Author Archives: Shari Conditt

Teacher Induction Programs

Over the next two weeks, thousands of teachers, new to teaching or new to a school district will gather in excitement to learn details about their new jobs.  Many of those teachers will find themselves deflated in hours.  All too often, new teacher training days end up as Intro to Human Resources 101, far from focused on the realities of teaching and learning.  I’ve been witness to such programs and I’ve wondered, what did these teachers get out of this day?  Did we just curb their enthusiasm for this job?  Did teachers feel supported and mentored and were we (those who put on the training) good stewards of our practice?  After all, we know that supporting new teachers can lead to a reduction in attrition and can go a long way for a new teacher and a district.

So how do we balance the paperwork and the practice?  What should a new teacher induction program look like?  What goals do these programs aspire to meet and how will they evaluate when those goals have been met?  

Admittedly, until about six months ago, I hadn’t put much thought into this.  I’ve attended our new teacher meeting each year.  I’ve seen the revolving door of district staff and administrators introducing our newest staff to the paperwork, policies, and website.  I’ve been part of that revolving door, advocating for National Board Certification and working as a mentor teacher over the years.  For the most part, I thought that we had done a nice job introducing the new teachers to the must know information for the job.  And then I learned about the Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) program.  

BEST is a program designed to help administrators and mentors support novice teachers as they make the transition into the classroom.  This program was designed by OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) and funded by the state legislature.  The program has three goals:

  1. Reduce educator turnover.
  2. Improve educator quality for student learning.
  3. Ensure equity of learning opportunity for all students.  

You will notice that nowhere do you see — “4.  Learn how to put in for a substitute teacher when you are sick.”  

When our district hired several novice teachers, our assistant superintendent applied for and received a BEST grant.  The BEST grant partnered our district with our local ESD to support  a year-long mentoring project with our novice teachers.  One of my colleagues, Malinda, dove into the work of BEST and attended several academies and conferences, so that she could better understand what supports were needed.  Malinda brought back to a team of administrators, instructional coaches, and district support staff a set of standards, created by OSPI and CSTP for Teacher Induction Programs.  I should preface this by indicating that I’m not a BEST mentor and I have not been thoroughly trained by our state’s BEST program.  However, I’ve seen the impact of that training and having witnessed our first teacher induction program as a result of BEST training,

Our team of instructional coaches, human resource coordinators, building and district administrators came together and studied the standards.  We worked independently to see where we were in approaching those standards and we learned quickly that we were deficient in several areas.  To respond, our team came together every two weeks for several months to create a game plan for how to meet those standards.  Although BEST helps support novice educators, we wanted to ensure that we were supporting veteran teachers who were new to our district, too.  Malinda worked diligently to keep us focused on the standards and after months of work, the team established a game plan that included strengthening our hiring process, partnering with local universities, and developing a standards based teacher induction program.

Our new teacher induction program kicked off this week.  It is no longer a one day, rotating door meeting.  Instead our new teachers began their career in our district with a focused, five day training.  Our new teachers (novice and veteran) worked with district administrators, building administrators, instructional coaches, and peer to peer mentors.  They met together as a team of new teachers and were also broken into smaller teams, based on buildings/grade levels.  They worked to establish procedural plans and assessment goals, and also learned about curriculum and instructional materials.   And when the week concluded, the music was cued and the lyrics “Money, money, money, money” by the O’Jays blared while our Payroll Staff handed out paychecks to our new teachers for the week’s worth of time/work.  I heard shrieks of excitement and even an “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!”

So was the work worth it? I sure hope so.  It’s too soon to measure whether this induction program is going to meet the three BEST goals. That will be better assessed later in the school year.   But anecdotally I feel that we are on our way.  I witnessed those smiles and heard those conversations.  I spoke with a new-to-us teacher who indicated that he could see our district’s vision being emulated in the staff’s passion for teaching and learning and the work that had been put into planning for the week.  Our new teachers felt valued.  

A growing attrition rate coupled with a teacher shortage requires that schools and districts critically examine the supports that are in place for new teachers. Supports must include thoughtfully planned, goal oriented, standards based teacher induction programs.  If we want to keep good teachers teaching we must demonstrate that we value their professional growth at the onset.  Let’s keep these teachers enthusiastic about the work that lies ahead and give them the tools early on so that they may be successful in accomplishing those goals.  

