Wednesday, November 19, 2014

AAPS School Climate Data: A Teacher's Perspective on the Teachers' Perspectives

A guest post from A3 Teacher

In June of this year Ann Arbor Public Schools released their school climate data from the 2013-14 school year.  The results from the surveys given to students, parents/guardians, and teachers can all be found here.  As a teacher I was particularly interested in the teacher survey.  Four items stood out to me as possible areas for AAPS improvement--at the bottom of this post are the full details of the items selected for this post (Most of these items are briefly touched upon in the presentation given at the AAPS Board Meeting, although the presentation lacked specifics in regard to ways of addressing them).  Having worked in other school districts that do extremely well in these areas, I know that AAPS can, and should, do better.  It will be interesting to see the results of the next climate survey in order to determine if the district has improved in these areas.  

1. 39% of teachers feel that professional development did not help them to better meet the learning needs of students.

If almost 40% of teachers feel that current professional development does not ultimately help students to learn and achieve at higher levels, there may be larger problems.  While there will most likely continue to be serious budget issues in Michigan’s future, high quality professional development does not necessarily cost more.  The key to highly successful professional development is 1) surveying teachers needs and desires, 2) finding the intersection and linking these items to the school improvement plan, and 3) putting plenty of time towards planning, execution, and follow-up.  How is administration reflecting or gathering data in order to evaluate the effectiveness of professional development?  Administrators and directors must invest the time and employ best practices in order to raise the use and efficacy of professional development.  Perhaps each administrator could survey building teachers using an online format and build these targeted needs into professional development.

2. 45% of teachers feel that their schools are not kept clean.

The second area that is in our control is the cleanliness of schools.  We have now made a contract with GCA services.  The district, hopefully, is collecting or will be collecting data on 1) whether schools are cleaner or dirtier as a result of this contract, 2) what services have been gained and/or lost because of the contract (for example, are desks and surfaces cleaned?  What are the exact expectations that parents, students, and teachers should see met in regard to the cleaning of each space where, many times, hundreds of students pass through?).  Should this contract prove to not increase cleanliness, the district should consider alternatives in the upcoming year.  

In addition, perhaps AAPS and GCA could partner to create an online spreadsheet that would allow teachers, parents, and students to report areas of concern in their schools.  Taking that idea a step further, perhaps GCA or AAPS could develop an app to allow students, parents, and teachers to upload photos from smart devices in order to report areas of concern.  [Editor’s Note: The City of Ann Arbor recently developed an app so that citizens can identify and submit problems such as potholes.] Separately, perhaps GCA could send a survey each quarter in order to determine areas of success and areas to continue working on.  By state law teachers must demonstrate growth of their students. Shouldn’t we also expect GCA to show that they are increasing the cleanliness of the schools?

3. 30% of teachers do not feel like they have the materials needed to be effective in teaching.

As teachers are told to do more and more (more students in each classroom, more development of curriculum, assessments, and implementation of new programs), I find it disheartening that teachers do not feel that they have the items needed to be successful.  It is challenging when paperbacks are literally falling apart in students’ hands, when science teachers do not have enough lab equipment to run the types of labs they know are important to student learning, or teachers lack the necessary materials to engage all students in art projects.  There is a gap between what teachers know must happen in the classroom in order for significant growth and learning and the financial realities of Michigan’s current state of education.  

This year the Ann Arbor Educational Foundation pledged an additional amount (up to $80,000 from the previous year’s $22,000) to provide AAPS schools with grants for projects.  This can partially fill in the gaps in order to give teachers the necessary tools to be and feel successful; AAPS should increase teachers’ access to and understanding of the grants.  I would recommend that the AAEF consider two application dates (one in the fall and one in the spring) as opposed to one giant singular date in the fall.  This would allow teachers to plan during the summer, knowing that they can count on specific tools or items in the coming school year.  

4. 55% of teachers do not consider their schools well-maintained in regard to a comfortable climate, lighting, and grounds.

School maintenance continues to be an area in which AAPS struggles.  When asked the same question, 37% of 6-12 students felt the same as the teachers.  While this is not only an issue of providing employees with an appropriate and professional workspace, it is also an issue of creating environments that are conducive to learning.  The district must figure out how to address these issues - perhaps creating a volunteer corps of teachers, families, students, and community members to work together on these items would be beneficial.  

Strongly Disagree
Strongly Agree
Don't Know
Total Responses
The professional development sessions I have attended have helped me to better meet the learning needs of my students.
Fresh, high-quality food is served at this school.
My school is kept clean.
I have the materials I need -- such as textbooks, computers and visual aids -- to effectively teach my classes.
This school is well-maintained, with a comfortable climate, adequate lighting and well-kept grounds.

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