Today's Game Changer is Kerrie Dallman. Kerrie is the President of the Colorado Education Association (CEA). She is a high school social studies teacher, currently on leave from Jefferson County School District.
You said you avoided going into education because everyone in your family was a teacher. That seems like a common story. Why do you think so many young people are discouraged by family members (especially family members who have taught) from going into education?
Only a former teacher can truly appreciate how much a person has to give of one's time and energy to be successful in the classroom. And only a former teacher gets the level of frustration a person will endure in trying to meet the expectations of an administration, of parents and of the community-at-large while not having much say in school decisions. Mix that in with lower pay and benefits compared to what most college-educated professionals can command, and former teachers know better than anyone that teaching is a hard job. It's not really even a job so much as a complete lifestyle choice. Family, being caring and protective, don't want to see their children have a hard life and will try to steer them into other professions. That's a shame, because teaching is a wonderful career that any parent should want their children to enter. We have to make teaching in America an attractive profession, just as it's viewed in so many other developed nations.
How did you first become actively involved in your union?
Sue Fields, a Jefferson County Education Association Board Member at the time, asked me to attend a Council meeting, then she asked me to attend another. It didn't take too long to realize that the organization I was paying dues to was working hard to improve public education and lift up the voices of its members.
What influenced your decision to leave the classroom and become fully immersed in the teachers' union?
During my final year in the classroom, we had been jointly studying alternative compensation and decided that we would work collaboratively to design a new compensation program that focused on student and teacher learning as well as teacher leadership. My decision to leave the classroom was to ensure continuity in the this work. My school district was awarded a $39 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant in 2010 to pilot our Strategic Compensation design model, which is a targeted, performance-based compensation system focused on student achievement and on attracting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing educators.
You've also been actively involved in the development of Colorado's teacher evaluation system. Can you tell me more about how and why you wanted to take on the structure and implementation of evaluation?
What we as teachers want more than anything is to meet the needs of our students. In order to do so, it is important that teachers understand the standards that they are evaluated against, that our evaluators receive high-quality training and support, and that teachers receive actionable feedback.
Many of our current evaluation systems are compliance-driven, are not implemented evenly across the state and do not improve the practice of teaching nor make a positive difference in student learning. Teachers in Colorado have a great desire to move to a system rooted in equality and fairness that clearly shows their effectiveness in the classroom and where they stand with school administration.
What steps did you take to ensure that there was teacher voice and buy-in during conversations regarding the new teacher evaluation system?
I was one of three members in the State Council for Educator Effectiveness (SCEE) who represented the teacher voice in developing recommendations for the evaluation system for the State Board of Education. CEA members made an impact at State Board hearings on rules for SB 191, testifying on unresolved issues such as how to measure effectiveness in non-tested subjects such as history, art, music and physical education. CEA members were proud to share their expertise with the State Board and thankful for the opportunity to be a collaborative partner in developing SB 191 rules.
What were some surprises or challenges you faced as you began to address the issue?
As a member of this council, I've been chiefly concerned that this new statewide evaluation system is one that promotes continuous learning and improvement. The real test as to whether we have created such a system will come from the pilot implementation of the evaluation tools.
I also continue to be amazed by how poorly CEA is portrayed in the Senate Bill 191 storyline. While CEA did not support Senate Bill 191 in its entirety, we were the original group working with Governor Ritter on defining a statewide teacher evaluation system. SB 191 at its very heart and soul is about teacher effectiveness evaluations, and CEA is on public record fully supporting a statewide evaluation system for educators.
What was the final outcome of your work on evaluation?
All 60 of the SCEE recommendations were adopted by the State Board of Education and the evaluation system rules were passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2012. The rules for the new system reflect the consensus of the Council on our best thinking around principal and teacher evaluation. Colorado now has operational definitions of what an effective principal and teacher is and should be, and is working on developing a statewide evaluation rubric that is aligned with those definitions.
What advice would you give to younger teachers who are looking to become active participants in their unions?
First and foremost, become a great teacher and always keep the best interests of your students close to your heart. The Association is solid when every member is a committed, caring educator, and we don't want people to talk the talk for the union if they are not first walking the walk for their students. Then participate. Seek out all the opportunities your local offers - social, training, activism - and find the role in the association that's right for you.
What is a hope that you have for education in the next few years?
For CEA and supporters of public education across Colorado, the real question lies in what we are going to do to reverse the trend of state budget cuts and begin reinvesting in public education. School districts across the state have made a wide range of painful, unpopular budget cuts resulting in larger class sizes, fewer curriculum offerings and increased fees for families. It is time for all groups - leaders, business, education, communities and families - to come together and take a thoughtful, deliberate approach to K-12 education funding for the benefit of our students and our state.
What advice would you give to teachers who are looking to be change-agents inside or outside of their classrooms?
Become well versed in the basic challenges confronting education and learn and participate in shaping your association's positions on them. Insist on shared accountability - teachers, parents, students, and elected officials - for our schools and students to thrive. Become comfortable talking about education funding as wise investing, and why teachers need the tools and resources to help every child succeed. And of course, develop a picture in your mind of everything public education can be, with great public schools in every community and every student having a quality teacher. Never lose that picture and always aspire to achieve it.
Just for Fun
Dinner with anyone, alive or dead?
...always thinking about teaching.
Do you know an education Game Changer we should interview? Let us know.