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.