RETHINK: Planning and Designing for K-12 Next Generation Learning: iNACOL (the International Association of of K-12 Online Learning) and Next Generation Learning Challenges created this toolkit to help district, charter, and school leaders when they are just beginning to consider and design next-generation programs and schools, with personalized, competency-based, and blended learning. The toolkit includes links to many Opportunity Culture publications and tools, including some on staffing models, financial sustainability, and change management. Go here for our full list of Opportunity Culture’s school design tools, which we update often.
Meet Romain Bertrand: middle school math teacher and Opportunity Culture enthusiast. As this school year winds down, he’s already thoroughly looking forward to the next—when he will become a Multi-Classroom Leader at Ranson IB Middle School, taking accountability for the learning results of 700 students. At Ranson, a Project L.I.F.T. school in Charlotte, N.C., Bertrand sees the opportunities of its new Opportunity Culture—to extend the reach of excellent teachers to more students, for more pay, and develop other teachers—giving him and others exactly the sort of recognition and respect he says teachers now sorely lack.
Bertrand grew up in Avignon, in the south of France, the son of teachers who both went on to become principals. After teaching middle school math in France for five years, he came to the U.S. through the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based VIF International Education, which placed him in Charlotte, teaching seventh- and eighth-grade math for five years. “It became obvious after 10 years of teaching that I finally found my groove, and I saw that I could consistently get my students to enjoy math and become passionate about it, and to grow,” says Bertrand (relaxing at right with his children).
Bertrand began working with Teach Charlotte, a six-week summer teaching academy, where he coached teachers, which prepared him for his current job at Ranson IB Middle School as a facilitator. That led to his role on the school design team at Ranson, tasked with redesigning the school to implement an Opportunity Culture in the 2013-14 year. Put a charming French accent in your head, and read what he said to Public Impact’s Grace Han in a May 28 interview:
Q: Tell me about your current job.
A: [Principal Alison] Harris’s vision for my first year was to have me work with new teachers in all subjects. I felt comfortable doing this, and was excited about it. With 28 teachers to coach in all content areas, I was spread too thin, and couldn’t do everything well. This year, I refocused on math and science.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about being a facilitator?
A: The most rewarding thing about this job is the ability to be transformational on a daily basis for both teachers and students. For teachers, it’s transformational through coaching, co-teaching, and planning of resources—helping them grow, or sometimes totally turn around classrooms. I really enjoy that coaching piece, to take people from where they are and try to lift them up. I also find rewarding the ability to teach students “on assignment.” When planning interventions with teachers, we always try to plan around data we have. So I teach students knowing exactly what they need.
Teachers, by working with me in my role and seeing me outside the usual “facilitator” role, it helps grow the culture and respect around my job. It’s really the ability to be transformational at every level, and to be able to measure the impact, work hard, and see people moving forward.
Q: What do you find most frustrating about being a facilitator?
A:I get really frustrated over the lack of recognition—not only just for facilitators but for jobs in education outside of the administrative roles. I find these roles to be underpaid, and people will hold a very low self-esteem. They just feel like society is not recognizing their role. They have to have summer jobs, extra after-school jobs, extra degrees. People cannot be proud about just teaching, and be satisfied with being excellent teachers. The fact that society does not consider teaching on its own as a valid career is the highest level of frustration for me.I work really hard—I work a lot of hours, and I have done a lot of studying. I know I could be paid more doing something else.
I’ve lived in the U.S. for seven years. Here, you hear this all the time about presidents and actors—“teachers are so important.” People praise teachers all the time … and yet, you have a feeling that it will never change unless teachers take the initiative to work with the budget you have, organize things differently, and to make a change.
Q: How did you get involved with the Opportunity Culture/Project L.I.F.T. initiative?
A: Last year, it all started with Ms. Harris telling me that next year, I’ll be the math facilitator, but letting me know that we’re going to have the opportunity to change the way we utilize technology in math. That’s the first part I understood of Opportunity Culture—that we’d leverage technology differently, and incorporate some blended learning.
In the fall, our second big school design team meeting was about staffing and new roles and models. It was a second burst of recognition for me, but tied with some fear. It was so new.
I remember in the meeting when we were trying to draw the blueprint of what Ranson could build in three years, having a feeling that we were drawing a “pod” and ideally what schools should look like when it comes to finding a balance between better serving students and teachers. This meant using technology and time to free MCLs and BLTs [multi-classroom leaders and blended-learning teachers] to plan resources, coach and develop others, provide extra support, expand the impact of stronger teachers, and provide more support for new teachers. I felt all the sudden it was a great way to marry the good things I’d experienced in my current job, but make it systematic across the school.
