“How many teachers are out there struggling daily because of lack of support? How many burn out because they’ve tried all they know? How many leave our profession early because they can’t do it on their own any longer? How many kids suffer because they have access to only one teacher? How many students are […]
22,000+ students reached by Opportunity Culture teachers, more than 800 teachers in advanced or team roles, $2 million in higher pay in one year alone, and more high growth and less low growth than other schools: These are just a few results from the schools in districts launching an Opportunity Culture. Public Impact’s expanded, interactive […]
“ ‘One-teacher-one-classroom’ is a phrase you hear a lot in education these days: For the past 11 years, that described me. I taught on my own in self-contained third- and fifth-grade classrooms, and I loved my job. But I had enough leadership opportunities, such as mentoring, working with student teachers, and leading professional development, to […]
District leaders love the thought of “teacher leadership” that might attract and retain teachers—especially great ones—and close student learning gaps at a time of rising teacher vacancies.
But too often, teacher-leader roles fail to produce the full impact district leaders intend. They rarely dramatically improve student learning or teacher effectiveness.
What are the usual pitfalls? How can districts avoid them?
The Whole Package: 12 Factors of High-Impact Teacher-Leader Roles, a two-page brief from Public Impact, offers a quick list of the pitfalls, and a chart of the 12 essential factors for creating outstanding teacher-leader roles.
Low-impact teacher-leader roles are a distraction from what great teachers really crave: helping their peers and more students succeed. Defining and organizing high-impact teacher-leader roles can allow great teachers to have a far greater effect on vastly more students and teaching peers.
DO design teacher-leader roles with these 12 factors in mind, involving teachers in the design decisions:
• Selectivity: make advanced roles selective
• Preparation: train teacher-leaders for their roles
• Greater Reach: use roles to give more students access to great teachers, not fewer
• Continued Teaching: let teacher-leaders keep teaching students part time
• Time to Lead—and Learn: give teacher-leaders time to plan and collaborate
• Development Opportunities: let teachers in the same role help one another improve
• Accountability: make teacher-leaders formally responsible for their students and teams
• Formal Authority: give teacher-leaders formal authority to spread their practices
• Higher Pay: pay supplements of at least 10%– 50% of average pay
• Funding Stability: fund higher pay with recurring budgets, not grants or tenuous line items
• Funding Scalability: for big scale, fund extra pay with stable, state-level funds
• Prevalence: ensure that each school has many advanced roles, not just a few
DON’T stumble over pitfalls with plans that have these unfortunate qualities:
Interviewing Opportunity Culture teachers and multi-classroom leaders recently in Charlotte and Cabarrus County, N.C., I got a little embarrassed. I never was much of a hard-bitten reporter, but still, I really shouldn’t start to cry at the teachers’ answers to my questions, should I?
But I teared up several times anyway, listening to them tell me how much their new Opportunity Culture roles meant to them, their students, and their school. Videographer Beverley Tyndall and I began taping these interviews eight months ago, asking all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of being Opportunity Culture pioneers. While teachers haven’t shied away from telling us what’s been tough as they work out initial implementation kinks, overwhelmingly, they tell us the good–or, more accurately, the really great.
You can see some of what they’ve told me in our Opportunity Culture Voices on Video collection. But since it will be a little while before we post more videos from these Charlotte and Cabarrus visits, I wanted to go ahead and share some of the thoughts of these multi-classroom leaders (MCLs) who lead a team of teachers; teachers using subject specialization for the first time in elementary school, teaching just one or two subjects to multiple groups of students; and teachers extending their reach to more students by using blended learning for the first time–plus a few of their students:
- Mary Price, Rocky River Elementary, which is in its first year using Subject Specialization and Multi-Classroom Leadership. Price is the kindergarten reading teacher, on an MCL’s kindergarten team: “I’ve been teaching 22 years. This is the year that I can really focus on that one subject and all the children I’m teaching. I know what they need, and that’s what I’m focusing on. … I’ve never had so much support (as from the MCLs). … I’m not leaving this school, and I’ve told other people, you need to come here or go somewhere that has this program. It’s great for the children.”
- Cyndal Brenneman, kindergarten and 1st grade MCL at Rocky River Elementary: “You make your teachers happy when you do (MCL) with specialization and when you give them more support. I have found that to be huge this year.”
At the Education Writers Association conference in Nashville on Tuesday, I listened to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan reiterate his belief that “education is the civil rights issue of our generation.”
On that, we at Public Impact couldn’t agree more.
