October 22, 2018

Pay Teachers More
 
I find it interesting how my personal views of issues in education have changed over the years. In the past two Updates, I have written about the teacher shortage problem in Illinois and possible solutions. My next suggested solution is to pay teachers more.
 
When I was an active school superintendent participating in negotiation sessions between the board of education and the teachers union, my role was to protect the financial status of the school district. In my first role as a superintendent, the school district was broke, had eliminated many teaching and administrative positions, frozen employee salaries for two years and there was basically no money for any employee raises. We successfully passed an education fund increase via a school referendum that slowly returned the district to solvency.
 
In my next two superintendent positions, I was lucky enough to be a leader in school districts that had adequate reserves to increase teacher compensation. A bigger problem was that, in my final position, the teachers deserved large salary increases in order to stay in competition with similar school districts. While I remember the Board approving a five-year contract with 6% average increases, the district's salary schedule was still below the mean salaries of comparable school districts.
 
To address the teacher shortage today, I think we need to change our perception of the paradigm we call public education. Due to first the agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution, schooling has generally been a nine month occupation for teachers. Students went to school for nine months and teachers taught for nine months. We are no longer in the agricultural or industrial revolutions, we are in a post industrial revolution that is based on services and information where lifelong education has become the norm. Today's employees will change occupations many times during their lifetimes.
 
I think education needs to be reinvented to be a 12-month-a-year vocation, not a nine-month-a-year vocation. If this were to occur, teachers would earn ΒΌ more pay. Using the figures I quoted in my last Update, the average teacher salary would increase from $37,803 to $47,254.
 
How public education would pay for these additional days of work and student instruction is another problem that would have to be addressed. However, I am only dealing with teacher shortage solutions in this Update.
 
Imagine the increase in student achievement if students were in school 25% more days. No more lost time due to summer vacation. Maybe we could shorten or overcome the perceived achievement gaps that exist in public education.
 
The Center of Education Policy conducted a study in 2015 on the topic of Expanded Learning Time. This is different than a Balanced Calendar that has students attending school all year with shorter breaks during the year to address the problem of summer learning loss. Expanded learning time (ELT) is when students go to school more days and more hours than traditional public schooling.
 
Major findings from the study are the following:  
  • Districts and schools face a major challenge, cited by nearly all case study interviewees, in sustaining ELT after federal grants end.
  • Districts and schools differed in how they expanded learning time. Some added time before and after school, others reduced non-instructional time within the day, and others added school days.
  • School leaders often emphasized that improving the quality of instruction was just as important as increasing the quantity of instructional time.
  • Generally student outcomes improved but the study pointed out that, because of many simultaneous reforms being undertaken in the schools, the improvement cannot be attributed solely to ELT.
  • Teacher and student fatigue from longer days was cited as a challenge in implementing ELT.

Embedded Principal Development Works Better
 
Most of us would probably agree that "one and done" type of professional development for either teachers or administrators does not work well. The next obvious question to ask is why do districts continue to provide this type of training for teachers or administrators. It would be much better if the initial training was followed up with specific one-to-one coaching that would actually change practice.
 
Every Illinois administrator must take one ISBE-approved Administrative Academy credit each school year. IASA has encouraged districts to tie this professional development to district goals and invite presenters to train all the administrators in the district at the same time. This type of training offers several advantages over each administrator choosing their own training. They include 1) matching the training to district goals; 2) all administrators receiving the same training; 3) the district central office staff making the decision on the training topic; and 4) less expensive than sending all administrators to separate trainings at a per person cost and also paying for travel and possible lodging expenses.
 
In addition to the above-mentioned advantages, it would be best practice if the initial training were followed up with additional individual or group actual practice incorporating the training into the administrator's daily work. IASA offers this exact form of training. Many districts have contracted with IASA to provide teacher evaluator training. The latest edition of teacher evaluator training is titled "Advanced Danielson Teacher Evaluation Training" and includes instruction on 1) proper documentation of classroom observations; 2) concentrating on specific domains and components based on a research-based protocol; 3) conducting a reflective conference with the teacher to improve the teacher's performance; 4) coaching practices that result in changed teacher practices; and 5) having difficult conversations with teachers who fail to improve.
 
Several districts have contracted with IASA to offer follow up training/practice for their teacher evaluators. During this training/practice, I actually accompany the teacher evaluators as they collect evidence and have reflective conversations with the teachers. This is "real" professional development for the teacher evaluators as they get to practice their work with an expert evaluator providing input, guidance and coaching.
 