The key moment for me was to put the three pieces of the puzzle together—strong teachers, developing teachers, and students—and to see how all parts could benefit. Then I knew—this should be something exciting for everyone.
Q: What appealed to you the most about the models (or more broadly, about an Opportunity Culture) as you did the school design work?
A: What appealed to me the most was the ability all of the sudden to design new positions with the purpose of developing teachers better and faster, giving excellent teachers a way to expand their reach, and to better serve students. That triangle was really in my mind at the time.
And the technology will be key—we’re pushing teachers to re-imagine ways you can integrate technology into our jobs. We’re just at the beginning of it at Ranson; I’m interested in seeing how far we can take this. I really believe that this generation is not going to learn the same way we have learned. I really hope it will push us to integrate technology better, and marry it with what our students need the most.
Q: Were you sure you would apply for one of these jobs all along, as you were participating in the school design?
A: I don’t think I was thinking that I would take a new role right away. I’m in a leadership program at Queens University [the School Executive Leadership Academy], and I was thinking at the time I would apply to the AP/principal pool at the end of this school year.
For a while, I also wasn’t sure it was going to happen. I’d never been involved in something where I was writing out job descriptions! It was so new. I didn’t know if this was really going to happen.
As soon as we started talking about these positions, I went to Ranson and I said to myself, “I’m already in a facilitator role, but I’m already trying to be more involved with my teachers in the classroom. My job is not an office job.” I saw an opportunity to really change my current job to be more like an MCL. I said, “I’m going to go all out. I’m going to try to do these actions, and see if students benefit from them, see if teachers grow more if I change my job this way.” If all this happens, maybe this is something I really want to do, and also something I want to help craft.
So beginning in January, I revamped my schedule, and started planning with sixth- and seventh-grade teachers, and started doing what I thought an MCL would do next year. I started putting in place interventions by leveraging technology and doing blended learning with kids at mastery. I utilized that time to do interventions with other students who had not mastered the content. Then I started also doing more co-teaching with my teachers. Previously I would mostly observe and give feedback. But then I said, “I want to help teachers take a huge jump.” So I started weekly co-teaching, and I started seeing the impact compared to the old way of working. I would see students’ and teachers’ growth.
I also saw an impact on myself. I was happier because I was going back to what I really enjoy: teaching.
I think, through this process from January to March, I started getting a sense that I was enjoying this very much. I saw much more growth in students and staff than I’d ever seen before.
But this new role was also very difficult to do.This role is very challenging, and seeing this challenge motivated me to want to do this next year. There was a part of me that had been saying, “Maybe I’m not being ambitious enough if I take an MCL role versus becoming a principal.” Some people said I was lowering my expectations. But I spoke to Ms. Harris, and she said, “You’re not lowering your expectations. Nobody’s done this before; you have a chance to shape how this role will look in the future.” And that really helped me see it differently.
Q: How rigorous were your interviews for the MCL job?
A: The application process was very rigorous, but nothing really surprised me, knowing how [Charlotte] L.I.F.T. does their hiring.
I had to submit data from when I was in the classroom from my last teaching job; I did a teaching video from one of my interventions. I was actually able to use that video with some of my teachers, too, as a coaching tool.
And the first interview was with HR; it was a typical L.I.F.T. behavior interview. The questions were great, like, “How do you give feedback to someone? How do you change someone’s behavior?” They were very aligned with what I’d been facing in my job. To me, it felt good that people were asked these questions to get into these positions. To get someone to work with seven or eight teachers, to get buy-in, to have them accept you to work with their students, to work alongside them—it’s hard. The questions felt very appropriate.
The second interview was with Ranson, and I liked the opportunity to talk with them about this job and what I think I’d do differently, what I envision, what I’d need to do better or more.
It never felt like this was due to me.I never once felt like I was due this job. I always knew that the best person needs to fill a job like this.
Q: What did you think when you found out you got the job?
A: I thought, “Now I really have to deliver!”
I take really seriously that I’ll be responsible for the learning outcomes of 700 students. But something changes when you tie your job description to that literally. As a facilitator, I could have said, “I am helping the school meet its goals.” But now, it’s “These 700 kids are my responsibility.” This is where the high expectations come in.
With the teachers and TAs, we have to set up something really strong and be reflective through the year so that the system can grow, and so that we can meet our goals. They’re all relying on my ability as a leader to set this up properly, keep people engaged and reflective, and also communicate the new structure so that everyone will see the benefit for them from this new model.
I don’t want to become complacent about myself. I’m not going to take this position just to get a raise.
