Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in Arizona, has committed to adopting Next Education Workforce models developed in partnership with Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. In addition to Mesa, the Roosevelt School District and ASU Preparatory Academy are making significant commitments to developing Next Education Workforce models. Those districts join the Kyrene and Creighton school districts in adopting Next Education Workforce models in an effort designed to empower teachers and improve student learning outcomes.
Next Education Workforce models establish teams of educators who share rosters of students. The 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.
Lisa Wyatt, a senior program manager with MLFTC’s Next Education Workforce initiative, says that, in the 2021 academic year, she and colleagues will be working with 269 educators on 86 teams in 27 schools reaching 6,660 students in five Arizona school districts.
In Mesa Public Schools, 64 teams were created in 19 schools, including elementary schools as well as junior and senior high schools, to start the 2021 academic year. More than 190 educators are working in teams of two to five to teach more than 4,700 students this fall.
Brent Maddin, executive director of the Next Education Workforce initiative, says that MLFTC will soon be working with schools outside Arizona as well. “We’ve been developing our theory of action for four years now, and we’ve been soliciting feedback from educators and education experts across the country.”
To support that work, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded MLFTC a grant to build Next Education Workforce models in California, working in partnership with a local school district, a California-based teacher-preparation program and their shared local community. Other supporters of the Next Education Workforce initiative include the Arizona Community Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Education.
What are Next Education Workforce models?
The idea of the Next Education Workforce is based on a recognition that the prevalent one-teacher, one-classroom model of schooling is failing both learners and educators.
“Our P–12 education system does not reliably deliver quality outcomes, especially for our most vulnerable learners,” says Maddin. “And we have long faced challenges attracting teachers and retaining them. In most policy conversations and news stories, we hear about a ‘teacher shortage.’ But the challenge runs much deeper than a simple labor supply problem. Credentialing teachers at breakneck speed and sending them into jobs they are likely to leave within three years is not a viable or sustainable solution. We need to make the job of teaching more attractive and empower educators to succeed. That’s why we refer to the challenge we are addressing as a workforce design challenge.”
Addressing that challenge, says Maddin, starts from the conviction that it is unsustainable to ask teachers to be all things to all people at all times. “We don’t ask people in other professions to do this. Other professions allow for specialization and embrace the idea that different professionals can bring different areas of expertise to the workplace. We do it in medicine. We do it in psychology. We do it in marketing, finance and engineering. But not really in education. And that’s too bad because ambitious professionals want to deepen their knowledge and — this is really important — they want to collaborate regularly with others who bring different strengths and talents to the table. They don’t want to work in isolation.”
By redesigning the job of teacher, the Next Education Workforce initiative seeks to improve learning outcomes and experiences for students.
“When you have 30 or more students in a classroom,” says Maddin, “there is no way that one adult, no matter how good or great, can meet all their learning needs well or equitably. It’s not just a matter of bandwidth. It’s also a matter of learning style and of the intersection of how a kid learns with the specific strengths of an individual teacher.”
Next Education Workforce models attempt to overcome that structural flaw in how most classrooms function by surrounding kids with teams of adults who bring distributed expertise into learning environments.
The objective is to provide all students with deeper and personalized learning while empowering educators with new opportunities for role-based specialization and advancement.
“There’s a lot that goes into actually doing this,” says Wyatt, noting that the Next Education Workforce team has developed a set of resources and tools for schools interested in adopting these models.
Adopting the models
Andi Fourlis is in her second year as superintendent of Mesa Public Schools. Her district has been an early and enthusiastic adopter of the team-based model. She says part of the appeal of the model comes from her personal experience. “Throughout my teaching career I was part of a teaching team,” she says. “While I had no idea this was unusual, I now know that was a gift that shaped my career. Collaborative planning and teaching allowed our team to design instruction using each of our strengths and gave us permission to take risks with minimal failure.
“I truly believe that this approach benefits both students and teachers. As a superintendent, I think this model will help me retain and recruit teachers. I think it’s the future of education.”
Greg Mendez is principal at Riverview High School, one of the Mesa schools expanding its implementation of Next Education Workforce models this year. “Teachers can create more engaging instruction for their students by leveraging everyone’s expertise or strength in pedagogy across the team,” he notes. “ When professionals can collaborate and work together in a shared learning space, the rigor and real-world application of learning is increased.”
Fourlis says her district’s teachers “appreciate the distribution of workload and opportunity to learn from one another every day,” and Mendez adds that several have said they would never go back to “teaching in isolation.”
