The most important lesson of the last 20 years is that talent matters. It has been a challenge, however, to implement that lesson by staffing every classroom in America with a highly skilled teacher. Fortunately, most schools and districts have some experienced and skilled teachers that consistently produce great results. New tools and new school models create the potential to extend the reach of the great teachers.
According to Andy Calkins, director of the national new school grant program Next Generation Learning Challenge, next generation schools offer students blended, personalized, and competency-based learning. Teachers should expect the same kinds of learning opportunities–a personalized development plan, a supportive team-based environment, multimodal opportunities to learn, and opportunities to increase their impact based on demonstrated expertise.
For the last four years Public Impact, a North Carolina think tank, has been leading the effort to identify and now test strategies to extend the impact of great teachers and improve working conditions and learning opportunities for all educators. Public Impact calls this creating an Opportunity Culture. The initiative includes a web site that documents innovative staffing strategies that are being deployed by a group of districts including Nashville Public Schools.
In 2011, Nashville created an Innovation Zone to support a group of struggling schools. Three of the 10 iZone schools were selected to implement Opportunity Culture models in 2013–14 to extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams. Piloting job-redesign concepts became an integral part of the turnaround initiative.
In contrast to class size limits approved by Washington State voters last month, these new staffing models call for schools to extend the reach of excellent teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within regular budgets, providing enhanced time for collaboration and on-the-job learning at school. Each school creates a school design team of teachers and administrators charged with selecting and adapting the Opportunity Culture job models that best fit their school.
In videos of multi-classroom leaders and team teachers the educators describe the benefits of their Opportunity Culture roles. Principals explain why Opportunity Culture has been a game changer for teachers and students: “You make sure that every single child is in a top-quality classroom,” and “Absolutely the most powerful benefit is student achievement.”
When one of the participating schools implemented the Opportunity Culture job model it was the aspiring teachers who provided better support for the time students spend working independently in “learning centers” while protecting teachers’ time in small-group and direct instruction.
Aspiring teachers earn $10.52 per hour and have an early shot at full-time jobs at the end of their year–a much better deal than the typical shorter unpaid student teaching experience. Especially since they work under the daily supervision of a proven excellent teacher.
Of the 33 aspiring teachers, 28 were students in a teacher preparation program and the others were teaching assistants or permanent substitute teachers.
The case study notes that piloting the aspiring teacher program and the Multi-Classroom Leadership roles (see details) at the same time, “Put many changes on teachers’ shoulders as they adjusted to the team-teaching model and the planning, collaboration, and coaching time it required.”