Surprised by your summative TPEP score? You shouldn’t be…

It’s that time of year again when school comes to a close and seniors are waiting for graduation. As I think about that final report card, I know that the grades that my students will see will be of little surprise to them. We’ve been communicating all semester long about their progress towards the learning goals and standards. They’ve been assessed throughout the semester and I’ve offered significant feedback to them about their work and skill development. I’ve met with students routinely throughout the year to discuss learning strategies and how to overcome their perceived weaknesses. Now, as the year culminates, students should be pretty clear as to where they stand academically in my class.

So as teachers come to the end of this year’s TPEP (Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project) cycle, do all teachers know how they’ve been assessed? Have they had the opportunity to receive feedback about their teaching throughout the year? Will they be surprised when they see that summative TPEP score on their final evaluation?

For the past three months I’ve been engaged in pre-bargaining contract language to formally transition TPEP from a LOA (Letter of Agreement) into a more permanent place in our CBA (collective bargaining agreement). Part of the pre-bargaining process includes research. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to teachers from other districts and looking over contracts from districts across the state. What I’ve learned is that TPEP implementation and annual process operates different depending on where a teacher works. My biggest take away: teachers and evaluators might be meeting routinely, but districts have distinct operating definitions of what “routine” looks like.

TPEP has been part of our state for the past six years. My district began implementation of the project during the 2013-2014 school year. Our implementation was fairly democratic. A committee of teachers and administrators selected the Danielson Framework. Core principles and beliefs were drafted and a game plan was put into place. At the core of our work was a belief that TPEP was to be a growth model for our teachers; a process by which teachers and administrators are constantly working to refine teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.

As implementation began, we (both teachers and evaluators) quickly found that the Comprehensive model was cumbersome if we wanted to be good stewards of our core beliefs and principles. Because our local union and administration agreed to meet once a month to discuss TPEP related issues/concerns, teachers asked to make a change to the district TPEP procedure. Beginning in November 2013, teachers on TPEP began meeting once every two weeks with their evaluators. The meetings became a time where teachers could present artifacts and materials to evidence evaluative criteria. Because I chose to be an early adopter, I met with my evaluators once every two weeks from November until April. During that time I was truly challenged. I don’t mean this negatively, whatsoever. I was the one who decided what evidence would be examined and I was the one who began the conversation about how I wanted the evidence scored. This did not mean that I always got my way or that my administrators were push overs. Instead, I was asked questions and given feedback about my practice in a way that I had not received in the past. If I disagreed with the score, I had an opportunity two weeks later to offer additional evidence. I was able to refine my student growth goals, carefully analyze student success towards those goals, and discuss that success or lack thereof, with my evaluators. That format, adopted nearly three years, with some minimal adjustments, remains in place today. It provides teachers with constant feedback. As a result, teachers are encouraged to think differently about their practice. Teachers are now taking risks in engaging learners with new techniques and strategies and seeking assistance from their coach (that’s me!).

Now we are wrapping up our third year on the cycle and transitioning TPEP into our contract. All of our veteran teachers (as well as new teachers) have completed Comprehensive. Although it is no longer feasible for our evaluators to meet once every two weeks with every teacher on Comprehensive, both evaluators in my building set a goal to meet once every three weeks. It doesn’t always happen– after all parent meetings come up, teachers or administrators are sick, but I hold firm in my belief that meeting routinely, throughout the school year, is the best way for an evaluator and a teacher to manage this process. Routine meetings offer the opportunity for teachers to talk about their work, show off when things are going well, and ask for help when they aren’t. When the meetings are routine, they become low risk and less stressful, thus leading to genuine conversations about teaching and learning. When the meetings are routine, the final summative assessment at the end of the year isn’t a surprise, instead it’s confirmation.

But here’s the problem. This isn’t happening everywhere. Teachers in districts across the state tell me that they rarely meet with their evaluator to discuss their practice. Teachers aren’t given the opportunity to routinely reflect and gather feedback about their practice. Danielson (whose model is one of the three approved in the state) points to the fact that routine meetings need to take place in order to see real growth in teaching (Educational Leadership, Vol. 68, No. 4). Many teachers have no idea what final score they will receive until they attend the year end summative meeting. Qutie frankly, this is unacceptable. It is time for teachers to question what “routine” meetings are and to ask that language and practice match intent and goals. A teacher’s summative score should not be a surprise. When teachers feel disconnected to the process and administrators don’t meet with teachers regularly to discuss progress, the entire evaluation process invalidates and undermines the growth model mindset. What could teaching and learning look like if all teachers benefited from this regular, intentional feedback?

