Paying Attention to Teachers' Working Conditions
It is not trite to say that teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. That fact is obvious to teachers and proven by researchers. For over a decade, a small but mighty force of educators, researchers, and policy wonks has been driving states to administer a Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey to all teachers and administrators as well as to education support professionals. In the states that have used this tool, the survey results have made a strong impact, but there are so many other states and school districts that owe it to their students to engage in this practice.
The New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, California, under the leadership of Ellen Moir, recognized that a key to improving student learning was providing good working and learning conditions. They knew that those conditions must be optimal for teachers and students to function at a highly effective level. Moir unleashed Eric Hirsch and Ann Maddock to champion this strategic tool with governors, superintendents, and policymakers. The New Teacher Center team has helped some key states design comprehensive teacher effectiveness plans around this survey.
Kentucky, under the leadership of Governor Steve Beshear and Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, supported the TELL Kentucky Survey. TELL is an acronym for Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning. More than 80 percent of Kentucky's educators---42,000 participants---completed the survey. Kentucky is one of two states that have adopted teaching conditions standards aligned with the survey. The state has gone way beyond the rhetoric of the importance of teachers and taken action to support teachers in practicing their craft effectively.
Kentucky's Standard 1 is "Time" and states, "Schools protect teachers' time to plan, collaborate, and provide effective instruction." Check out this website to see all eight standards.
North Carolina is another state that you should examine. Tom Blanford, as executive director of the NC Professional Teaching Standards Commission, introduced this work in 1998. North Carolina was "ground zero" for this initiative under the leadership of Governors Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, and Beverly Perdue and State Superintendents Mike Ward and June Atkinson. Over 86 percent of their educators---101,000 participants---completed the most recent survey. For validation purposes, 40 percent of the faculty of a school has to participate for the survey results to be considered valid. North Carolina has publicized the results of the survey on a website and compared each school's results to the district's and the state's responses. You can imagine how useful that information can be for future employees and parents, but also, imagine how effective it can be for changing bad working conditions to good or great and to improving student learning.
The components of the survey include time, facilities & resources, community support & involvement, managing student conduct, teacher leadership, school leadership, professional development, instructional practices & support, and new teacher support. Research has shown that if you improve teacher working conditions, you will improve student achievement. Comparisons of high and low poverty schools show that working conditions must be addressed to raise achievement in high poverty districts. These are critical data for a systemic approach to school transformation.
It is time for every state, every school district, every school, and every educator to participate in this survey and to use the resulting data as a part of every school improvement plan. It is time to hold administrators accountable for the working conditions of their employees. It is time for teachers and their students to be assured a great place to teach and learn. It is time for governors and education commissioners to lead.