Picture the possibilities for remotely located teachers: If you find this sort of teaching hard to envision, Grand Rapids, MI, physics teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel has an exciting video to show you how it’s happening now—through his virtual field trip to Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider as the first person to teach a science class from insider the collider’s tunnel (and one of the first to bike through it!). As Andrew says on his blog about the trip, “It’s not about the technology, but what you can do with it.”
I spent two years teaching in a diverse, high-poverty school on the northwest side of Chicago. And I was fortunate enough to say that even with the incredible growth my students showed in my classroom—in my second year, students averaged more than four years of growth—I was not the best teacher in the building.
On the contrary, I worked with teachers who were simply amazing—who had dedicated five to 10 years to this profession, who made strong gains with their students every year, and who served as models for me. They knew how to develop supportive relationships with parents and work with peers collaboratively in ways I was just beginning to understand.
Most of the excellent teachers were founding members of the school, and were extremely invested in it and the students whom they watched grow from kindergarteners to middle-schoolers.
But after giving five years of 14-hour workdays in a high-stakes environment with high expectations and little reward, all of the best teachers, one by one, left during my two-year tenure there.
I was shocked.
My school was high-performing, had fearless leadership, great parents, and terrific support.
And still, I witnessed a mass exodus of the highest-performing teachers I’d ever met, from a strong community of teachers and students.
They felt completely burned out and undervalued. They saw a stark choice between doing what they love and pursuing a sustainable future—starting families, buying homes, and moving up in their careers.
Through my job now at Public Impact, I’ve been working for the past year with school design teams of teachers in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system. When we first started working with these teachers, they were not thinking about career advancement within the classroom or being paid more in a financially sustainable way over a whole career.
When we asked them to think about new school models, many of them were immediately wary, uneasy about accepting the task of thinking outside the box to redesign their school and trusting that their ideas could influence the decision-makers to make positive change.
All of this made me wonder—how do we ask that of teachers who have spent their careers trying to find ways to reach students within the confines of a system beyond their control?
That’s when we realized that as much as we must communicate the students’ urgent need for more excellent teachers, we must also communicate the huge sense of urgency we feel to change the teachers’ profession—because opportunities for teachers mean opportunities for students.
Through that lens, the co-directors of Public Impact asked what resonated most for me about our Opportunity Culture initiative and what I thought would make other teachers who were excellent or striving for excellence receptive.
Here’s what I told them: As a teacher, I would love for someone to ask me to imagine what it would be like to work in a place that ensures that all teachers have the chance to improve their craft, and be rewarded for getting better; a place that lets all teachers make the best use of their talents by focusing their time and energy on parts of their job that they do best; a place that lets great teachers multiply their impact by giving more students access to their teaching for more pay; and a place that offers excellent teachers leadership roles that are not far removed from students.
I would love for someone to ask me to imagine being part of a profession that recruits the best and the brightest, and has a reputation for developing and retaining top talent through all of these opportunities, plus salaries that can compete against those of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Essentially, this means asking teachers to imagine a profession that, rather than being laden with things that keep people from becoming a teacher, is full of hard-to-refuse opportunities. That would make me want to say, “Yes. How?!” and set me up to be more receptive to the models we propose.
I truly believe that this kind of job, with this kind of potential for career advancement and higher pay, is the only thing that would have kept all of those great teachers in my school.
And this is the kind of profession I want to look forward to when I go back into the classroom.
Great teachers deserve this profession, and they have every right to imagine it, want it, and watch it become reality.
And so—what if we invested in the ingredient that has always made the difference, through endless reforms that focused on everything else: excellent teachers?
Jiye Grace Han was a 2011 national finalist for the Sue Lehmann Award for Excellence in Teaching, Teach For America’s highest honor.
This post first appeared at Impatient Optimists. If you wish to comment, please do so on the original blog post.
Blended learning holds unique promise to improve student outcomes dramatically. Schools will not realize this promise with technology improvements alone, though, or with technology and today’s typical teaching roles. In a new Public Impact policy brief, A Better Blend: A Vision for Boosting Student Outcomes with Digital Learning, which we co-authored with Joe Ableidinger and Jiye Grace Han, we explain how schools can use blended learning to drive improvements in the quality of digital instruction, transform teaching into a highly paid, opportunity-rich career that extends the reach of excellent teachers to all students and teaching peers, and improve student learning at large scale. We call this a “better blend”: combining high-quality digital learning and excellent teaching.
The Promise of Blended Learning …
The potential of blended learning to improve student achievement arises from two benefits of blended models that build on each other. One is the power of digital instruction to personalize learning. The other is the capacity of blended models to let schools reach more students with excellent teachers who ensure that students achieve ambitious, personally fulfilling goals.