If we ask our students to engage in learning with a growth mindset and we use regular feedback to build reflection for our students, shouldn’t our teacher evaluation system mirror that same practice? I completely understand that TPEP is a lot of work for teachers and evaluators. It’s supposed to be. Accomplished teaching requires constant reflection based on feedback and assessment in order to refine goals and practice. If we expect our teachers to provide feedback to students, shouldn’t we ask the same of our teacher evaluators?

Understanding the Frederich case

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Frederich v. California Teachers Association, on appeal from the Ninth Circuit, I knew immediately that teacher’s unions would come under fire by the media and other political pundits who have, so often, found disdain for the role of public sector unions in the workplace.  The Court heard arguments in the case yesterday and we can expect the Court to provide its decision by the end of June, when it ends its annual session.  

 

At stake is the ability for a union to prevent the free rider problem.  The free rider problem occurs when non union members, who do not pay membership fees/dues, receive the same benefits/incentives as union members.  Because teacher’s unions work to improve working conditions for all teachers, not just their members, it is plausible that teachers in Washington would seek to change their status as union members to agency fee payers.  Being an agency fee payer means that the teacher pays a fee to the local union for the union to negotiate the local collective bargaining agreement (CBA) from which the agency fee payer, a non member, also benefits.  If the Court strikes down the right of a union to collect agency fees for the work that the union does for the benefit of all of teachers, not just members, non members are able to “ride for free” on the coattails of union members.  Frederich asserts that all union work is political and that her union advocates for issues/areas that she disagrees with, asserting that the union leverages increased salaries against classroom size (see the article from NPR on January 11, 2016).   Although the state of California has come down on the side of the California Teachers Association, recognizing them as a bargaining agent for the 325,000 certificated employees in the state, the role of public sector unions is now in the balance if the Supreme Court sides with Frederich.

 

I’ve been the co-president of my local association for the past nine years.  I’ve bargained three contracts, soon to bargain my fourth, and I’ve had the pleasure of working to improve the conditions for the teachers in my district.  Over the past three contracts, our teachers have earned access to fifteen days of extra pay for the work that they do outside of contract hours.  Our teachers have seen increased dollars allocated towards skyrocketing health care costs and more money placed into their professional development, so that they may seek further education that benefits their students.  Because of our union’s work, our school district pays all of the fees associated with National Board Certification and has worked with our district to establish an OSPI approved cohort.  We have worked to advocate for smaller classroom sizes, increased stipends, and more paraeducators for our students and our teachers.  All teachers, regardless of whether they are members or agency fee payers benefit.  Most of the work that I do as co-president benefits all teachers, not just our members.  In addition, our union benefits our school community.  We provide three scholarships to graduating high school students, regardless of whether the student’s parent is an affiliated member with the union.  For our members, we provide three scholarships to teachers who want to further their education.  We work to be good stewards of fees, returning them to our members in the form of classroom grants for supplies and materials that go directly in the hands of the students.  If Frederich wins, fewer teachers will likely join the union and since the union cannot collect agency fees, fewer funds will be available to support the work of the union. Teachers who have been outliers to union activity will not have to support the work of the union to negotiate the contract and advocate for student and teacher needs.
I am proud of the union work that I do and of my union here in Washington.  We work hard to advocate for student needs which includes providing them with the best quality education possible.  I shudder to think what the state legislature, which has just recently come back into session, thinks is the best quality education.  Frederich has serious ramifications nationwide but let us not look past the potential consequences in our state.  With our legislature in contempt of the Supreme Court, now is the time for more advocacy at the state level, not less.  Teachers need their union to serve as one united voice to speak for our practice.  Our union advocates for our students by supporting reduced class sizes, reducing testing mandates, and bringing awareness to the social justice issues that our students face.  The Court’s decision will surely impact the work of our local and state union to do the advocacy work that our students and teachers need them to do.

Where did 1351 go?

