By Bridgette Barrowes and Kelly Gill
In the summer of 2017, we both became fellows in the inaugural cohort of the Hope Street Group (HSG) Utah Teacher Fellows. Through teacher fellowships, Hope Street Group aims to amplify teacher voices to inform state and district education policies. In Utah, the program is a partnership between Hope Street Group and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). We went to the first convening as Fellows a bit apprehensive, unsure of what we were getting ourselves into, yet determined to be participants and maybe even open to being agents of change. We were very feeling vulnerable at this point but at the same time felt excited by the idea that teachers can be leaders and ready to make a difference. It was an amazing experience to meet so many other passionate Utah educators.
The first convening proved to be both exciting and challenging. We were excited to be greeted by both the Utah Governor’s office and the Utah State board of Education. We were openly encouraged to give our voice to the education issues and policies in our state. We were anxious about all the new and challenging assignments we were being given such as conducting focus groups and a survey for the USBE, writing at least two articles for publishing in education circles, as well as learning about education policies and procedures in our state.
In the Fall of 2017, we were trained in the methodology of conducting focus groups. We were then given a topic and a list of 5 questions to use in surveying our teacher peers and we were on our way! We each organized and moderated 3-5 focus groups, then disseminated surveys on teacher value, effectiveness, and leadership. The survey was called “Educator Voice Amplified.”
In the end, approximately 2,250 teachers participated in this survey. Approximately 250 classroom teachers participated in the face-to-face focus groups and 2,000 participated online.
After the data was disseminated, six key findings guided policy recommendations to the Utah State Board of education (USBE). We have broken down the results by topic.
The first question on the survey asked Utah teachers what made them feel valued as educators. In order of priority, these are the responses that teachers gave.
They feel valued when they:
- Are recognized and appreciated
- Are trusted and supported
- Receive higher compensation
- Have community respect
The Utah teacher fellows were not too surprised about the outcome answers, but were a bit surprised that receiving higher compensation was the third and not the first on the list of values. Our data report summary made a recommendation to the USBE suggesting that they collect additional data on the topic of teacher value and dig into individual school climates.
Interestingly, and unbeknownst to us at the time of our survey, the Utah Education Policy Center (UEPC) part of the University of Utah research center in the College of Education was conducting a survey with some similarly overlapping questions.
UEPC addressed teacher retention in our state. These are the initial results from the Educator Career and Pathway Survey (ECAPS) for Teachers:
- Support and programs are needed to assist teachers with different characteristics to help them stay in the classroom
- In particular, there is a need to develop programs and strategies to retain young and inexperienced teachers, who had the highest turnover rates in our state.
- Further examination of the distribution of resources across the system of schools may be necessary to provide an equitable and quality education based on distribution of teachers.
- Collecting additional locally-derived data will provide better information to address teacher retention, satisfaction, and possible shortages.
It was interesting to find out that on the Utah Teacher Fellows survey, teachers felt valued when they were appreciated. This correlated to the UEPC survey showing that teachers remained in the field because of the worthwhile difference they make in the life of children.
The second question asked to Utah teachers in the HSG survey was “What are the most important characteristics of a highly effective teacher?” The data showed the following:
- Relationship skills
- A lifelong learning mindset
- A passion for teaching
- A positive attitude
Subsequently, the UEPC survey noted that teacher stayed in the profession for these various school factors:
- Working relationships
- Being treated ethically
- Intellectual challenge
- Collaboration with colleagues
We found it interesting that in both surveys, relationships were noted as the highest priorities to teachers. The HSG survey’s recommendation to USBE included that Utah teachers perceptions should be incorporated into state definitions of highly effective teachers. Another observation made was that these findings align with other National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) Model Core Teaching Standards.
The final questions on the HSG survey were as following:
- If you are a full-time teacher, how do you use your time and resources for teacher leadership duties?
- As a professional and experienced educator, how would you design an effective teacher leader role that allows teachers instructional time inside the classroom and leadership responsibilities outside the classroom?
The results of the HSG survey were split on these questions. Teacher voice was loud and clear on the one hand that all teachers do not aspire to move outside of the classroom, given the already full work loads associated with our job as teachers.
However, teachers who were willing to offer opinions towards recommendations suggested that the USBE must be willing to:
- Protect teacher planning time
- Provide additional compensation
- Allow specific time for mentoring duties
- Allow time to collaborate
Satisfaction listed in the UEPC survey states that protection of teaching time was somewhat of a high priority. According to the UEPC survey, most teachers expressed the most satisfaction in regards to issues related directly to their classroom and their colleagues, which does not necessarily support the idea that teachers are seeking opportunities to lead outside of the classroom.
The recommendation made to the USBE according to the HSG survey is that the USBE should consider developing a formal differentiated teacher leadership career pathway that incorporates Utah teacher suggestion. For example, the pathway could provide protected, non-instructional time for leadership responsibilities; include additional compensation for teacher leaders; and offer teachers a true voice in decision-making. The idea of a hybrid role is one topic of discussion. This could possibly allow teachers to remain in their classrooms partime, and also allow specific time to perform leadership duties outside of the classroom.
Although the HSG survey noted that teachers did not feel that colleagues were leaving the profession due to lack of leadership opportunities, it was noted that they felt that teachers may be retained if leadership opportunities gave teachers a true voice in the system. In addition, this proposed role of ‘teacher-leader” might enable teachers more opportunities to support newer teachers.
As fellows in Hope Street Group, we were excited to have the learning opportunity that disseminating and gathering information, as a part in giving teachers a true voice in education. All fellows in the cohort were excited to report the overwhelming support we got from our teacher colleagues and the gratitude they felt at the opportunity to be heard.
We look forward to our second year as fellows in this group of dedicated and amazing educators. We will be facilitating another survey this year to gather teacher voice in our state. We are hopeful that USBE will take into consideration our collaborative voice and consider the recommendations made in our survey.