with sponsors and  partners to it better results for public school students, their families and the Colorado citizens who invest in our system of public education.

Teacher unions step up to lead education reform

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel is featured on the front page of the Huffington Post’s Education section today, talking about NEA’s Priority Schools
Campaign and what educators are doing to improve schools and boost student achievement.

Van Roekel, an Arizona high school math teacher, wrote about Romulus Middle School in Detroit, summarizing what he learned about the school as he studied how educators there were working to improve it. Van Roekel said, “After countless grand policy initiatives, and decades of education reforms and gusts of innovation, here is the lesson I think we can draw: the only way to turn around struggling schools is to work together — by demanding concrete changes that make low student achievement totally unacceptable for any group of students.

“Done right, this approach can not only help students in so-called “failing” schools, but is a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems. It’s hard work, and the transformation won’t happen overnight, but that’s all the more reason to get started as soon as possible.”

Read the entire blog post at Huffington Post’s Education section and comment on what Van Roekel has to say.