The Next Education Workforce
March 01, 2022
Appears in March 2022: School Administrator.
Models in place in Arizona are leveraging the varying expertise of teachers to drive learner-centered growth
It was October 2021 and Justin Wing, assistant superintendent for human resources in Arizona’s Mesa Public Schools, had seen this movie before. For the sixth consecutive year, a survey conducted by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association
confirmed that Arizona has a chronic shortage of qualified teachers.
For the sixth consecutive year, the survey indicated a continued increase in the number of teaching jobs being filled by people who did not meet standard teacher requirements.
And, for the sixth consecutive year, Wing, a past president of the state association, braced for the intense but short spasm of news media attention that would follow the release of the report.
Why, reporters asked, are teacher-preparation programs seeing declining enrollment? Why, pondered the pundits, are teachers leaving their jobs? The world-weary shook their heads. The earnest wrung their hands. Many people just shrugged. And then Wing, along with others who spend their days trying to develop a sustainable and excellent education workforce, got back to work.
This year, however, Wing has reason to believe he might be seeing the beginning of a systemic, rather than palliative
approach to the problem. His school district and several others are at the forefront of developing Next Education Workforce models.
In partnership with Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, 27 Arizona schools serving more than 6,600 learners are developing teams of educators who share rosters of students. Next Education Workforce models put a premium on adapting instruction to meet the needs of individual students and are designed to leverage different areas of pedagogical and content expertise among teachers. These models seek simultaneously to improve working conditions for educators and learning outcomes for students.
Next Education Workforce models seek (1) to provide all students with deeper and personalized learning by building teams of educators with distributed expertise; and (2) to empower educators by developing new ways to enter, specialize and advance in the profession.
Clearly, this approach has much in common with the emphasis on AASA’s Learning 2025 framework places on the need for education systems to develop the culture and resources required to drive learner-centered social, emotional and cognitive growth in all students and to diversify the education workforce.
A Design Problem
The Next Education Workforce initiative is predicated on the insight that “teacher shortage” is an incomplete definition of the human capital problem that school systems face.
Simply filling the labor pipeline is not sufficient. In an analysis of data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for American Progress discerned a 28 percent decline in students completing teacher-preparation programs from 2010 through 2018. More disturbingly, for some time we have seen that most new teachers leave the profession within three years.
We can’t fix the problem simply by throwing more people at it. We need to confront the realities of the jobs we are asking teachers to perform and understand why too few people want to enter or stay in the profession.
We face a workforce design problem.
The prevalent one-classroom, one-teacher model asks teachers to be all things to all people at all times. It asks teachers to be content experts and pedagogues; to assess children’s socio-emotional and academic development and manage classrooms
of 30 or more students; to teach children of all abilities; to be role models and social workers; to be data analysts, trauma interventionists and a host of other roles.
It’s an unreasonable expectation. It rests on the faulty assumption that all learners require the same thing from teachers and, there-fore, any teacher can adequately serve every learner.
The one-teacher, one-classroom model is not only bad for learners. It’s bad for teachers and school systems. It alienates teachers, affords them little agency and fails to extend the rewards of adult collaboration and problem solving that professionals in other fields enjoy. It limits career pathways and tends to measure professional development in terms of hours endured rather than competencies acquired.
Credentialing people to work in a system that neither retains teachers long enough for them to develop professionally nor generates equitable learning outcomes is not a sustainable solution.
If we want more people to thrive as educators, we need to redesign the job.
Models in Place
Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in Arizona with 64,000 students, primarily serves the city of Mesa and parts
of its adjacent cities, including Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert and Tempe, along with the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community. Of the district’s 80 schools, 64 are Title I schoolwide eligible.
Today, Mesa Public Schools and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College are working together to build Next Education Workforce models in at least 19 of the district’s schools, elementary through high school.
“If we are going to create a better experience for the students who attend our schools,” says Randy Mahlerwein, assistant superintendent of secondary education in Mesa, “it begins with creating a better experience for our teachers. We have seen happier teachers with a greater sense of belonging in our teaming models over the past year and a half.”
At Westwood High School, approximately 900 students in 9th grade are distributed across six teams. Each core team shares a roster of about 150 students and consists of at least four educators: three certified teachers and a lead teacher. The lead teachers bear both instructional and managerial responsibility. Depending on students’ needs, other educators join the core team as needed. Their roles include special educators, teachers of English language learners, teacher candidates conducting residencies and paraeducators.
Teaming at Westwood means more than educators meeting outside of class to discuss curriculum, assessment or other matters. Teaming is not meeting. Teaming, in Next Education Workforce models, entails collaborative and interdisciplinary work during instructional time, as well as before and after it. Daily common planning time provides Westwood teachers with regular opportunities to shape cross-curricular units, engage in discussions about student work and design personalized experiences for each learner.
Westwood’s instructional model embraces inquiry-based and project-based learning as ways to provide deeper learning for all students and helps make connections to the community and future college and career options.
