1st Opportunity Culture Case Study: Extending One Teacher’s Reach

by | June 17, 2013

In Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture school models, schools use job redesign and technology to reach more students with excellent teachers, for more pay, within budget. As districts and schools around the country consider implementing their own Opportunity Cultures, they want real-life examples of just how others have already done so.

Today, we begin a series of case studies that provide in-depth looks at how districts, charter schools, and other programs have begun using Opportunity Culture models or experimented with similar means of expanding teachers’ impact on students and peer teachers. In the studies, we will describe new programs, including personal descriptions of teachers involved. We will also analyze how well the programs stack up to the five Opportunity Culture Principles, which call for reaching more students with excellent teaching, higher pay, sustainable funding, job-embedded development opportunity, and authority and accountability aligned with each teacher’s responsibilities.

In our first study, Leading Educators: Empowering Teacher-Leaders to Extend Their Reach by Leading Teams, we profile Anna Lavely of Kansas, who participates in Leading Educators’ two-year fellowship aimed at developing the leadership of already-excellent teachers.

Leading Educators’ fellows are currently spread out over 65 schools in Kansas City and New Orleans. A fellow’s school district or CMO must commit to placing the fellow in a role in which he or she leads a team of other teachers to meet the fellow’s standards of excellence; teaches students; and facilitates a teaching team’s collaboration and planning. After intensive training and visits to schools with a record of closing the achievement gap, fellows create yearlong projects that focus on leading other teachers and raising student achievement, designed and implemented by fellows to meet their schools’ needs.

At Edwardsville Elementary, a district school, Lavely serves as the chair of her teaching team, working with a group of 60 to 80 students and two or three other teachers, covering all subjects. She leads all of her team’s planning meetings, monthly professional learning community meetings, monthly “learning walks,” and, occasionally, all-staff meetings or professional development sessions. In that, her role resembles the Opportunity Culture initiative’s Multi-Classroom Leadership model.

For Lavely, the chance to change school culture to cultivate excellence and reach high bars with all students through leading other teachers—while remaining in the classroom herself—has proved irresistible.

“I set my expectations so high, but I always think there’s more that can be done,” Lavely says. In this study, Lavely describes the leadership responsibilities she has accepted and her team’s results: A set of classrooms fully proficient in both math and reading—including students in special education and English language learners—and 70 percent of those students ranking in the top two achievement categories on the 2011–12 state math exam, up from 52 percent the previous year.

“In my first three years here, I kept hearing the words ‘pass the state assessment.’ With the rest of the school, I set that as my goal,” she says. “Last year, one of things I started realizing, and bringing back to my team, was that these are really low expectations. If you’re setting a goal, that’s what you’re going to get. That truly is what led to our 70-percent grade achieving in the top two categories.”

Overall, Leading Educators reports, students taught by teams led by Leading Educators fellows achieved five times more improvement on state standardized tests than their district counterparts in Kansas City in 2011–12, and 12 times more than their counterparts across the districts they serve in New Orleans.

Although invigorating, this program was not started as an Opportunity Culture project. Lavely’s role misses crucial pieces of the Opportunity Culture Multi-Classroom Leadership model: formal accountability for the results of all the students in her “pod,” and higher pay, within existing budgets, to match the greater number of students she reaches with excellence. Lavely discusses how the lack of pay matching her greater responsibility may ultimately push her out of the classroom, into administration—but how much she would prefer to continue teaching.

With a career path that would allow her to continue leading other teachers without leaving the classroom, and better pay, “this would be the ideal position for me,” Lavely says.

As Leading Educators expands its work, it will focus on helping schools and districts create sustainable, paid leadership opportunities for its leaders, enabling them to advance in their careers while remaining teachers.

Leading Educators: Empowering Teacher-Leaders to Extend Their Reach by Leading Teams was co-authored by Sharon Kebschull Barrett and Jiye Grace Han, with contributions from Public Impact’s Joe Ableidinger, Bryan C. Hassel, and Emily Ayscue Hassel.

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