The best professional development I ever received in 20 years as a classroom teacher was on the basketball court.

While coaching high school basketball, I attended a coaches’ clinic organized around the specifics of the game – shooting free throws, a certain type of defense – and the instruction could be practically applied by coaches at any level. What you saw was a master teacher working with a group of young people, teaching a specific skill. You could see the nuances, as well as the skill sets, and you could see instantaneous improvement.

This raised the question, “Why don’t we have this for teachers?” We have 30,000 ft. goals like Common Core and creating a college-going culture, but by the time they get to the level of actual instruction, there is little clarity on the difference between theory and the reality of practice.

We were missing a couple of key pieces. We needed a way to figure out what parts of our practice we really needed to practice. The only thing we have is student outcome data, which tells you what students aren’t learning effectively from you, but not why.

We received a notable 85 percent family response rate by setting up our platform to work on mobile devices.

What teachers need is meaningful feedback from the young people and families that they serve. They need to know what families in their communities want them to focus on. And then, teachers need access to a robust set of resources to help them start addressing those needs.

At the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational and Environmental Design, we found the answer in technology when we designed the Teaching Excellence Network (TEN) – a survey tool and a common language to have a meaningful discussion about education. And now, we are on a mission to revolutionize teacher development while deepening relationships between teachers, students and families.

We launched a pilot project with three of the highest need schools in Oakland, Calif., serving primarily low-income, racially diverse students. Traditionally, few people see poor children or children of color and their families as being capable of engaging in meaningful feedback loops with teachers, but this pilot proved that simply is not true.

Using questions from the Urban Teacher Quality Index, we surveyed 10,000 parents and students using mobile devices. While “vulnerable populations” don’t always have regular access to the Internet or email, they do have access to technology platforms on their phones. As a result, we received a notable 85 percent family response rate by setting up our platform to work on mobile devices.

The survey’s impact on parents was profound. They said things like, “This was the first time anyone’s asked me what I want for my child’s school.” We quickly realized the potential of TEN’s impact on education more broadly, especially in early childhood. It was an accessible and meaningful way for parents to offer input to schools about their child’s education and it empowered schools and teachers to be more responsive. We can only imagine the potential if parents were provided this opportunity for all 13 years of their child’s educational experience.

Parents from the pilot project also said it was the first time they’d ever had the right questions to ask their child to generate a meaningful conversation about school. In order to offer teachers feedback on the priorities they selected in the survey portion of TEN, parents had to engage in dialogue with their children about their classroom experience. Not surprisingly, parents found their children had plenty to say about what was happening in their classrooms once they started asking the right questions.

Parents also found that the TEN platform created a more level playing field for talking with teachers. There was now a common language that equipped families with a set of questions that they did not previously feel entitled to ask to school leaders or teachers.

We also talked with young people about their experiences. From elementary to high school, students were so excited to offer their teachers feedback, and we were taken aback with how seriously they took it and how skilled they were at providing it. We heard things from young people like, “Now I have a better idea of what I can expect. My teacher is always evaluating me, but now I can give feedback to them on how they are doing, which I really like.”

We were equally as pleased with what we heard from teachers. It was what they’ve always wanted – real, useful feedback – on their practice in schools. Usually, teachers are evaluated only once or twice a year. But what we know is that the most accurate evaluation of teachers comes from students because they experience their practice over time. Too few are looking to young people as the source of that useful feedback.

One thing teachers liked most about TEN was its electronic format – the data is instantaneously available. No more waiting for end of the year test scores that offer limited data on students that have already left your classroom. TEN’s feedback offers opportunities for higher levels of dexterity in responding to what’s happening in their classroom.

It also must be acknowledged that if we open teachers up to this kind of candid and direct feedback, we must develop professional coaching and support structures that help them respond. Our project makes sure that teachers do not feel isolated and instead are treated as capable professionals working to continuously improve. Our early returns suggest that by creating an expansive set of resources and supports, teachers are more willing to invite honest feedback because they can feel confident that they will be equipped to respond and grow in their practice.

As a tool, TEN allows us to differentiate professional development for teachers, creating an individualized approach for teacher growth. Ultimately, this platform enables teachers around the globe to share content, experiences and lessons about and solutions to the challenges of the classroom. By expanding the pilot, we will shift the conversation about teacher growth, elevating job satisfaction, expanding longevity and raising student and family engagement. All of these have been clearly identified as core indicators of teacher efficacy, which has repeatedly been proven to result in better outcomes for all students.