Bevins Elementary School (Pike County) Principal Amy Swiney advises teachers to take the TELL Kentucky Survey and let their voices be heard. Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 14, 2013

Bevins Elementary School (Pike County) Principal Amy Swiney advises teachers to take the TELL Kentucky Survey and let their voices be heard. Photo by Amy Wallot, Feb. 14, 2013

By Matthew Tungate

Principal Amy Swiney is in a unique position to see the benefits of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky Survey. Two years ago she was one of the record-setting number of Kentucky teachers who filled out the working conditions survey for the first time. Now, as a first-year principal at Bevins Elementary School (Pike County), she has made changes in the school based on the results.

“The data that you get back is wonderful,” she said. “What better way to come up with short- and long-term goals than to use the data that’s already before you?”

As a teacher at a different school in 2011, Swiney said she just hoped the survey didn’t take too long to fill out (it didn’t, she says) but didn’t know how results would be used. Now she knows its value.

“My advice to teachers would be, ‘This is your chance to get your voice heard so that the administration can know what kinds of things to improve on,” she said.

Doing just that is the point of the survey, said Carol Leggett, TELL Kentucky Survey strategy lead with the Kentucky Department of Education. By documenting and analyzing how public school educators view critical teaching and learning conditions, the initiative provides each Kentucky school with data that can become a part of the ongoing improvement-planning processes in schools, districts and at the state level.

To encourage large response rates, the Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and Kentucky School Boards Association are contributing prize money for weekly drawings.

Every school that reaches a 50 percent response rate will be entered into a drawing for $1,000 cash award for the school. Schools that reach a 100 percent response rate will be entered into a drawing for a $1,000 cash award to go to an individual educator. There also will be district-level awards. School and district completion rates will be posted on the TELL Kentucky website throughout the survey period of March 4-29, Leggett said.

The survey questions center around eight issues:

  • time during the day for collaborative instructional planning
  • school and teacher leadership
  • empowerment
  • adequacy of facilities and resources
  • professional development
  • community support
  • student conduct and learning
  • mentoring and induction services

Leggett said teachers won’t see any differences in the survey this year. Schools received access codes at the end of February, and teachers can go to to complete the survey.

“The teachers can see it really makes a difference,” she said.

That’s because schools and districts should be using TELL data in their improvement plans, Leggett said. People don’t realize the wealth of information available on the website, including data-use guides.

“If you take that guide, it literally walks you through how to break down your TELL data and really pinpoint what you need to focus on,” she said.

If schools improve teacher working conditions, they will see improved teacher retention and recruitment and, increased student achievement, Leggett said.

“Ultimately, we all want the students to do better in school,” she said.

Swiney said she looked over the TELL survey data when deciding whether to apply to be principal at Bevins Elementary. Even though she attended the school and still lives in the community so knows about the school, Swiney said she wanted to know more about what those who worked there thought of it.

“Being one of the Winners’ Circle schools and knowing it would be one of the best places to teach and learn in the commonwealth, of course, definitely made me interested in the school because it means great things are going on here,” she said.

Survey can make a difference

Benton Middle School (Marshall County) Principal Jill Darnall said the survey results for her school included 100 percent of teachers agreeing that the 50-year-old building is clean and well-maintained and that faculty and leadership have a shared vision and atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. Teachers also agreed the school used data to improve student learning.

“The faculty is focused on student success. They’re expected to do their jobs and I trust them,” she said.

Despite an overwhelmingly overall positive response, results of the survey showed staff wanted more collaboration time with their peers and more content-specific professional development, Darnall said.

“They wanted to have that opportunity to grow professionally and share ideas and lessons and strategies,” she said. “Even though I am the leader, I listen to what they tell me.”

Benton Middle wasn’t alone in those areas. Staff at many of the schools in Marshall County felt the same way, Darnall said. So the district set up opportunities for districtwide professional development, and Darnall said she allowed her teachers to use another six hours for their choice of professional learning.

Bobby Love, special education and physical education teacher at Benton Middle, said working with other PE teachers has improved communication and sharing of ideas.

“Sometimes teachers, after a few years, run out of new ideas and their practice may grow a little stagnant,” he said. “When you get a chance to talk to different people, you get new ideas and you bring those back to your classroom and it benefits everybody.”

Swiney said teachers at Bevins Elementary wanted to reduce paperwork so they could use the time for instruction and collaboration.

One way the school has reduced paperwork is by putting more assessments online though the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS) and letting students take them on iPads.

“When you have 50 tests to grade and the computer grades the multiple responses, that helps a lot,” Swiney said.

Reesia Thornsbury, a 4th- and 5th-grade social studies teacher at Bevins Elementary, said more work is divided among the staff, and non-classroom teachers with more flexible schedules work on some of the paperwork.

Teachers also are using e-mail more rather than making copies, and communicating more with parents on Facebook, Swiney said.

Debbie Smith, Bevins Elementary media specialist, said classes this year are scheduled to allow teachers to have common planning time to collaborate with each other in their grade level.

“Common planning gives teachers an opportunity to plan lessons that will better meet the needs of the students in their classroom,” she said.

 All said they plan to participate in the survey again this year after seeing the positive changes that have come from the last one.

“Anytime you can get data, especially specific data that I feel you get from that survey, I think it’s a great opportunity to look at your school,” Love said.

Swiney said she believes even more teachers statewide will take the survey this year.

“They see that it matters. They see that there are results out there, that there’s recognition and that their voice is being heard,” she said.

Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Kentucky Survey
Carol Leggett,, (502) 564-1479