… Is Not a Guarantee
Technology in our classrooms is nothing new. At various points in the past century, leaders have hyped new technologies in schools, which have generally failed to meet the lofty expectations. Even blended models and other recent digital-learning initiatives have yielded mixed results. And other promising, recent reforms have shown that a lack of focus on teacher quality typically leads to disappointment.
Today’s blended models will likely fall short as well, unless they include excellent teachers playing instructional and team leadership roles that maximize technology’s impact in tandem with their own.
How Schools and Policymakers Can Create a Better Blend, Right Now
For a better blend of technology and teachers, schools must first focus on implementation to combine excellent technology and teaching. It would be easy to move toward blended learning while leaving students’ access to great teachers exactly as it is today. Instead, schools should shift to blended learning while enhancing teaching effectiveness, through:
- Selectivity: Hiring selectively based on indicators predictive of outstanding teaching
- Reach: Extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students, directly and through team leadership
- Freed Time: Scheduling to give teachers time to collaborate, develop, and analyze student learning data during school hours
- Accountability: Giving excellent teachers credit and accountability for the growth of all students under their purview, including those taught by the teachers on teams that they lead
- Authority: Vesting excellent teachers with control of the digital content they use, allowing them to continuously drive improvements in instructional materials in ways never possible previously
- Rewards: Investing savings in paying teachers far more for achieving excellence with more students, making stronger recruitment and enhanced selectivity possible.
Then, to achieve excellent learning at scale, state policymakers must change state policy to enable and incentivize a better blend in large numbers of schools, through:
- Funding that is flexible and weighted by student need, so that schools may invest in the people and technology that best advance their students’ learning
- People policies that let schools hire, develop, deploy, pay, advance, and retain excellent teachers and collaborative teaching teams to reach every student with excellent teachers
- Accountability, using increasingly better measures, that drives teaching and technology excellence and improvement, so that excellent teachers and their teams get credit for using blended learning to help more students, and schools have powerful incentives for a better blend
- Technology and student data that are available for all students, allowing differentiated instruction for all students without regard to their economic circumstances
- Timing and scalability, including implementing a better blend from the start in new and turnaround-attempt schools—when schools often have more freedoms to implement new staffing models that do not over-rely on the limited supply of outstanding school leaders. This also includes helping new schools develop systems for scale, and giving excellent new schools incentives to grow.
Digital learning may be life-changing for students and career-boosting for teachers, but only if schools and policymakers commit to a better blend.
This first appeared at EdTech Digest.
A year ago, Public Impact began working with school design teams of pilot schools in the Charlotte and Nashville public school districts to choose and tailor school models for extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students.
We didn’t know for certain how well the design processes would go. We chose these districts because they had leaders who showed real commitment to expanding the impact and authority of already-excellent teachers and a burning passion to help disadvantaged students. But would that be enough?
We shared design process principles, which include teacher involvement in design decisions. We shared five Reach Extension Principles for the new school models they would craft or tailor to their needs; they call for reaching more students with excellent teachers in charge of their learning, for more pay, within budget, while boosting development opportunities for all teachers and clarifying authority/credit for great teachers.
But we didn’t know how school teams would respond. Could they make design decisions that gained administrators’ support? How would the many good, solid teachers in these schools who were not on the design teams respond to their peers’ design choices? Would the teams craft roles that appealed to excellent teaching peers for recruiting purposes? All of these schools are high-poverty, and these teachers are no strangers to repeated “school improvement” efforts that can easily provoke skepticism.
On all fronts, these school teams exceeded our expectations.
Teachers took the lead in most schools, and in others they worked collaboratively with administrators to make decisions about what reach models to adopt and flesh out the design details. One school came up with its own model, a “time-time swap” (a variation on a time-technology swap described here), in which paraprofessionals supervise some student learning time at school—not unusual except that it will be scheduled to enable teachers to reach more students and collaborate in teams. Nearly all the school teams chose to combine several models to reach more students with great teachers, add team collaboration time, and let excellent teachers lead and develop their peers.
When team members presented their plans to other teachers in the schools (using variations of materials about teacher careers and the Opportunity Culture vision), they got a positive response. Any backlash we feared was apparently quelled by the designs these teams chose: They focused as much on developing excellence among peers as reaching more students with excellence directly.