If your district is interested in providing either the Advanced Danielson training or the specific coaching of individual teacher evaluators, please contact IASA at 217-753-2213 or marney@iasaedu.org or rvoltz@iasaedu.org for more information.


I Don't Have the Time to Observe Teaching?
 
One of the six elements of the Voltz Protocol for effective teacher evaluation is "Observe More." When discussing this concept with practicing administrators I often receive silent feedback. Practicing administrators are probably reflecting on their current workload and trying to determine how they can free up time to do more observing.
 
I sometimes follow up with a rhetorical question such as "What do you do in your position as a school administrator that is more important than improving teaching and learning?" This is certainly rhetorical because there are various duties that parents, school boards and other educators would say are very important for school administrators, such as student, staff and school safety obligations. In these difficult times, post Columbine and Sandy Hook, the public views school safety as extremely important. For sure, in the days following the Sandy Hook tragedy nobody was worrying about teacher observations; everybody was thinking about how to make the schools safer.
 
There are many duties of school-based administrators, but certainly improving teaching and learning is at the top of the list. Administrators need to examine just how they are spending time while at school. I would recommend that each school-based administrator keep a personal diary of just what they are doing on a daily basis. This diary should then be reviewed and analyzed to determine which tasks are vital to the administrator's leadership role and which could be dropped or performed by others, such as the school secretary, support staff and others.
 
As a building principal myself, I developed a teacher observation/evaluation system in which I observed every lesson of a teacher's entire unit, including the day the teacher handed back the graded assessment. As a result of this process I discovered that the day the teacher handed back the graded assessment might have been the most important day of multiple observation visits. How many teacher evaluators schedule an observation visit for the day the graded assessment is given back to the students? This is a great day to see the following: 1) How students actually performed on the teacher prepared assessment; 2) What the teacher did with the actual results - did the teacher address the need for some students to have remediation and continued instruction? Did the teacher address those students who scored very high to see if they knew the material before the unit? 3) How the students reacted to their student attainment scores? and 4) Discuss with the teacher in a reflective conversation about what the teacher learned from the graded assessments.
 
Many ask how I was able to observe a full unit of instruction. The answer is really simple - I scheduled the observations in my calendar and, barring an emergency, I always observed when scheduled. The teachers learned to trust that I would attend every class, they welcomed the daily feedback, and they trusted my input because I was putting the time and effort into working with them to improve their teaching.
 
In some schools student discipline becomes an administrative chore. You notice I used the word "chore" and not the word "responsibility." I think it is important that classroom discipline is a responsibility of the teacher, not the building-level administrator. My experience has taught me that only some teachers send disruptive students to the office. These teachers usually lack in traits related to 2a. creating an environment of respect and rapport with students, 2b. establishing a culture of learning, 2c. managing classroom procedures, 2d. managing student behavior and, most importantly, 3c. engaging students in learning. Administrators should hold teachers accountable for these components within the Danielson framework when teachers send students to the office.
 
In the end, the real issue is not that building-level administrators do not have the time to observe teaching, it is that they do not CHOOSE to spend their time observing teaching. What gets measured gets done; this counts for teacher evaluation also.


Levy Information

Levy time is fast approaching.
 
Important points of emphasis for the tax levy process include the following:  
  • "Each school district is required to certify annually and return to the respective county clerk(s), on or before the last Tuesday in December, its certificate of tax levy." Thus, you will need the school board to formally approve the levy at a December school board meeting prior to the last Tuesday.
  • You also need to have the Board approve an estimate of the aggregate levy at least 20 days prior to the adoption of the final levy.
  • "Any district proposing to increase its aggregate levy more than 105% of its prior year's extension, exclusive of election costs, must publish a notice, as prescribed by law, in a newspaper of general local circulation." You will need to follow this procedure correctly. This notice must be published no more than 14 days nor fewer than seven days prior to the date of the public hearing.

Tip of the Week
 
As your school administrators start to get into the swing of conducting teacher evaluations, you may want to review a sample of the actual evaluations being written. When I was new to a school district, I would randomly read evaluations to get a feel for the way administrators were handling or writing evaluations.
 
My own personal philosophy on non-tenured teachers was to recommend non-renewal for any first year teacher (in this school district) who had areas needing improvement. Experience taught me that we should only keep those teachers we thought would be "excellent" teachers. The year to make this decision is the first year, before that particular teacher has established connections with other teachers, the community and parents.
 

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Richard Voltz
Associate Director
Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
IASA
2648 Beechler Court
Springfield, IL 62703
217-753-2213
Follow me on Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/rvoltz