“I spent over 20 years as a classroom teacher, and for most of that time I was a single teacher trying to meet the needs of all learners, at all times. Over time, as we have learned more from the science of learning and development about how people learn, we have asked teachers to do more and more: provide differentiation, personalize learning, create deeper learning experiences that allow students to build transferable skills and more,” says Lisa Wyatt, senior program manager of Next Education Workforce, an initiative of Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. 

“This traditional way of teaching students is not sustainable,” Wyatt says. “We cannot ask one human to do all the things. We need to build teams of educators who deepen and personalize learning, and we need to recognize that educators are all different people with different strengths, passions and interests,” she says. 

So in preparation for the upcoming school year, roughly 300 local educators and administrators came together at the 2021 Next Education Workforce Summer Institute to learn how to build teams of educators with distributed expertise. 

The institute aimed to provide a place for educator teams to come together and engage in work that is critical to laying the groundwork for a successful year, including team culture and developing structures and systems that will allow teams to distribute expertise and personalize learning, says Wyatt. 

Over the course of four days, participants attended sessions — remotely — that focused on equity, building empathy, deeper and personalized learning and the role of community educators, hearing from educators and school leaders who have already begun to implement Next Education Workforce models in their schools 

Wyatt says, “In developing the summer institute, we collaborated with experts like Blue Engine in building strong team foundations, and also organizations that specialize in supporting deeper and personalized learning environments, such as KnowledgeWorks. We also leveraged experts across MLFTC and the expertise of the school partners who are on the cutting edge of this work in school spotlights.”

Leaders from SPARK School, Stevenson Elementary, Riverview High School, Whittier Elementary, ASU Prep Poly: Spark Institute and Westwood High School spoke about the different ways in which their schools are applying Next Education Workforce principles to better support learners and educators. 

Stevenson Elementary in Mesa Public Schools used a team-based model for its 3rd-grade learners. Principal Krista Adams says the team leverages inquiry learning approaches to ignite students’ curiosity and build their agency. “The work that the 3rd-grade team did this year served as a mini-lab for our entire school. We were able to identify ideas and strategies that would work for our own students with our own staff and our own resources. Overall, we saw that there was an increase in student motivation. They were more engaged and on-task than in previous years,” says Adams. Stevenson Elementary plans to expand its Next Education Workforce model, schoolwide, in 2021-22.

Mary Brown, teacher executive designer at SPARK School within Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School, says the school breaks out of the constraints of the standard one-teacher, one-classroom model by combining innovations in learning environments, teaching methods and staffing. The school’s educator team distributes expertise to provide deeper and personalized learning for their 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders. “One shift we will be making next year is an expansion from 120 students to over 240, ranging from grades 3–6. With twice as many students, we will transform another learning studio identical to the pod we’ve used for the last two years, and have hired an additional team,” Brown says. 

Principal Chris Gilmore at Westwood High School says all incoming 9th-grade students are supported with dedicated freshmen academy teams this school year. Each team comprises four educators: an algebra teacher, a biology teacher and an English teacher, and a career and technical education teacher — one of whom serves as a lead for the team. Some teams also have a dedicated special education teacher. “What I see in the future at Westwood, is that 10th–12th grade students will be on teams around career interest, such as a STEM team or medical professional team or an ROTC team, etc. I see us breaking down this large campus of 3,400 students into these small learning communities so we have that ‘wanted feel’ in which you are wanted, you can learn and you can take risks,” says Gilmore. 

“I hope that the summer institute has given teams a strong foundation on which they can build,” Wyatt says.“The Next Education Workforce needs to be shaped by teachers and school leaders. As we know from MLFTC’s work in Principled Innovation, each model needs to meet the specific culture and context of the school site.”

The Next Education Workforce Summit 2022 will be hosted virtually Feb. 2–3, 2022. 

Learn more about the Next Education Workforce

Read more about all of the school spotlights.