Charlotte, the first site to recruit for these roles, received 708 applications for 26 positions in its four pilot schools. Is it any wonder? Teachers in reach roles can earn anywhere from about $4,500 to $23,000 more next year for helping more students and leading peers—all within budget, so the money won’t disappear when a grant ends. Nashville likewise is receiving strong interest in its recruiting. (Some positions in schools are being filled with teachers already on board—these schools chose to have all apply alongside the external candidates.)
The ultimate test will be how many more students these teachers can help make outstanding progress, not just in the first year, but in subsequent years as more teachers on new teams break through to excellence with the help of their outstanding peers. We know that they will likely need to keep improving their reach models. And they will be learning how to work in schools that take down the walls between teachers with an explicit purpose of achieving excellence for all students and staff.
Meanwhile, we’re really excited for the teachers and students in these schools. It’s what our Opportunity Culture work is all about—hope for achieving extraordinary things, with sustainable school models led by proven, excellent teachers to back it up.
This first appeared on Education Next’s blog. If you wish to comment, please do so on the original blog post.
Do teachers care about terrific career opportunities that let them stay in the classroom? Do teachers long for jobs that pay them more—substantially more—for leading their peers and reaching many more students with their excellent teaching? Do teachers want jobs that give them time during school hours to collaborate with and learn from their peers? Judging from the 708 applications now stacked at Project L.I.F.T., teachers are thundering, “Yes!”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools started Project L.I.F.T. to support gap-closing reforms in high-need and historically low-performing schools; it and three pilot schools in the Metro Nashville Public Schools’ “Innovation Zone,” are the first district sites to use Opportunity Culture school models developed by Public Impact to reach more students with excellent teachers, for more pay, within budget.
The flood of applications didn’t surprise Zone Superintendent and L.I.F.T. Executive Director Denise Watts. “Teachers really want to have an impact in the classroom—they don’t all want to be principals.”
And to those who argue compensation doesn’t matter to teachers, “be real,” Watts says. “I’ve been on the other side of the desk when a teacher tells me she’s pursuing other opportunities because of the compensation. Teachers are not afraid of the accountability if we provide them those compensation avenues.”
So Watts, working with Public Impact to create an Opportunity Culture in the Project L.I.F.T. schools, put a team of teachers and school leaders together to plan new job roles and opportunities for teachers at four schools, spanning pre-K–8, beginning in fall 2013. The exciting new roles they created have so far drawn 708 applications for just 26 openings from around the country, from teachers attracted to the key promise of an Opportunity Culture: Using job redesign and technology, excellent teachers can reach more students and lead their peers, for more pay, within regularly funded budgets. Applicants include a mix of teachers currently at L.I.F.T. schools, other teachers, and former teachers seeking to return to classroom teaching.
In 2011, Public Impact launched its Opportunity Culture initiative to help the U.S. close achievement gaps and meet rising global standards by extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students—with a quest to reach all students with excellent teachers in charge of their learning by 2025.
Most of the Opportunity Culture models on which Project L.I.F.T. based its plans create new teaching roles, form collaborative teams able to meet during school hours, and enhance teacher development. All teachers and staff have the opportunity to develop to their full potential through collaboration with and leadership from excellent teachers. Career advancement allows more pay and greater reach.
At Project L.I.F.T., teachers can choose from models that let them earn more because they:
- Lead a team that includes 1 or more other teachers while staying in the classroom as a Multi-Classroom Leader—that is, an excellent teacher who is accountable for the team’s teaching and the outcomes of their students, sets the methods and materials used, collaborates with and develops the team, and teaches as well.
- Teach more students as a Blended-Learning Teacher, using technology to help with teaching the basics so the teacher can focus on the personalized, higher-order learning that excellent teachers do so well.
- Reach more students as an Expanded Impact Teacher, planning and delivering instruction for multiple classes in a school where students rotate between a paraprofessional covering the basics and the expanded impact teacher, who focuses on personalized, enriched instruction.
- Deliver instruction only in their best subjects as a Specialized Elementary Teacher, for example teaching only math and/or science or only language arts and/or social studies, with support from other teachers and paraprofessionals.
With its new roles, Project L.I.F.T. creates a new vision of opportunities for leadership: Teachers can lead other adults, or lead just by reaching more students—no more one-size-fits-all, isolating classrooms for teachers. The L.I.F.T. plans provide a variety of career paths and flexibility to keep great teachers in the classroom and reward them for their excellence. To explain these break-the-mold possibilities, Project L.I.F.T. hosted webinars for applicants and provided materials explaining not just the jobs but the new focus on a highly-paid, high-impact teaching profession.
The Charlotte and Nashville schools, and many others creating Opportunity Cultures, will contribute to Public Impact’s “learning loop”—taking what we learn from their experiences to continually improve our ideas and materials.