I love March. March brings some of my favorite things – St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness (though it’s not as fun this year for Virginia fans like me), the beginning of spring, and the Tennessee Educator Survey.

You might wonder how the annual survey of educators brings me the same joy as a new season. The answer is simple – I love the excitement of giving educators the opportunity to provide feedback about what is working and what could be better in Tennessee education.

At the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA), I have the privilege to work with researchers who dedicate themselves to answering complex questions about how to improve our public schools. Using a variety of data from Tennessee, including results from the annual educator survey, they answer questions like:

• What factors lead certain schools to turnaround and not others?
• What characteristics in a school lead to greater teacher growth?
• Can we predict and identify the qualities needed to be a successful school leader?

As we draft the survey, TERA researchers work with Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) staff to craft questions that allow for nuance and honesty from educators across a variety of important topics like school climate, educator evaluation, and instructional improvement.

We work hard to get each question just right because when we receive honest, nuanced feedback from educators, our answers to key research questions are much more likely to distinguish between what might look successful on the surface and what might actually be successful in practice.

The enthusiasm I feel is shared with my department colleagues, and has even made its way to the Tennessee Capitol. As a former state employee, and now as an external partner, I have seen firsthand how excited leaders at TDOE, who direct programs like Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2), Read to be Ready, and TEAM, become when they learn what educators feel positively about, and even more importantly, when that feedback helps them to provide better support to teachers across the state.

I’ve seen the TDOE and the governor’s office take educator feedback seriously, making important decisions like allocating funds to support RTI2 implementation based in part on survey responses. I’ve observed CORE directors and their staff compete to see who can encourage the best response rate by district, knowing that the more they learn about what’s really going on in schools, the more support they can provide for specific areas of need. Governor Haslam finds the survey so valuable that he has proposed annual funding to continue the survey even after his term comes to an end.

Yet, what I find most inspirational is to see and hear how educators value the survey, and how excited teachers, administrators, and staff are to give feedback. In the third week of the 2018 survey window, the percentage of educators who have participated this year is well ahead of where it has been in the past few years. There is an incredible amount of activity on Twitter, and teachers who have participated are pushing their colleagues to also provide their feedback. On this blog over the next two weeks, we will hear from educators about why they find the survey so valuable.

I am excited by the forward momentum this year and I ask for those of you who are educators to keep it up! Your voices truly make a difference and can effect change.

So, I love March. I love March for the promise of what is to come – flowers, leaves, eventually getting over Virginia’s loss, longer days, more sunlight – and, especially, the promise of great feedback from educators like you.