During the October 9th SCEE Webinar on observing teacher practice, the presenters from Washington DC Public Schools (DCPS) addressed teacher stress in addition to several other issues. Kim Levengood, Director of Teacher Effectiveness Strategy, and Jess Wood, Project Director of Align: TLF Training Platform, explained how the district is working to reduce stress levels. Strategies to reduce stress at the school level were provided by Principal Dana Nerenberg.
Through revisions to IMPACT, the district has incorporated multiple components to lessen teacher stress. The changes include:
• including informal observations,
• requiring fewer observations for high performers,
• dropping low outlier observation scores,
• introducing a career ladder,
• ongoing feedback collection,
• sharing contextual information about teachers' classrooms with master educators, and
• focusing on relationship building between master educators and teachers.
Principal Dana Nerenberg discussed how school leaders can also play a role in reducing teacher stress. Nerenberg's faculty knows and appreciates that she and the assistant principal work as a team to determine ratings when practice falls between two categories. Nerenberg and her leadership team also conduct informal observations to prepare teachers and appropriately time observations around the various scenarios, such as fire drills, that may impact teaching and learning.
The presenters all agreed that opportunities for teachers to provide feedback on the observation process have been especially effective in reducing stress.
As an Educator in Residence, I'm appreciative of the time and attention DCPS is paying to the issue of teacher stress relative to the changes being made to evaluations. The shift to more comprehensive educator evaluations is the most difficult move educators have faced during my career. I am witnessing firsthand from friends across the country the impact new evaluations are having on the way teachers think about their practice. A recent Facebook post by a friend of mine who is also a previous State Teacher of the Year said, "Apparently I'm not as effective as I think. Bad way to end the day." How do we build evaluation systems that improve practice without crushing spirits?
When I reflect on focusing on the practice of teaching and not on the person, I always come to the same conclusion. We need to find the best coaches and study their techniques. Coaches give specific feedback on performance, build confidence, and motivate their players. How can we do the same for teachers?
As a mother, I'm even more appreciative of the awareness of teacher stress. My own five-year-old son is sitting in a classroom of a teacher facing a revised evaluation system. The best case scenario is for my child's teacher to utilize the revised evaluation system as a tool for improvement. The worst case scenario is for the revised evaluation system to negatively impact the ability of my child's teacher to meet his needs. What else can we do to ensure the former happens in all of our states and not the latter?