June 27, 2013
In this issue:
How Teachers Can Lead the Way on Evaluation Reform

Click to Engage: How Technology Can Enhance Group Discussion

PA in the News

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Everyone at the Table: How Teachers Can Lead the Way on Evaluation Reform
photo credit: Sarina Brady
If states and districts wish to develop effective and sustainable teacher evaluation systems that enhance teaching and learning, teachers must be at the table as key participants in policy conversations. Failure to seek the meaningful (not token) input of teachers could in fact result in major hurdles that send policymakers back to the drawing board.

Everyone at the Table, a new book from Public Agenda and the American Institutes for Research, provides practical, research-based resources for productive, solutions-oriented dialogue among teachers, led by teachers themselves. The book enables teachers, principals, and other school and district leaders to rise to the challenge and involve teachers in evaluation redesign.

While some refer to the importance of "teacher voice," teachers in fact bring many different voices, perspectives and concerns to the table.† Diverse, inclusive participation by teachers as important policies are developed and enacted requires special efforts, including reaching out to those who may not have had a stake in the policy debate before.

We believe teachers can, and must, lead conversations among a diverse group of their colleagues. Exploring various approaches to teacher evaluation during these conversations will help teachers arrive at greater common ground on the approaches and policies they feel will most help them improve their practice, enable success for their students and allow them to have a continued voice in what transpires.

At the same time, teacher evaluation is deeply personal, emotionally fraught, politically heated, and, in some respects, mind-bogglingly complex. Leading these conversations is a challenging role to embrace. Everyone at the Table provides principles for generating productive discussion on divisive issues, best practices and suggestions for moderators, nonpartisan discussion materials that help clarify and depoliticize the topic, and field-tested activities that teachers can easily implement or adapt to their local situation and culture.

If we hope to promote teacher leadership and effective teacher engagement, we must tell the stories about where teacher leadership has taken root and where teacher engagement has led to effective policies that all teachers find acceptable and beneficial. Everyone at the Table features such stories, but there are many, many more.

Are you a teacher who has taken a leadership role in your school or district? Have you led or been involved in teacher engagement that you felt was inclusive and productive? Elevate your voice! Tell us your story and we will be happy to share it.
Click to Engage: How Technology Can Enhance Group Discussion

Audience Response Systems, also known as clickers or keypads, empower a group leader to live-poll discussion participants and immediately analyze and display the results to enable further exploration. Long used in education, keypads are ready to move out of the classroom and into the town hall.

When used well, keypads can enliven a discussion and make a meeting or class more diverse, creative, collaborative and imaginative. By providing immediate identification of areas of agreement and disagreement, keypads can help a group understand diverse and sometimes overlooked perspectives.

As with any technology, however, keypads on their own cannot replace small-group dialogue or other principles of a thoughtful, explorative exchange.

"Click to Engage: Using Keypads to Enhance Deliberation," a new paper from Public Agenda's Center for Advances in Public Engagement, offers a number of best practices, potential uses for deliberation, and strengths and limitations for using keypads in group discussion.

For example, keypad polling is useful in meetings where power dynamics may hinder open feedback. On the other hand, keypad polling can also alienate participants as they realize they are in the minority. Group discussion leaders armed with this awareness will better leverage the power of keypads to enhance collaborative discussion across a variety of perspectives.

The piece, relevant for teachers, professors, facilitators, moderators and anyone who frequently leads group discussions, is available on our website.† We also invite you to explore other resources from our Center for Advances in Public Engagement, including basic principles for public engagement and pointers for framing a discussion to depoliticize complex issues and expand unbiased discussion.

PA In The News

Parents Need Help, Not Shame, in School Improvement

A recent op-ed from the Chicago Tribune referred to hard-to-reach parents of K-12 students as neglectful. However, many parents who are looking for guidance on helping their children succeed may not feel ready or able to commit more time to their children's school. Read our response to the Tribune editorial, which addresses the need to focus on constructive solutions, put aside assumptions, and diversify engagement in order to help more parents become involved.

Why Free Public Engagement Technology Isn't Really Free

Few local officials in California use social media to engage their constituents. As the New America Foundation notes, technology may not really be free. "Those of us inside and outside of local government should also recognize that investment in online technologies and social media for engaging the public will require real money, time and energy," observes the piece, which cites our recent survey of local public officials in California.

You Can't Do It Alone: A Communications and Engagement Manual for School Leaders Committed to Reform

The Teacher's College Record reviews Jean Johnsonís manual for reform-minded school leaders, You Canít Do It Alone, calling the book practical, easy for administrators to use, and a "refreshing change from most books of this type that imply if the principal follows the authorís advice, all will be well."† (Review available for subscribers only.)

Financial Strain is Number One Reason Students Drop Out of College

With financial strain being the primary reason college students drop out, "students are finding cost-cutting methods to afford a college education," including working to earn additional income. This piece from cites "With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them": more than 60% of community college students are working at least 20 hours a week, and 25% are working more than 35 hours per week.