At this point in my career, I’m the most passionate about affecting instruction. Being able to help teachers be better teachers. Helping students receive better instruction. Right now, this is what makes me happy. And it’s what I’m the best at, currently.
For me, the next career step had to be becoming a principal. But as of today, I don’t feel the same urgency to leave to do that. And that urgency was coming from having to pay bills and not being recognized by society—the impression that people don’t think you’re doing something important.
All of the sudden, that’s changed for me. Pay, but also the opportunity to have more impact on more people. A lot of really good teachers—that’s what they want to do. They realize they have that gift, but they don’t just want higher pay. They want higher pay and more influence on other people. What’s great about these models is that these positions are not just higher pay for the same job you’ve always done, but they introduce new ways of working together.
We’re talking to the people who will be blended-learning teachers at Ranson next year, and it’s really fun to see their reactions to what their new job descriptions will be like, what their new responsibilities will be like. This is part of the deal for them. It’s not just the pay raise; it’s the career path.
Q: How different do you anticipate your job will be as an MCL compared to your current job as a facilitator?
A: First, there’s the accountability piece—knowing that for 700 students, you want to put your name down on what has been done for them. That’s huge.
Second, it’s narrowing my role down to a more reasonable group of people: two grade levels [sixth and seventh], six teachers, and two learning coaches, and being able to go deep with them. In the past, I spread myself too thin. Only if I do this well will I manage to have very good results.
Next year, I’ll constantly be teaching, planning, or coaching. I’ll really be streamlining my actions to bring consistency to these three things, and try to do them to the best of my abilities.
Q: How do you believe this work will change the teaching profession in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and your future in the profession?
A: My dream is that we actually do such a good job with this that in a year or two, CMS will want to replicate this idea everywhere else. But that also we will know by then what the best way to do this is. And the qualities we need to find and grow in people to do this well. I’d really like to be involved in that expansion.
I’m hoping that a year or two from now, students will be doing better, that teachers will be happier doing their jobs, and that positions we created will attract people, retain the best teachers here, and get to the point where the three benefits—creating avenues for excellent teachers, serving students better, helping developing teachers—will be a reality.
This year, we had zero vacancies in math. That’s unheard of. Math is always the hardest subject to staff, and we’re always scrambling to find people in the summer.
I just feel so sure that this is really a great way to move education forward that we haven’t thought about. Or something we just thought about, but never did. Like one of those “wouldn’t it be cool if … ” statements. We’re bringing that to a reality.
Recent Opportunity Culture appearances:
- Schools Test New Ways to Deploy Teachers: How Project L.I.F.T. schools in Charlotte are creating an Opportunity Culture to attract and retain top teachers, at Heartland.org. This includes a bit about L.I.F.T. teacher Romain Bertrand–watch this space next week for an Q&A with this excellent teacher who can’t wait to see an Opportunity Culture in place that allows him to stay in the classroom and extend his reach to many more students.
- Opportunity Culture: Not All Pay Raises Should Be Alike: A brief look by the A+ Education Partnership at what’s happening in Alabama and the need to keep great teachers in the classroom.
- How (and Why) Teachers Should Get Started with Blended Learning: A look on Edudemic.com at the infographic recently produced to accompany the report Improving Conditions & Careers: How Blended Learning Can Improve the Teaching Profession, part of the Digital Learning Now! Smart Series, which Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel, Public Impact’s co-directors, wrote with John Bailey of Digital Learning Now! and Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart.
In Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture school models, we envision roles for a variety of support staff who help excellent teachers and teams extend their reach to more students. Examples include learning coaches, digital lab monitors, assistant teachers, and tutors. These staff members don’t work in isolation, but as critical parts of their teams.
These positions typically have shorter workweeks than teachers (40 hours or less versus teachers’ actual average of 50 to 55) and are narrower in scope, making pay lower. The pay differential allows a district to provide substantially higher pay for teacher-leaders—proven excellent teachers who take full responsibility for leading their teams. Under the leadership of these excellent teachers, other teachers and support staff can learn and succeed.
If you think that sounds like a great environment for student teachers to learn great teaching from the start, the iZone initiative of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) agrees. Beginning in 2013–14, MNPS is creating a paid one-year “aspiring teacher” role targeting student teachers, available at three schools in the iZone.
The district has worked with local teacher preparation programs to develop the aspiring teacher role. In the United States, student teachers rarely get paid. In contrast, as district employees, these aspiring teachers will receive a salary and benefits, along with credit for being student teachers while they serve full-time in three Opportunity Culture schools under the district’s highest-performing educators. They also get first shots at full-time jobs at the end of their year. The aspiring teachers’ $15,800 salary and benefits make it much more attractive than a standard unpaid student teacher position.
