Education Week, May 4, 2021, by Madeline Will.
The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns have permanently shifted the way many industries think about how and where people work. But will school districts follow suit and embrace workplace flexibility?
The model of one teacher standing in front of a class for six or seven hours a day has changed very little in decades. That’s despite persistent pushes for schools to adopt more flexible approaches, like team-based teaching or assigning teachers’ roles based on their expertise. But after a school year in which teaching was flipped on its head, some experts are hoping that there will be enough momentum for district leaders to permanently reimagine what a teacher’s role could look like.
Thinking beyond the traditional staffing structure could both lead to learning gains for students and help keep teachers in the profession longer, experts say. For teachers who left the classroom but found another job in education, more flexibility was the most common attribute that attracted them to their new jobs, a recent RAND Corporation survey found.
Here are four ways that districts can offer more flexibility in the workplace.
2. Put teachers on a team
Experts say that reconfiguring the staffing model so that teachers have more time and space to collaborate and learn from one another can help improve student achievement—which will be a particularly important goal next school year. Research has shown that the pandemic has set back student learning, especially for students of color.
“Rethinking staffing has that potential double power of boosting student learning by giving more students access to great teaching and helping teachers be more successful and feel more supported and therefore, be more likely to stay,” said Bryan Hassel, the co-president of Public Impact, an education policy and management-consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Public Impact runs the Opportunity Culture initiative, which seeks to put high-quality teachers in front of more students. Teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness with student learning are named “multi-classroom leaders,” and earn additional pay by leading teams of teachers and taking responsibility for the student growth in all classrooms under their guidance.
Research has shown that this model can lead to student learning gains, and Opportunity Culture surveys have indicated that teachers involved are more likely to say they intend to stay at their school. That’s because teachers are given much more guidance and support than they normally would receive, Hassel said.
During remote learning, that support was crucial, he said. It also became easier to extend the reach of the multi-classroom leaders beyond their teams. Hassel said districts experimented with having those lead teachers prepare lesson plans and materials for others in different schools. This had been a possibility prior to the pandemic, but few districts considered it as an option.
Now, it might become more common post-pandemic. Even school systems that don’t use the Opportunity Culture model have been asking highly effective teachers to take on new roles in remote learning, said Lake, of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. For instance, a master teacher might film herself giving a lecture on a specialized topic that students in different classrooms can watch, and other teachers can help facilitate subsequent small-group instruction or help students individually.
Almost 50 school districts and charter networks in 10 states are part of Opportunity Culture, and Hassel expects more districts to sign on in the fall. Surveys of participating teachers found that the percentage who wanted the model to continue went up during the pandemic, as did those who said they’d recommend this model to others.
“In a time when overall [teacher] satisfaction was pretty low, we saw increased levels of satisfaction which I chalk up to the support,” Hassel said. “It’s made [teaching] a much less lonely existence.”