Teachers Say ‘Yes!’ to Opportunity Culture

A year ago, Public Impact began working with school design teams of pilot schools in the Charlotte and Nashville public school districts to choose and tailor school models for extending the reach of excellent teachers to more students.

We didn’t know for certain how well the design processes would go. We chose these districts because they had leaders who showed real commitment to expanding the impact and authority of already-excellent teachers and a burning passion to help disadvantaged students. But would that be enough?

We shared design process principles, which include teacher involvement in design decisions. We shared five Reach Extension Principles for the new school models they would craft or tailor to their needs; they call for reaching more students with excellent teachers in charge of their learning, for more pay, within budget, while boosting development opportunities for all teachers and clarifying authority/credit for great teachers.

But we didn’t know how school teams would respond. Could they make design decisions that gained administrators’ support? How would the many good, solid teachers in these schools who were not on the design teams respond to their peers’ design choices? Would the teams craft roles that appealed to excellent teaching peers for recruiting purposes? All of these schools are high-poverty, and these teachers are no strangers to repeated “school improvement” efforts that can easily provoke skepticism.

On all fronts, these school teams exceeded our expectations.

Teachers took the lead in most schools, and in others they worked collaboratively with administrators to make decisions about what reach models to adopt and flesh out the design details. One school came up with its own model, a “time-time swap” (a variation on a time-technology swap described here), in which paraprofessionals supervise some student learning time at school—not unusual except that it will be scheduled to enable teachers to reach more students and collaborate in teams. Nearly all the school teams chose to combine several models to reach more students with great teachers, add team collaboration time, and let excellent teachers lead and develop their peers.

When team members presented their plans to other teachers in the schools (using variations of materials about teacher careers and the Opportunity Culture vision), they got a positive response. Any backlash we feared was apparently quelled by the designs these teams chose: They focused as much on developing excellence among peers as reaching more students with excellence directly.

Charlotte, the first site to recruit for these roles, received 708 applications for 26 positions in its four pilot schools. Is it any wonder? Teachers in reach roles can earn anywhere from about $4,500 to $23,000 more next year for helping more students and leading peers—all within budget, so the money won’t disappear when a grant ends. Nashville likewise is receiving strong interest in its recruiting. (Some positions in schools are being filled with teachers already on board—these schools chose to have all apply alongside the external candidates.)

The ultimate test will be how many more students these teachers can help make outstanding progress, not just in the first year, but in subsequent years as more teachers on new teams break through to excellence with the help of their outstanding peers. We know that they will likely need to keep improving their reach models. And they will be learning how to work in schools that take down the walls between teachers with an explicit purpose of achieving excellence for all students and staff.

Meanwhile, we’re really excited for the teachers and students in these schools. It’s what our Opportunity Culture work is all about—hope for achieving extraordinary things, with sustainable school models led by proven, excellent teachers to back it up.

—Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel

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