What they’ve found is that this kind of learner-centered instruction opens up different ways for them to use learning space and time. Sometimes 70 students meet together with all four core teachers in whole-group instruction. Sometimes they break into small interdisciplinary project-based groups based on student interest and teacher expertise.
At Westwood, the commitment to learner-centered instruction empowers teams of educators to depart from the typical bell schedule and classroom layout of classes to respond to student learning needs.
Westwood is one example. Next Education Workforce models
look different from community to community, from school to school and even within schools. That’s what learner-centered human-resources design demands.
However, there are elements common across Next Education Workforce models. The basic building blocks are teams of educators with distributed expertise, a commitment to deeper and personalized learning for all learners, and the development of better entry points, specializations and advancement pathways for educators.
Additionally, Next Education Workforce models approach the task of building those teams of distributed expertise by conceiving four categories of educators from which team members can be drawn and arrayed around students to best meet learning needs. Importantly, these educators are already in our systems.
- Education leaders include leaders of teams, schools and systems. They include lead teachers, principals and system-level leaders.
- Professional educators include pre-service, novice, experienced and specialist teachers who are accountable for students’ academic and social-emotional growth.
- Paraeducators include instructional assistants, teaching assistants and other school employees whose knowledge and skills complement those of professional educators.
- Community educators include volunteers and other members of communities whose knowledge and skills complement those of
professional educators. Community educators help deepen and personalize student learning by enriching learning environments, forging authentic relationships, sharing professional expertise and expanding social capital and networks of young learners.
How these groups of educators are arrayed around learners varies. We talk about Next Education Workforce models in the plural as opposed to a one-size-fits-all model because context matters. The point is to unpack all the tasks the system has traditionally heaped on the shoulders of individual teachers and distribute them, sustainably and smartly, among members of a team.
Does It Work?
Personalization is not new. Learner-centricity is not new. Team teaching
is not new. Trying to professionalize the education profession is not new.
Then again, transformative innovation rarely involves the conjuring of something entirely new into the world. It is almost always a recombinant thing.
Early results are promising: fewer referrals, suspensions and failed classes at the secondary level; improved reading and math scores and increased attendance rates among elementary students. And, more importantly, families are asking for these models to be school-wide, and educators are asking to be placed on teams.
Again, these results are early, and the data set still comes from small pilots. We must do more to fully understand the impacts of these models.
The truth is that building an education workforce that delivers on the promise of student-centered, equity-focused education is hard work that can only move at the speed of trust among parents, educators, administrators, school boards, colleges of education and all who are involved.
Now, with K–12 school partners, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is developing a research agenda to generate evidence about the relationships between Next Education Workforce models and outcomes for both learners and educators.
Areas of Inquiry
The Next Education Workforce Research Agenda lays out three areas of inquiry for researchers to pursue.
The first area seeks to understand how schools transition from traditional staffing models to Next Education Workforce models, how they implement the new models and what the essential elements are across all models.
The second area addresses the connections between those models and the efficacy, diversity and job satisfaction of educators.
The third area seeks to understand the connections between Next Education Workforce models and students’ academic development, social-emotional growth and capacity to develop rich social networks and a diverse array of relationships with both peers and adults.
Ultimately, we suspect that this last element — a wider range of social and learning relationships nurtured and fostered in schools — is likely to contribute most clearly to better learning experiences and outcomes. It can bring more community members into schools. It can expose learners to more forms of knowledge, expertise and wisdom than any one teacher, no matter how masterful, could ever provide.
When we talk about teacher shortages, alienated teachers, unmet learning objectives or a lack of diversity among educators, what we’re really talking about are rich human and learning relationships that are not happening.
Making those rich relationships happen is at the heart of the Next Education Workforce initiative and any sustainable attempt to build a system that delivers student-centered, equity-focused education.
Information about Next Education Workforce models can be found at workforce.education.asu.edu.
The site’s resource library includes materials that focus on sustainable financial models, personalized learning and instructional blueprints, as well as school profiles and materials that focus on the practice of teaching in team-based models.
The site also features a calendar of in-person and virtual events, including information sessions and a professional learning series designed for educator teams and leaders at all stages of school transformation, whether they are exploring, launching, expanding or sustaining Next Education Workforce models.
The principal staff behind this initiative at Arizona State University are seeking to connect with others doing work in a similar vein. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Building Whole-School, Team-Based Models
School systems that are ready to transition to Next Education Workforce models typically progress through four stages of transformation at each school.
- Exploring: System, school and teacher leaders learn more about Next Education Workforce models through information sessions, reviewing resources and school visits.
- Launching: A small number of Next Education Workforce teams are piloted in schools where there is high likelihood of early success.
- Expanding: Schools commit to moving toward whole-school Next Education Workforce models and add teams as readiness and resources permit. Early success inspires other schools in the system to explore and launch team-based models.
- Sustaining: Schools have Next Education Workforce teams schoolwide and further refine how they support students and educators. Team-based models begin to scale systemwide.
The work of building whole-school, team-based models is iterative. Absolute commitment from both building-level and system-level leaders ensures that educators have the support and trust required to measurably improve upon the normative one-teacher, one-classroom model of schooling.