January 2012 Issue
December 21, 2011

Surveying teaching and learning conditions

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. Photo by Andrew Watson.

In an effort to identify school improvement needs, the six districts piloting NYSUT's Teacher Evaluation and Development (TED) system are partnering with a national group to survey educators about teaching and learning conditions.

A growing body of research shows that a school or district's culture and environment have a significant influence on teaching and learning, said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. It's clear that positive teaching conditions can help raise student achievement and improve teacher retention, she said.

"This data will be used to improve teaching and learning conditions so that we can create an environment that will lead to more success," Neira said. "We know teaching doesn't happen in isolation. The survey results will be used to systematically document, analyze and address teaching and learning conditions that can really make a difference."

Identifying and improving teaching and learning conditions is a key component of NYSUT's TED system of evaluation and professional development.

The labor-management innovation teams from Albany, Hempstead, Marlboro, North Syracuse, Plattsburgh and Poughkeepsie are working on the survey with the nationally recognized New Teacher Center (NTC) in Santa Cruz, Calif., an independent not-for-profit dedicated to improving student learning by increasing the effectiveness of educators.

The online survey, accessible Feb. 27 to March 23 for educators in the six districts, will report results on a school and district basis.

Andrew Sioberg, director of the teaching and learning initiative at NTC, said the group has surveyed nearly 1 million educators in more than a dozen states.

He said the research-driven work can yield tangible improvements, such as an investment in mentoring after a North Carolina survey found that six out of 10 new teachers reported never receiving support.

"Teaching conditions are about schools, not individuals," Sioberg said. He said the survey will be an opportunity for school-based educators to provide input on teaching conditions such as:

  • Time during the day for collaborative instructional planning; 
  • school and teacher leadership; 
  • facilities and resources; 
  • professional development; and
  • other supports needed for educators to do their jobs well.

"Questions will get to the heart of the matter, like whether you're getting state assessment results back in time to use them," Sioberg said. "Are there safety processes working to manage student conduct?"

The survey is a tool for documenting how teachers and principals view their learning conditions to identify policies and practices that will improve student success.

NYSUT's TED system establishes "conditions affecting teaching and learning" as one of the essential pillars of evaluation and professional development.

Participants from the six districts agreed at a December meeting that the survey would be conducted in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding that makes it clear the survey is meant to drive school improvement and show practices that are working positively.

Innovation team members brainstormed overarching goals, such as improving their graduation rates or providing more help for students with disabilities or English language learners. Others discussed how the survey could lead to improvements in building community support and parent communication.

After the surveys are completed, results will be available for schools that have at least a 50 percent response rate. The NTC will help school districts strategically determine how to best address specific areas.

"This is not just a survey — it could really be transformational," said North Syracuse EA's Lisa Goldberg, a consulting teacher in her district's pilot evaluation program.

"This will help us look at systemic change, building by building," said Plattsburgh TA President Rod Sherman. "And in the context of our new evaluation system, I know many teachers are concerned about teaching and learning conditions and how these will affect test scores and their own evaluations."

The six pilot school districts are field-testing and scaling up their use of TED and the Teacher Practice Rubric, one of the first approved by the State Education Department for statewide use. Teaching and learning conditions should also be discussed as part of pre-evaluation conferences, self-analysis and goal-setting during the TED process.

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