I was incredibly excited to start the 2015 2016 school year.   After spending twelve years in a portable classroom, our high school moved into a brand new building, full of sunlight, windows, and classrooms.  We even have empty rooms.  But, my room is far from empty.  As soon as the construction company gave us “occupancy” I was in my room trying to figure out how to arrange my 30 desks.  I settled on a U shape because I like to be able to easily access all of my students when they need assistance and the arrangement is conducive for whole class discussion.  Prior to the beginning of the year, I watched my rosters and when the first day arrived, I had 36 students in one class period.  Soon the emails were flying among our staff, 38 students here, 40 students there.  

Here’s the good news-parents want their kids to come to our school.  I love that!  Enrollment is up and admittedly, creating a balanced schedule is challenging for small schools that try to offer competitive courses.  Our union has bargained language (I helped bargain that language) that creates limits to the number of preps a core teacher teaches so this also places a hardship on the schedule and can tie the hands of the registrar and administrators.  I know that all stakeholders in my school see this as a problem.  I don’t place the blame with them.  I had faith that we could all put our heads together and come to a solution.  Afterall, we are smart people-we can figure this out.  I also believed that no one was going to argue that having 38 students in a math class was a good idea.  Now nine weeks into the semester, my excitement is far more contained, the dust has settled and adjustments have been made.  In order to bring class sizes down, a few staff members agreed to give up their prep period so that a few extra class periods can be placed in the schedule, creating more scheduling flexibility.  I don’t have 36 students anymore–I’m now down to 32.  The classroom still feels packed and it is a challenge to manage all class discussions let alone mobilizing to assist students on assignments.

I suppose I could blame all sorts of factors.  But I can’t help but feel that my school and students could have seen some relief with 1351.  Voter approved Initiative 1351 would have reduced K-12 class sizes.  While the initiative may have not directed the legislature to increase taxes or reallocate funds directly, approval of the initiative should have been viewed by the legislature as a mandate from the people.  When the 2014-2015 legislature delayed the implementation (see the Associated Press article from July 9, 2015) of the initiative by four years, they sent a message to voters and to my students.  My current students will see no immediate relief from the legislature.  How frustrating it is to to tell my students that the popularly elected legislature cannot figure out a way to enact a voter approved initiative that would directly impact their learning.   How is it that a legislator can see class size as a ‘luxury’ and not a necessity?

As our state legislature and court system evaluate what a basic education is in Washington, I can’t help but think that basic education must encompass quality instructional time between a teacher and each student.  While it’s challenging to quantify what quality instructional time looks like, it’s not a reach to assume that students in smaller classes have more access to a teacher during class time than students in larger classes.  It’s difficult to run around and work one on one with students on the writing process when you have 32 in a class.  Is that what a basic education looks like? 

What is the purpose of democracy if an act passed by the electorate in a democratic manner is set aside by the legislature?  I teach government and politics to high school seniors and our legislature has failed to recognize what democracy looks like.  How do I explain to my 17 and 18 year old students that voting matters when the outcome of an election can be suspended by the legislature?  Do I chalk that up to the Madisonian Model of checks and balances?  I have to admit-that’s not an example I intend to use with my students.  With the legislature under pressure again, I hope that 1351 isn’t dead.  I hope that democracy will eventually rule.  I have to believe that because it’s the foundation of the course that I teach.  What message would I be sending to my kids about the power of democracy?  I refuse for it to be the same message being sent to them by our legislature.  

 

The scale is not in balance

The 2015-2016 school year marks my sixteenth year as a professional educator.  I’ve worked in Washington for thirteen years.  One of the draws that brought me to this state was the state salary allocation model (SAM).  As strange as that sounds, it’s absolutely true.  I taught in Illinois for three years at the second largest school district in the state.  My husband, a music teacher, taught for a company that brought in outsourced band/orchestra teachers to schools that couldn’t afford to hire their own music teacher.  We both became acutely aware of the disparity between the districts where we worked.  Because salary models are all locally negotiated and district funds are based on property taxes, property rich communities could afford to pay their teachers two to three times more than property poor districts.  The district that I worked in encompassed property rich and property poor communities, but the neighboring district housed multiple corporations and could afford to pay their teachers twice as much as the district where I worked. Districts could compete for teachers using salary as incentive.  As a result, my district saw a great deal of turnover; teachers, including one of my closest friends, became experienced in the low paying district and then moved to the higher paying districts when they had a few years under their belt. Although there were some veterans in my department, teachers who served as excellent stewards of pedagogy and their content, I was often asked when I was going to leave to move on for more pay at a neighboring district.  This mindset frustrated me.  When my district was $52,000,000 (yes, you’re reading that correctly) in the red, the solution was to cut teachers and I, like the other 1700 first, second, and third year teachers were RIFed (reduction in force).  Although I was offered my position back, I turned it down, looking to find employment in a state that created more equity.  So in the end, I left, too.