Quintin Boyce, superintendent of the Roosevelt School District, was drawn to the team-based model because of his long-held belief that “multiple perspectives are extremely valuable. Team-teaching is a vehicle for collaboration and exposing students to various perspectives. When done properly it allows for authentic partnership, which can enhance the teaching and learning experience for both students and staff.”
Leaders and teachers at all 27 of the partner schools acknowledge that implementing team-based models presents challenges. People have to learn to work differently. Administrative systems need to adapt. Educators need to think about physical learning spaces in new ways.
Richard Ramos, executive director of innovation and learning in the Roosevelt district, thinks the transition will be worth it because “it is critical to support fair and equitable learning for all students, to support more small groups and to provide multiple teaching strategies to support all types of learners.”
Ramos also values the Next Education Workforce model for allowing teachers to observe each other, “to deliver feedback for refinement on instructional practices, and collaboration for planning to meet the needs in a diverse classroom.”
Sandra Smith, now in her third year as principal at John F. Kennedy Elementary School and in her 16th year in the Roosevelt School District, says that the opportunity for collaboration is “a mindset change for our teachers. A class of students is not just one teacher’s responsibility but the whole team’s responsibility.” She says this concept brings “infinite possibilities for improvement in instruction and student growth. We have 100 percent of our staff on board. They know we need to change our practice and they are excited to put these changes in place.”
With a primary goal of “providing all students with deeper and personalized learning,” the Next Education Workforce model naturally appealed to ASU Preparatory Academy. This network of 10 Phoenix-area schools has a mission “to personalize education, improving outcomes for all students.” Five of the 10 — one elementary, two middle schools and two high schools — are either implementing or expanding Next Education Workforce models.
Elizabeth Fowler, executive director of strategic initiatives at ASU Preparatory Digital, says the emphasis on personalized learning powered by digital content and distributed expertise offered by team-based models has allowed ASU Prep to emphasize project-based learning. “PBL has been the best-received part of our teams approach. ASU Prep leads the way in leveraging digital content to support both personalized learning and tools for project-based learning. Teachers are valuing [these] authentic ways for collaboration and honoring their unique ‘superpowers,’” Fowler says, adding that parents are “excited about deeper learning happening for their students.”
ASU Prep Polytechnic, a K–12 school in Mesa, is in its second year of implementing a Next Education Workforce model. Last year was limited to the middle school grade levels, and Principal Claudia Mendoza admits, “Our redesign was not easy by any means. To maintain our commitment to PBL and to our teams, regular planning time is critical. I’d say the biggest challenge has been finding the common prep time for teachers.”
“We had small struggles throughout, but as we reflected at the end of the year, we felt so proud of our accomplishments as a school team,” Mendoza says. “The learning will continue as we implement our redesign K–12. Faculty, parents and students have fully embraced this.”
“This is hard work,” says Maddin. “We talk about Next Education Workforce models in the plural as opposed to a one-size-fits-all model because context matters. This work looks different from school to school, from community to community. The composition of the teams of educators and the specific skills and areas of expertise have to be determined to meet the needs of each specific group of learners and the curriculum in which they engage. There is no rigid timeline for this work. It must move at the speed of trust among all those involved. Parents, educators, administrators and those of us at MLFTC working with all of them.”
Administrator to administrator: “Should you consider team teaching for your district?”
Andi Fourlis — Begin exploring now. I truly believe it is the future of education and an intentional model for retention and recruitment.
Greg Mendez — Mindset is everything. For administrators, this is about leadership – not management. Creating the conditions for our teachers to do great work in a learning space that they may not yet be able to see is essential. It will take time, there will be some ups and downs, but the psychological safety to innovate must be there for the staff. Put your belief and trust in those you have hired to do a job, give them agency to do great work, support them along the journey, and coach them up when it is needed.
Richard Ramos — Be sure to include all of your stakeholders in the decision-making process. Moving in the direction of team teaching has to be something of interest and supported by all.
Sandra Smith — Make sure you have a staff that is willing to make the journey together.
Elizabeth Fowler — It is worth spending significant time growing as a leader in your understanding about the why and thoughtful planning in advance of launching with staff. MLFTC has so much to offer to help support school leaders.
Claudia Mendoza — Teaming at Poly Spark is core to what we do. We are so grateful for the amazing opportunity to partner with the Next Education Workforce to help reimagine our schools to help shape a better future for all.
Quintin Boyce — Give it a try. When done appropriately, it can be transformational for a school community.