T-TESS: A Challenge for Teachers and Administrators, but Maybe Worth It by Dr. Harrison McCoy

McCoy Photo
Dr. Harrison, McCoy, UT Arlington graduate and Arlington ISD teacher at Arlington Collegiate High School shares ideas on the new T-TESS *(Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System).

Across Texas, educators and administrators are learning a new way to dance together. It’s called the T-TESS, or the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System. Educators have responded in a variety of ways over the past few months, but it would be fair to say that a prevailing sense of fear, concern, and even dread has dominated most of the conversations I have been part of over the summer. Teachers are worried about T-TESS.

Six weeks into the school year, and with several hours of training under my belt, I think I better understand a few things about T-TESS. I am much less worried, and maybe even a little excited about the change that this will bring to the teacher appraisal system in Texas. If I were a new or pre-service teacher, I would probably be very optimistic about how my career might be affected by T-TESS.

Here are some of my impressions, so far:

  • Many school districts do a woeful job of mentoring new teachers and helping them begin new careers in a way that will serve them well for a long run as an educator. There are aspects to T-TESS that will help resolve that problem. In the former appraisal system – PDAS – teachers who were determined to be low performing in PDAS evaluations were designated “Teachers In Need of Assistance” or TINAs. This was a step of remediation that could be very harmful for the career and reputation of a teacher regardless of the outcome of the remediation. Many teachers were bounced to other campuses as administrative transfers, and too many ended up selling insurance instead of teaching. In T-TESS, there are no more TINAs because all teachers are considered to be in various stages of professional growth and development. All teachers will be expected to be continuously improving. All teachers – regardless of their years of experience – will be on “growth plans”. I personally think that is a good thing – especially for younger, less experienced teachers.
  • There has often been a disconnect between professional development and a teacher’s goals for professional improvement. Of course, it has always been my prerogative to set a PD goal and then go find training that would help me achieve that goal, and I have done that quite often. T-TESS ensures that there is a direct link between the professional goals that I set for myself (for which there must also be a direct link to what happens in my classroom) and the training that I receive. Put it simply, if a principal approves a professional goal for me and my classroom performance, there is an obligation for that principal to facilitate my obtaining the PD needed to support that goal and ensure its success. As one administrator put it, districts will have to provide a new kind of training opportunity, and principals will have to make time available for teachers to pursue that training – even if it means providing “clock time” and a substitute to cover classes.

So, I have submitted my goals for my classroom, and they have been approved according to T-TESS guidelines. I am looking for the professional development opportunities to support my goals. Interestingly enough, I had already set goals for myelf some some months ago that have been approved for T-TESS, and I spent the summer supporting those with PD opportunities. Next spring, I will submit goals for the new year some 4-5 months before that new year begins, and I will have the summer to seek training opportunities. I am fortunate that I have extremely effective and innovative administrators on my campus who are working with me to find creative, individualized PD possibilities to finish out my T-TESS strategies.

My impression so far is that T-TESS is a well packaged systematic approach to teacher appraisal that has a strong level of continuity for its individual parts. Yes, it is new, and that will take some getting used to for most of us. Yes, it is different, and yes, I believe it just might be a lot better than what I experienced with PDAS. But, as Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, said in his TEDTalk, “The New Rules of Innovation”, “Innovation is the process by which we change the world…It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things.” (George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, p. 20).

Comments: Please feel free to add your own comments on the T-TESS and this blog post in the comments section below. 

Podcasting is as Easy as Talking on the Phone! Teaching with New Media

Podcasting is as Easy as Talking on the Phone! Teaching with New Mediaprofile pic

Are you using podcasting in your classroom? It’s as easy to create a podcast as it is to talk on the phone! A podcast is an audio recording of variying length. You can record one alone, with others (in a “talk show/radio” format), or your students can create a podcast! The length can vary from 30 seconds up to an hour or anywhere in between, depending on the topic and purpose of the podcast. For more on the “what”, “why”, and “how” podcasting, see this fabulous blog post on podcasting from Ian O’Byrne.

Reasons to use Podcasting as part of your teaching:

1. Teach with a “flipped classroom”. UTA Alumni and Arlington ISD teacher, Dr. Harrison McCoy wrote earlier about the flipped classroom. Podcasting is one way to create lecture-style audio recordings to either teach content, provide directions, or to create a tutorial for students to listen to either at home or in the classroom (or both).