The response? In the three-week application window, the district received nearly 100 applications.
“We thought that the ‘aspiring teacher’ role would appeal to graduate students earning their degree in teaching, but we didn’t anticipate just how many candidates would apply,” said Alan Coverstone, executive director of the iZone. “We’re really excited about the type of talent this role can bring into our schools, especially the schools engaged in some of our most ambitious turnaround efforts.”
MNPS is targeting students in a master’s degree program, at least this year. Aspiring teachers may also come from other backgrounds or remain as an aspiring teacher beyond the first year, though the district expects one year to be the norm.
Aspiring teachers will do much of what student teachers do now. But MNPS expects this to be a more robust experience as they train under a school’s highest-performing educators, participating fully as members of the core instructional staff in planning, professional learning communities, and teaching. This role also lets aspiring teachers focus more than traditional student teachers would on relationships with students and families, aspects the district considers critical to successful teaching. Overall, this training should be more rigorous than typical part-time student teaching roles and deepen student teachers’ engagement. And it pays.
Equally important, MNPS expects to build a pool of candidates who will have the knowledge, skills, and experience to be highly effective teachers faster once they become full-fledged teachers—potentially staying at the same school following their “aspiring” year. These teachers may have a better shot at entering the profession on a clear trajectory for professional growth and leadership than those doing traditional, part-time student teaching.
When we first started drafting Opportunity Culture school models two years ago, a group of elite Teach Plus Policy Fellows advised us. The “paid student teacher turned full-fledged team member” was their idea. We’re delighted to see their brilliant thoughts coming to life, and we hope to see more similar efforts soon.
The Opportunity Culture models are full of career paths and variations that solve so many of the problems caused by isolated, inflexible, uniform teaching roles in most schools today.
In the case of student teachers: Why not enter the teaching profession by learning from the best, on the job, and getting paid for it? It’s a question aspiring teachers across the nation should be asking.
In A Better Blend, we explained how schools can boost student outcomes from digital learning by combining it with staffing models that allow excellent teachers to both reach more students and help good teachers excel. Digital learning holds great promise—but only if we combine its power to personalize learning with the power of excellent teaching.
What else could increase the chances of high-quality technology use in our schools? Public Impact has written two reports out this week for CEE-Trust (the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust) showing how city-based funders and reformers can help, by catalyzing and scaling up high-quality blended learning in their cities.
Interventions and Catalysts in Markets for Education Technology: Roles of City-Based Funders acknowledges the significant roles funders can have in realizing technology’s potential in schools. It catalogs activities within education technology markets that city-based funders might support, and how they might support them. Written by Joe Ableidinger, this report shows how funders may intervene directly in education technology markets by funding creators or users of promising technology, or catalyze activity by:
- connecting creators and users
- networking market participants
- conducting research on what works
- publicizing activities of market participants
- vetting or aggregating education technology options
- educating and supporting investors
- coordinating policy or advocacy initiatives, and
- supporting implementation.
Don’t miss the handy appendix of the four most frequently asked questions Ableidinger heard from city-based funders, with answers drawn from the report:
- How do we build more interest and understanding of high-quality blended learning in our city?
- How can we increase the number of high-quality blended learning schools?
- How can we get more effective technology into public schools?
- How can we create the right conditions for blended learning in our city and state?
In the second report, Scaling a Successful Pilot to Expand Blended Learning Options Citywide, Public Impact’s Gillian Locke and Joe Ableidinger look at how pioneering city-based organizations that have helped develop and implement successful blended learning initiatives can scale them up. This report details four approaches:
- Expand blended learning to additional schools and classrooms. Replicate successful models in additional schools and classrooms, and extend pilots to continue experimentation with new models.
- Develop systems and talent for scale. Build out the information technology, human capital, financial, and operational infrastructure necessary to fuel and sustain expanding blended learning initiatives.
- Advocate for policies that support expansion of high-quality blended learning initiatives. Provoke action by networking key stakeholders, drafting policy briefs and other documents to educate and influence policymakers, and generating positive media exposure for successful efforts.
- Amplify the voices of educators in efforts to influence policy and practice. Give teachers the support and resources they need to lead collaborations with their peers and hold public conversations about changes to existing policy and practice grounded in their experiences with blended learning initiatives.
The authors provide a list of suggested strategies to use for each approach. Each could be used alone, but Locke and Ableidinger suggest combining elements of all of them for the greatest chance of success. For example, expanding blended learning programs will require both improved systems and policy changes to succeed on a larger scale.