A cross-sector group of more than 100 leaders from K–12 district schools, higher education, educational nonprofits, school design, philanthropy and policy came together to contemplate The Next Educator Workforce in a two-day convening at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in May. Participants reconsidered the continuum of educator roles, participating in design challenges, work sessions and discussions with local and national experts.

Their aim? Fundamentally improving the quality of the educational experience for both K–12 students and educators.

“If we’re not getting the outcomes we want and the workforce we need, we need to redefine the profession, the workforce and how we’re preparing people for both,” says Brent Maddin, executive director of MLFTC Educator Workforce Initiatives. “We want to make education work better for both educators and learners. To do that, we’re building partnerships with schools, districts, communities and others doing this work, to design and field new education workforce models. It’s systems-level change we’re after.”

Participants rolled up their sleeves to build models of what a team-based educator workforce might look like in two local schools.

In one challenge, participants built teams using data from Rhodes Junior High School in Mesa, Arizona. Rhodes has been developing teaching teams that deliver personalized learning. This coming school year (2019-’20), the school will incorporate more than a dozen MLFTC teacher candidates into its model. The design challenge allowed Rhodes to learn from the collective experience of attendees, providing insights that will help refine and expand its innovative program.

“We are excited to imagine the course we are setting will improve opportunities for learners, early career teachers and experienced teachers,”  says Shaun Holmes, assistant superintendent of human resources for Mesa Public Schools. “Rarely do we have the opportunity to engage in such a synergistic opportunity with so much potential.”

Speakers at the convening offered perspectives on a range of topics, including the evolution of multi-classroom leadership models, designing learning spaces for a new type of teaching and how to increase students’ access to social capital by surrounding them with a more diverse set of adults.

“The convening was a reminder of all the ways schools serve as a network hub for students and educators,” says Adam Carter, chief academic officer of Summit Public Schools, which operates a network of public schools in California and Washington that emphasize personalized learning. “Schools create community connectedness through mentorship, coaching and internships and outside-the-walls experiences. I think that’s a powerful concept and that’s going to require a different type of educator and a different model to facilitate.”

That model is collaborative, says Patricia Christie, principal at Rhodes, which uses Summit Learning technology, developed in Summit schools, to foster personalized learning in its team-based classrooms. “In an educational system that places an unbalanced conversational focus on accountability and student achievement on standardized tests, the workforce convening opened dialogue around how do we fully support K–12 student learning and social-emotional growth through collaboration,” she says.

Collaboration, says Christie, introduces a support system that allows teams of educators — including future teachers, parents, community members and highly trained working adults, who have the knowledge and expertise to function as complements to professional educators — to focus on preparing students for the future, not an annual test.

“I am an advocate for holding schools accountable for the learning of students, but if we don’t address how that accountability must change, we will see reluctance on the part of our K–12 schools to explore the next generation of teaching and learning,” Christie says. “Changing our approach to education and the adjoining accountability system must happen immediately to ensure we remain on the cusp of our ever-changing workforce.”

Students, teachers and communities are all underserved by current models, says Carter.

“It’s amazing how many people across Arizona and across the country are compelled by the idea that we can do better for kids by doing better for teachers,” he says. “The better that we can define comprehensive school models that are built to personalize learning for kids — to meet students where they’re at — the better we can support teachers. We’re setting teachers up to fail until we think more comprehensively about not just what schools should look like for students, but what a work environment looks like for professionals.”