Bryan: When we modeled out what it would take to get a great teacher into every classroom, we determined that even if we were much better at recruitment, much better at retaining our best teachers, and much better at professional development, too many classrooms still wouldn’t have an excellent teacher. It was this scarcity that led us to think “how can we think differently about this problem?” Recruitment, retention and professional development are critical, but what else can we do? It was the “what else” that led us down the line of extending the reach of the best teachers to more students.
By “extending reach,” we mean that these teachers are fully accountable for more students’ learning and are paid more, sustainably. This means treating teachers’ time with the utmost respect. This requires new ways of organizing classrooms, often so that teachers are collaborating in teams. One way is what we call Multi-Classroom Leadership. Excellent teachers with leadership skills take full responsibility for a “pod” of students by leading teams. Teachers, including the teacher-leader, play instructional roles assigned by the leader and use the leader’s methods. The teacher-leader chooses, evaluates, and develops team members and facilitates collaboration and planning. The leader is accountable for team success and all students’ learning, and she earns more for her added responsibility. Since all the students’ outcomes become part of her record, she has an enormous incentive to develop the whole team and help them use and build strengths.
And we shouldn’t stop there. Not every excellent teacher wants to, or can, lead or assist other teachers. Schools need to offer great teachers other ways to reach more students. We’ve published 20+ school models to do just that: enabling excellent elementary teachers reach 2-4 times the students by specializing in their best subjects; using age-appropriate portions of blended learning to save time, or by taking on larger classes.
Between these opportunities, schools could offer teachers a wide array of career paths. By making the best use of teachers’ time, these models create many opportunities for built-in collaboration and development and let teachers earn far more and help more students – without reducing the personalized instruction they do so well. That’s what we call an Opportunity Culture.
Ellen: So, like Bryan, we’re trying to solve for a problem, and the problem is that nationally we’re losing nearly 50% of all new teachers in the first 3-5 years. We believe all new teachers need onboarding support, and if we’re going to build an effective teaching force, we’ve got to figure out how we better recruit candidates and accelerate their development. A further challenge we identified was that for teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), particularly in rural and under-served urban areas, it is very difficult to find an expert teacher in their discipline to help them. That got us thinking. We had already been building out induction programs and mentoring models where expert teachers are released full time to support a case-load of new teachers in some of America’s largest urban districts. But we hadn’t really figured out a solution for new teachers in rural and urban settings where expert STEM or special ed teachers are scarce and the demand on the time of those that do exist does not support this model. And that led us to begin our e-Mentoring for Student Success.
For this program, we recruit across the country to find some of the best science and math expert teachers. And then we carefully select and train them: all online. Online right now, we have about a thousand math teachers, STEM teachers, and also special education teachers. We have found incredibly talented math and science teachers. We have Eisenhower scholars, National Board Certified teachers, and award winning expert teachers.
What’s been so unique about the online environment is that we have been able to pair a (new) teacher with an expert teacher in their specific discipline. If you are a chemistry teacher teaching in a rural setting, we can find you a top-notch chemistry teacher from somewhere else in the country and pair these two teachers together. And the online environment has also allowed us to experiment with different communities of practice. You could have just the mentor and the new teacher, or a community of new teachers with several mentors, or you could have just new teachers or just mentors together. We’ve built out a whole curriculum that new teachers and their mentors work through over the course of the year. The content is really inquiry-oriented; it allows us to be able to tap into a new teacher’s need in a “just-in-time” way. If a new science teacher, for example, is having trouble doing an inquiry lesson, we can actually bring together the new teacher, the mentor, and a group of other new teachers to help that teacher figure out how to deliver a science lesson, including using experiments for greater student engagement.
Also, with the advance of technology, we’re now able to actually see new teachers teaching in their classroom. The mentor can be anywhere in the country, and by using a swivel camera or a web-cam, we can actually see the teacher teaching and we can give “just in time” feedback through using an ear bud technology, or we can upload the video and go over it with the new teacher at a later time.
We’re really experimenting with many different resources now, so that we can give rich feedback to the new teacher as quickly as we possibly can.
We’re also finding that the mentors are saying this is the best professional development they’ve ever gotten. I think part of the reason for that is that it is very content-specific. You can have a cadre of chemistry teachers talking together about how to really engage students in various aspects of the teaching of chemistry. And that specificity holds across all the various content areas. The physics teachers, and math teachers, algebra teachers are all talking about not only how much they are able to share and teach new teachers, but they’re learning with and from the other mentors in the community as well as the new teachers themselves.
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