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An Unconventional Approach to Teacher Training (Opinion)

I’ve spent two decades arguing that we need rethink the parameters of the teaching job and the paths into the profession. That’s why I’m so intrigued by efforts like what Arizona State University is attempting to do via its Next Education Workforce approach. Of course, as always, the idea matters far less than the execution. So, I was curious to hear more about what ASU’s program actually entails. To get the good word, I connected with ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College school dean Carole Basile to learn more about what they’re doing to rethink teaching and teacher preparation.

—Rick

Rick: Tell me a bit about the Next Education Workforce.

Carole: Through the Next Education Workforce initiative, we think colleges of education, schools, and others can build a better and different kind of education workforce and learning environment. We need to design a workplace that offers more rewards to educators. Our argument is that we need teams of educators with a variety of expertise—in areas like refugee education, data literacy, or trauma-informed learning—that can deliver deeper and more personalized learning to students. In the Next Education Workforce models, teams are “self-improving”—teachers learn from their team members in real time and real ways. They don’t have to feel the frustration of having to wait for help that is often immediately needed to serve students. ASU is providing professional learning to community educators, teacher candidates, paraprofessionals, and current educators to accomplish this.

Rick: How do these teams work?

Carole: There is no single prescriptive model, but we have elements that we believe all models should include. Imagine an elementary team that starts with four professional teachers, all at different levels of experience and with different expertise, each responsible for about 25 students. They share a common roster of 100 students and take on different responsibilities and roles based on their strengths. Throughout the year, the team can bring on others to their roster to fill in gaps of expertise—like if a new student arrives who needs help learning a second language—or to support professional educators in ways that allow professional teachers to delegate tasks more productively. Educators can shift their goal from being an all-knowing teacher to being focused on the things they do well.

Rick: Where did the idea for this come from, and what did it take to actually launch the program?

Carole: Teaming isn’t new. We saw very promising research in this area in the 1960s and 1970s, but it never took off for a number of reasons. The preparation and professional learning in teacher prep never prepared people for team-based environments. As I looked at our students coming out of our teacher-preparation programs, I realized there was no way that any of those future teachers, no matter how well prepared, could be the “right” teacher for all kids at all times. What we ask educators to do, how we prepare them, and how educators enter the profession and move throughout their careers—all of that is out of whack with what we need schools to do for students. By adding the team model in teacher-prep programs, people are better prepared for the classroom. So, in fall 2018, Arizona State University started in teacher prep by grouping our residents into teams in two school districts. We learned we needed to build teams of in-service teachers as well as teams of teacher candidates. It’s important to do both simultaneously to prepare teacher candidates in ways that actually match what the working condition looks like.

Rick: How does New Education Workforce partner with school districts?

Carole: We are working with districts to build new kinds of educator roles, upskilling some current educators and preparing others who will enter schools in a year or two. The new roles vary from school to school, within schools, and likely from semester to semester. For example, these roles might include lead teachers who organize and deploy the educator team; “digital learning facilitators” who monitor the use of technology; student-success coaches who support student’s socioemotional needs; or specific content experts who come from local businesses, nonprofits, laboratories, etc. To upskill people for these new roles, whether they are current or aspiring educators, means we have to liberate our content from three-credit-hour courses and make it much more accessible. For instance, Arizona State University is creating a community educator platform on which we provide instructional content for a lay audience in 20-minute segments that can sum to bigger multicourse bundles of related content. The goal is to provide schools the materials necessary to train and attract a cadre of community educators. These are people who can move in and out of teams as needed.

Rick: How many teachers and districts are you working with?

Carole: At the beginning of this calendar year, we counted 27 schools fielding 86 teams serving more than 6,600 students. Right now, our largest partner is the Mesa public school, the largest district in Arizona. Andi Fourlis, the district’s superintendent, wants to see at least half of her schools move to Next Education Workforce models within two years. Other partners include other Arizona school districts—Roosevelt, Creighton, ASU Prep charter schools, and Kyrene. We also have a Gates Foundation grant and are just beginning to work with schools in California. We also have a lot of interest from around the country from states like Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

Rick: I know you’re interested in taking the program national. Can you tell me a bit about how you are working to do that?

Carole: AASA has joined in a big way by opening their network of thousands of school systems, providing relationship management, providing a megaphone for this work, and making the models a priority within their Learning 2025 goals. Together, we have set up a structure that can empower many more schools and school systems—including charter and private networks—to build Next Education Workforce models. With AASA, we are currently building a “Learning Cohort” for those interested in exploring these models with the goal of launching teams in 2023. Ultimately, we think that by building a hub-and-spoke model—the hub being Arizona State University and spokes being the school systems, colleges of education, or other local educational organizations—we can actually scale quickly around the country.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.




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