So for thirteen years, I’ve been in Washington and I don’t regret the decision to move, whatsoever.  However, I have stopped looking at the world of educational funding through rose colored glasses.  Equity doesn’t really exist, but there are attempts at it and the SAM is one attempt.  Negotiated TRI (Time, Responsibility, Incentive) pay and dollars for professional development and technology resources differ from district to district.  My husband teaches in a large district which can afford to offer TRI pay and substantial extra curricular contracts.  Some districts levy at higher percentages and others receive levy equalization.  There are districts that foot the entire cost of National Board Certification (my district is one of those) and others provide a free cohort (my district also does this).  So, back to my point—equity doesn’t really exist.  But our SAM does provide a foundation for our teachers. That foundation is solid. But maybe our state needs to reconsider adjusting the foundation a bit.

This legislative session has been noteworthy for several reasons.  Teachers have asked for the reinstatement of our COLA (cost of living allowance) and for pay increases.  While the legislators voted themselves a substantial pay raise, teachers received a 1.8% increase in pay and a 3% COLA for two years.  Does that make up for the 1.9% loss from a few years ago?  Frankly, I’m not so sure that I’m coming out ahead all that much, if at all.  Recent discussion as to whether the legislature will see the contempt charge dropped, also has me concerned.  I worry that the lawmakers will find victory and we won’t see increased dollars in our SAM or in a future COLA.   I’m disappointed.

But the SAM isn’t perfect and it doesn’t recognize veteran teachers who are continuing to improve their education.  Reality hit me about two weeks ago.  I’m on year sixteen and I’m almost at an MA+90.  I’ve officially topped out on the salary model.  I know that I should be thankful that I’ve got that extra degree plus additional credits.  Believe me, I am thankful.  I worked hard for the MA (Master of Arts) in History with a 135 page thesis to prove it.  On the other hand, I’m still working to get more education.  I’m really digging educational technology and I’ve attended several technology courses and once I hit that 90 credits mark (which is going to be in the next month) I don’t have anywhere else to go in order to earn more money.  I suppose I could coach a sport or advise a club to make more money.  I could do additional work outside of school, too.  But frankly, I wonder, why does the legislature stop providing pay increases once you hit 16 years of teaching?  Shouldn’t we want to keep veteran teachers teaching?  I keep reading articles from EdWeek and the Washington Post talking about a teacher shortage and problems with retention rates.  Maybe the place to start is at the logical first step—salary.  Let’s start recognizing veteran teachers and rewarding them for being leaders in their field.  I look at that salary schedule and feel stagnated in my income.  I wonder where my potential for income growth is at this point. What are my viable options?  I won’t avoid the cliché—I don’t teach for the income, I teach for the outcome.  However, the income does have to provide for my continuing education, mortgage, and my children’s college education.   While we could argue the merit system when it comes to teacher’s salaries and raises, under our current model, I have no where to go if I’d like to increase my income.  I’m 37 years old and I’ve topped out on the SAM.  I believe that I have the skills, the heart, the grit, and the knowledge to stay in the classroom for the next 20 years, but can I afford it?

Sadly,  I know other veteran teachers feel the same way.  Attrition in the field is on the rise.  There are myriad reasons for this and pay is a factor.  We’ve worked hard to advance our own education.  We’ve adapted, adjusted, and watched the pendulum swing in our field and we’re still in the classroom, demonstrating our grit because we love students and we want them to succeed.  But that success doesn’t always help to put dinner on the table or pay for our kids to take piano lessons.  In a field where the pressure to perform is already so high and the spotlight is always on, it might be good for state legislators to consider recognizing and rewarding the teachers who’ve decided to remain in the classroom to work with students.