2. Model new literacy practices for your students (and colleagues!). Some people are not as familiar with sharing content via podcasting. But if you think about it, we have been learning by multimedia since the advent of television and radio! Podcasting is actually a familiar way to learn. Additionally, some podcasting tools also provide opportunities to add visual content or images such as VoiceThread.

3. Create content that can be reused every time you teach the same unit/module/content/task. The beauty of creating your own multimodal content such as podcasting is you can re-use your own content!

How to Get Started: Easy (and Free!) Starting Places with your Mobile Devices

Get started by downloading one or more of the following apps and then try them out. The advantage of mobile-based podcasting tools is that you can record using the app! 

Tips for Podcasting:

1. Step 1 [Pre-Production] Planning What to Say on a Podcast

As all writers do, have a plan for what you will say during the recording! A few tips for doing this are below. It does NOT have to be the scripted. At the very least, I recommend having a few key talking points written down on a piece of paper or index card or even a sticky note! Rehearse what you will say a few times. Speak a bit slower than you normally would (especially if you are a fast talker). I also like to script my podcasts and I do this on my smartphone with the “notes” feature and I use the microphone to get my ideas down. Then I email that note to myself and it becomes the script. Another FREE speech-to-text app is available here and it is web-based: https://dictation.io/. Another free tool is VoiceNote2: https://voicenote.in/

HINTS FOR PLANNING IN A NUTSHELL

  1. Plan what you will say. What are your “big ideas”?
  2. Jump right in. You don’t need to say “Hello”. Just take the plunge into your ideas.
  3. Do a rehearsal to get your timing and pacing down! Practice it with a willing colleague or friend, partner, etc.

2. Step 2 [Production] Tips for Recording your Podcast (Non-Technical Tips)

Here are tips for doing the actual recording of your podcast. First, as we do in writing, find some good examples of podcasts and good broadcasting voices. Find one to imitate. I personally like NPR for how their speakers use clear diction and pacing. They also get the point across without sounding overwhelming! Here is a directory of some NPR podcasts: http://www.npr.org/podcasts/

1. Decide on a recording tool. If you have a smartphone, it will be easiest to use any of the Voice Memo features (or other voice recording tool) built into the phone. If you have an Android try TapeMachine Recorder (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.samalyse.tapemachine). If you do not have a smartphone, try using Audacity http://web.audacityteam.org/

2. Find a quiet space to do the recording. Plan to do your recording in a quiet room. It doesn’t have to be a closet–you can record it in the living room or classroom if there isn’t a lot of noise.

3. Practice your podcast a few times. You can even do this in your head or outloud!

4. If you don’t like your recording, you can redo it! Keep it longer than two minutes but no longer than three or four minutes (2-4 minutes total talking time).

5. Add enunciation and emphasis to words; don’t speak too fast. If you listen to NPR, pay attention to how they are speaking.

Step 3 [Post-Production and Uploading]

You need to find a way to store your podcast file. You can do this within Blackboard by simply uploading your audio file to the Assignment area! If you wish, you can upload your audio file to a cloud-based streaming tool. However, please note that if you upload your audio file to a cloud-based streaming tool (such as SoundCloud, MixCloud, or VoiceThread), it may be made public and everyone can see it and hear it! Only upload your audio file to a cloud-based streaming service if you are ok with it being made public!

Once your audio file is made, you will likely have it as an mp3 or M4A file. I like to use SoundCloud (the first three hours of content are free). I upload my file to SoundCloud, give it a title, and then I can share the link. VoiceThread is used in schools so it would be a good one to try out if you have not yet done so.

Recommended cloud-based streaming tools

1) MixCloud. MixCloud is free and has unlimited storage. https://www.mixcloud.com/

2) SoundCloud. The first three hours of SoundCloud are free. https://soundcloud.com/stream. My own SoundCloud channel is here: https://soundcloud.com/peggy-semingson

3) VoiceThread. This has a mobile app that can be used for recording and it’s very easy to use once you get the hang of it! http://voicethread.com/ How to create a new VoiceThread: https://docs.voicethread.com/web-application/creating-web-application/creating-a-new-voicethread-2/

Desktop based audio recording (free) with Audacity: http://web.audacityteam.org/

Good luck with exploring podcasting as a teaching tool!

-Dr. Peggy Semingson, Associate Professor,
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas at Arlington