Valuing your voice: reflections from the 2018 Educator Survey

by Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education

Eight years. That’s how long we at the department have been partnering with Vanderbilt to listen to teachers’ voices through our Tennessee Educator Survey, and this year, more teachers than ever responded. With nearly 40,000 educators sharing their insights – that’s 58 percent of Tennessee’s educators – we have the collective feedback we need to better understand what educators are experiencing in the classroom and partner with districts as we plan for our priorities and next steps forward. Here’s what we heard.

It’s important to protect both instructional and planning time.

Most educators agree that school leaders have worked to minimize interruptions, and most still report meeting regularly with colleagues to reflect on their instruction. This year, fewer teachers say they feel pulled in too many different directions in terms of what to teach and how to teach it.

However, fewer educators are satisfied with the amount of classroom planning time. We know that providing time for educators to think, collaborate, and plan well takes more than simply blocking more time on the schedule. It requires thinking carefully about how we are using that time and making sure that teachers have enough margin so that planning time isn’t used for other responsibilities.

We can continue to improve teacher evaluation and professional learning.

From 2012 to 2017, we saw a persistent increase in the number of teachers who said that the evaluation process has led to improvements in their teaching, moving from 1/3 of teachers in 2012 to 3/4 of teachers in 2017. This year, 72 percent report having strong support around information and communication about the process, and almost all teachers who agreed that the process was fair said it led to improvement in their instruction.

For 50 percent of teachers, though, the evaluation process is burdensome. Resource constraints and stress about classroom observations were shared as two key factors in the challenges around evaluation. Teachers also report that professional learning is most helpful when topics are teacher-selected or sessions are aligned along grade- and subject-level teams rather than structured as school-wide training.

Educators need strong materials along with training and support for implementation.

We heard a similar message from teachers last year: sourcing and using high quality instructional materials is a real challenge. This year, we hear that teachers want both high quality materials and professional learning that’s closely aligned with what they are using in their classrooms. While 9 out of 10 teachers report that they understand Tennessee’s standards, fewer feel that the materials they have are aligned in ways that help them actually teach to those standards.

What’s next?

We are grateful to the tens of thousands of Tennessee teachers who took the time to share their feedback, and we are using these results at the state-level to guide our work. To protect educators’ time, we’re making changes to RTI2 to address time burdens and scheduling impacts. We are also reducing time on assessments, including eliminating two end-of-year courses, reducing overall TNReady testing time in third and fourth grades, and cutting 20 minutes of testing time in grades 5-8 science.

As we work to improve teacher evaluation and professional learning, we’re launching TEAM 2.0, an integrated approach to ensure mastery of standards-aligned tasks with training support. We’re looking in particular at how we can ensure the observation model and the feedback teachers get from observations can be improved, which was a key piece of feedback from the survey. We’re also piloting additional evaluation improvements and flexibility options with 16 school districts and continuing to advocate for districts to consider how they can use existing tools, such as microcredentials or Professional Learning Communities, to improve professional learning experiences.

To make sure all teachers and students have access to quality instructional materials and support, we launched Ready with Resources, an outgrowth of Read to be Ready, in April 2018. With adoption of ELA instructional materials coming in 2020, we know it’s important to set a vision now for selecting strong resources and implementing them well in all classrooms. We’re also supporting districts as they use our unit starters in their early grades classrooms.

What we’ve heard from teachers is important feedback that we use to think about what our priority areas should be and how we take our next steps forward, and we know that listening to our teachers is critical at the district level, too. So, we also share the results of the Tennessee Educator Survey locally so that districts can consider how local teacher voice can inform their work, and we support districts through regional field offices to improve in areas that are highlighted. We know that it will take collective vision and action to keep moving education in Tennessee forward, and thanks to the takeaways from this survey, we can continue to help all of our students get the education they need to succeed.

You can explore the 2018 survey results on the website here and read the entire report, Reflections over Time: Tennessee Educator Survey 2018 Results in Context, at the department’s website here.