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Rosenberg & Miles: Teachers shouldn’t be superheroes to get the job done

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As the pandemic continues to take a toll on the academic and emotional health of children, America celebrates the heroic work of its K-12 educators, even as the pressures of teaching during the pandemic have pushed many to the breaking point. But why should teachers be heroes in the first place? What about teaching in an American public school that is so difficult at the best of times — let alone in the face of a global crisis that only happens once in a century?

The answer lies in the very foundations of a profession which, basically, has not changed for generations, varies little from one community to another and is not organized to meet the complex educational needs of children. Even before COVID, interest in teaching was on the decline and teacher turnover, especially in poorer schools, was unsustainably high. The education system was failing too many students, especially low-income students and children of color.

The idea of ​​changing the teaching profession is not new. But the standard approach — narrow pilot programs in a small number of schools that bypass, rather than actually change, system-level policies and practices — rarely create lasting improvements. Fortunately, the current moment offers unique opportunities to reinvent how school districts approach teaching and learning, with the potential for significant short- and long-term benefits for students, families, and educators.

The work begins by aligning with a bold vision for the teaching profession, one in which the role of the teacher is radically more dynamic, rewarding, collaborative and sustainable.

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In this vision, each teacher has a manageable workload, supported by school timetables and staffing plans, which makes it possible to know and work closely with each student. Teachers are grouped into teams that share and distribute work across a diverse collective of educators – traditional teachers, subject matter experts, expert instructional leaders, community educators and others in part-time and job-sharing roles.

Armed with a clearly articulated vision for the work of teaching, system leaders can identify the “catalytic entry point” that has the greatest potential for their community, based on the specific challenges facing students and teachers. in their communities. Catalytic entry points also allow leaders to begin redirecting resources towards financially viable strategies over time.

For example, a district with high teacher turnover and many inexperienced educators might seek to create “refuge and development” opportunities that facilitate the path to teaching. “Sheltering” ensures manageable workloads for recruits, such as pairing a new elementary teacher with an experienced partner for side-by-side classroom instruction in certain subjects, while assigning lesson planning and reviewing data from students to more experienced team members. The “development” of beginning teachers, as in other professions, means that experts provide on-the-job support, for example by regularly asking an experienced teacher to model how to teach a particular concept, observe a class and give feedback. These changes would be reflected in new schedules and staffing models and open the door to compensating teachers in a way that rewards expert leadership.

Alternatively, in a system where the core work of teaching has become unsustainable for educators at all stages of their careers, leaders could start by reorganizing teachers’ time and workload. A district may bring in school staff and outside partners to fill non-instructional jobs like bus and lunch, or to oversee student enrichment times (hands-on activities, field trips, projects). This would give all teachers more time to develop lessons that match each student’s learning progress. District leaders could help school leaders develop strategic team assignments and master schedules that free up regular blocks of time for teachers to collaborate and share work, with the support of teacher-leaders who have in-depth expertise in the programs taught.

These are just two examples of starting points that provide a “do it now” roadmap for reinventing the job of teacher. Achieving a “build toward” vision requires codifying and sustaining the ways the district organizes people, time, and money – for example, creating new pay scales and career paths with a variety of leadership opportunities for the most effective teachers. And that means planning early for the next phase of change – for example, developing potential teacher-leaders who can take on new roles as expert teachers the following year.


Miles & Wiener: in Washington, DC, a roadmap to reinvent professional development in schools

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Program provides funds that can be used to explore and transition to new models that build on proven strategies. Districts can also use these funds to invest in ongoing data collection to highlight successes and implement changes where needed.

The pandemic has exposed the fragility of many basic systems and structures. This is especially true in education, where, even before COVID, the teaching profession was in crisis. As polarized as this nation is, Americans should be able to agree on two things: many educators are doing truly heroic work, and school districts have a responsibility—and an opportunity—to redesign the job so that teachers don’t have to be heroes to be successful.

David Rosenberg is a partner at Education Resource Strategies Inc. and leads the Human Capital practice area. Karen Hawley Miles is President and CEO of Education Resource Strategies Inc.


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