In 2018, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College placed its first students in new team-based professional experiences designed to address the workforce design problem at the heart of Arizona’s teacher shortage. In less than two years, more than 15 school districts have adopted the model.

With COVID-19 radically changing K–12 learning environments, MLFTC Dean Carole Basile is frequently asked how the college’s work developing Next Education Workforce models might be de-emphasized or delayed. 

It’s not, Basile says: “It’s actually going to push our ideas further faster. People are asking about how to assess kids, how do you group them, how do you deal with disparities — all these things we’re doing right now. The only way we’re able to do that is through these kinds of partnerships where we’re thinking differently about the preparation of teachers.”

Basile’s remarks were delivered at Creating Coherence Amid COVID-19, a Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching webinar that highlighted Avondale Elementary School District’s response to the pandemic. The Phoenix-area school district created virtual, grade-level teacher teams, building on its partnership with MLFTC even during the crisis.

A new set of resources could help other schools do the same. MLFTC’s Teaming in a Pandemic collection aims to support schools as they explore ways to team online, adjust the roles of teacher candidates as a result of COVID-19 and deepen and personalize learning in a remote context.

Resources include recommendations for how remote teams of educators might best meet the needs of students, as well as descriptions of potential new roles for educators, including MLFTC’s junior-year interns and senior-year residents

“This work was inspired by conversations with our partners,” says Brent Maddin, executive director of MLFTC’s Next Education Workforce. “The situation and context are changing, almost daily. With a teaming model, teams are able to adjust how they deploy teachers in lessons and learning spaces in order to offer the best real-time support to students.” 

The teaming model creates flexibility for both educators and learners, which is now more important than ever as schools navigate online, in-person and hybrid contexts, says Nicole Thompson, MLFTC associate professor and division director of teacher preparation. 

As in the past two years, MLFTC teacher candidates are placed with a team of educators, typically at a grade level. A second grade team, for example, might have three certified educators and two or three residents working with a roster of 120 learners. With six core teachers, half of the team could work with learners in person while the other half supports learners at home using technology. The result? Deeper and personalized learning for students, and a more sustainable role for educators.

“As we have been working in partnership with district partners and community partners, it’s been around flexibility,” Thompson says. “Our methods may have changed, but the goal remained the same. We weren’t going to stop building our teams. We’re not going to stop thinking about distributed expertise. We know this is the right thing.”

While some teacher candidates will continue their education in schools, others are engaging with learners via a new platform created by MLFTC: Sun Devil Learning Labs. 

SDLL brings together professional educators from local school systems with ASU faculty and MLFTC teacher candidates to develop free, online resources for K–8 classrooms, says Robert Morse, MLFTC executive director of professional experiences. 

“It’s already been through a few iterations as we’ve worked to rapidly respond to school and community needs,” he says. “In each, we’re equipping our students with the skills they need to be able to succeed with virtual learning. When they complete the program, we’ll be able to say to them that they’re going to be prepared for the future.”

Ultimately, this work isn’t limited to MLFTC’s training of teachers but encompasses how the college works with districts to change fundamental structures, Basile says. “This is an incredible opportunity. We’re not just incrementally changing here. We are being forced to take great leaps and bounds.”