In February, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) announced sweeping changes to its teacher training and evaluation systems. Since this is a policy area that practicing teachers and principals have keen insights (and strong opinions) about, I’m happy that district leaders included educators in their task force that informed the policy changes.
DCPS has extremely smart leaders who are passionate about doing what’s best for our city’s students. Their ambitious policy changes over the past decade have enabled students’ performance to improve faster than any other large U.S. city. Our city is and deserves to be a beacon for education reform, yet we still have a long way to go. Leaders working directly with teachers and principals to improve policy will help get us there faster.
Engaging the best teachers and principals in meaningful dialogue about the next phase of reform can help DCPS in three key ways.
- High-performing teachers and principals have unmatched expertise about what works in schools and classrooms to promote student learning—and what doesn’t. Great teachers and principals are committed to the success of their students, and they work more closely with these students every day than anyone else. As such, they are an invaluable source of insights about how to reform the system for the better.
- District leaders rely on teachers and principals to implement policy changes. For any reform to be implemented with fidelity, leaders need the buy-in of their staff. Like anyone else, when educators feel like a decision was made without their input, they are less likely to support the rollout of the new policy. Indeed, the Washington Post reports that teachers in DCPS are feeling burnt out by the rapid, continuous policy changes over the past 10 years.
One DCPS teacher stated, “No one ever asks us what we need to do better. They just tell us.” Top-down decision-making hits a wall when the people most impacted by the decisions don’t feel ownership over them. To create lasting change, community engagement matters.
- More leadership capacity is better for everybody, and there are educators everywhere who hunger to make a bigger impact beyond their schools. Without pathways to actualize their leadership potential, these teachers and principals will leave their classrooms and schools. But when districts nurture this nascent leadership capacity, they tap into a huge resource of energy and ideas to help them achieve their goals.
I’m glad that DCPS leaders are continuing to fine-tune their teacher training and evaluation systems, and that the district included practicing educators in their task force to inform the policy changes. Given its role as a national education reform leader, DCPS has the opportunity to set an example for community engagement that other districts would likely follow.