Teachers’ lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. As evaluators, how can we respond to these changes and use evaluation as a tool to support them? My name is Dr. David Osman and I am the Director of Research and Evaluation in Round Rock Independent School District, a large suburban public school district near Austin, TX. Below are some of the ways in which teachers’ lives in our district have been impacted by the pandemic and school closure, and how this is influencing our data collection efforts.
Lessons Learned: Teachers’ experiences during school closure are markedly different from typical experience, and this will result in changes to teaching quality as well as teacher stress and burnout. Chris McCarthy and his colleagues have conceptualized a model to understand teachers’ experiences of stress, and this model can help frame teachers’ current experiences during a pandemic. Under this model, teachers’ experiences of stress are a result of the interaction of teachers’ appraisals of demands and resources provided.
During school closure, new demands for our teachers include using online platforms to deliver instruction, differentiating instruction virtually, and creating curriculum which can be delivered without in-person support. These demands are very different from the demands previously most pressing on teachers, such as managing student behavior and differentiating instruction in-person. A survey of our teachers indicates that many teachers are struggling with many of the straightforward technical demands of online learning, such as creating videos and online assignments. Like many of us, teachers are simultaneously adjusting to working while trying to care for their own children and other family members.
During school closure, teachers’ resources have also been changed. Teachers no longer have access to their classroom supplies, including many professional development resources, and most importantly are physically disconnected from teachers and students. Disconnection robs teachers of many of the informal networks in which they learn, solve problems, and cope with daily school life. Instead, teachers are relying on new resources, at varying degrees of effectiveness, to tackle the demands of their new teaching environments.
In the context of these changes to resources and demands, we as evaluators must rethink the research questions we ask and how we collect data from and about teachers. Heather Krause has written a great piece, Dealing with a Data Disaster, related to conducting research during a disaster that is worth reading and reflecting on. For instance, many teachers in our schools have expressed reluctance to complete long surveys right now. Virtual focus groups and short “pulse” surveys may be reasonable options. In our district we recently deployed a one-question open-ended survey using the tool Thoughtexchange, which was useful.
I am so thankful for the work that teachers are conducting right now. In many ways, teachers are holding together our communities in ways no one thought was imaginable just a few months ago. I’m hopeful that our work as evaluators can provide meaningful insight which will support teachers now and when we return to school.
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