He also talked about the outrage over our nation’s achievement gaps and worries about opportunity gaps. The country has, he said, a “courage gap” and an “action gap.”
We’d like to direct his attention to some teachers and leaders showing both courage and action.
In Opportunity Culture pilot schools, teachers are taking action, redesigning their schools to extend the reach of great teachers and their teams to more students, for more pay, within current budgets. Their leaders are showing courage by finding ways to make these redesigns possible within state rules and tight budgets. Creating Opportunity Culture schools means letting go of traditional one-teacher-one-classroom mindsets—and opening the door to career paths that let great teachers lead while continuing to teach, to opportunities for great teachers to reach more students directly with their inspiring instruction, and to opportunities for all students—not just a lucky few—to get excellent teaching, consistently, from teachers who get the pay and respect they deserve.
Where are those schools? Several were right under Duncan’s nose yesterday—in the iZone in Nashville. Schools in Cabarrus County, N.C., and Syracuse, N.Y., plan to implement their own Opportunity Cultures this fall. And in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS), four schools participated in the pilot this year—to be joined by 17 more this fall, and by nearly half the schools in the district by 2017–18.
The pilot schools’ learning results will start rolling in this summer, with more robust data from more than 30 schools nationwide next year. But CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison saw one significant result already that led to his January decision to scale up from those first four pilots: Enthusiastic teachers, in a state where teacher enthusiasm may be at an all-time low. The pilot schools were swamped last year with applications for these Opportunity Culture jobs, even in high-poverty schools. Despite the hard work of implementing something completely new, teachers’ enthusiasm continues (see what they’re saying here).
What makes an Opportunity Culture different enough to resonate so profoundly with teachers and district leaders?
A second North Carolina district has joined its neighbor in implementing an Opportunity Culture: Three elementary schools and seven high schools in Cabarrus County, N.C., will pilot Opportunity Culture models in 2014–15–affecting approximately 1,000 students in the first year of implementation alone.
Public Impact will assist some of the school teams in redesigning their schools. These schools will each have a team of administrators and teachers to choose and adapt the models that fit their school best, following the Opportunity Culture Principles.
The district is beginning work without philanthropic support for the costs of making this transition, but hopes to obtain funding to support additional school-level design teams. Six of the high schools asked to be included after hearing a presentation about Opportunity Culture models from the first high school principal to opt in this spring and Jason Van Heukelum, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Cabarrus County.
Once schools make the transition to an Opportunity Culture, the higher pay is all funded within existing school budgets, not temporary grants. (See financial analyses of the models here.)
The Cabarrus County district, which includes Concord, N.C., has 39 schools and 30,000 students, 43 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Its schools join neighboring Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in implementing an Opportunity Culture. Four CMS schools piloted their new models this school year, and CMS announced plans in January to scale up its Opportunity Culture work to include nearly half of the district’s schools by 2017–18.
When Rocketship Education, a pioneering, rapidly expanding charter school network, looked at its results, it could have rested on its laurels. After all, with seven schools in California together ranking as the top public school system for low-income elementary students, Rocketship had proof that its blended-learning model— combining online learning with face-to-face instruction—works.
But next year, Rocketship leaders will fix a disconnect they see between what happens in the online learning lab and the classroom, to give teachers more control over the students’ digital learning and further individualize the teaching.
Instead of reporting to a separate computer lab, fourth- and fifth-graders will move within an open, flexible classroom between digital learning and in-person instruction, with those moves based on their individual needs and the roles that specific teachers are best suited to play—similar to the Opportunity Culture Time-Technology Swap—Flex model and the Role Specialization model.
In the latest Opportunity Culture case study from Public Impact, Rocketship Education: Pioneering Charter Network Innovates Again, Bringing Tech Closer to Teachers, we look at what Rocketship has done so far to achieve its top results, and where it’s headed.
Recent Opportunity Culture appearances:
- Opportunity Culture makes the news in Provence: Test your French reading skills with this article on an excellent teacher in Charlotte’s Project L.I.F.T., Romain Bertrand, the focus of an Opportunity Culture Q&A.
- Touchstone Education gets notice from the Center for Education Reform: The center directs readers to see how the Merit Prep charter school boosted its students’ success.
- Edudemic.com shares the Opportunity Culture infographic: As Edudemic notes, “Excellent teachers are needed in more than just the simple classroom sense. Their expertise should be tapped to inspire and teach other teachers as well!”
- The American Society for Innovation Design in Education blog also likes the infographic and Opportunity Culture concepts: “As fuel for the continued educational discussion, these propositions seem worth adding to the fire,” the writers say.
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!”