How ASU is building a national network of team-based schools

Next Education Workforce models
March 30, 2023
Kelly Jasper

More than a dozen school systems across the United States are designing pilots of Next Education Workforce™ models this spring. Rather than isolating one teacher in one classroom with 30 or so students, these models bring together teams of educators with distributed expertise around a larger roster of students — a change that allows educators to deepen and personalize learning for their students, while also creating opportunities for educators to specialize and advance in their profession. 

“We’ve worked with some amazing school partners in Arizona to fundamentally redesign how to staff schools. We’ve had national summits, and people are hearing about the work we’re doing. There’s been so much interest in learning how this might work in their own communities,” says Kaycee Salmacia, senior director of National Networks for the Next Education Workforce initiative at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

For 20 years, Salmacia has worked to improve pre-K–12 education systems, drawing on experience as a teacher, teacher coach, assistant professor of teaching and chief academic compliance officer.

Now, she leads the Next Education Workforce Leader Launchpad, a virtual cohort designed to prepare system and school leaders to launch team-based models. In March, members of the cohort began working with ASU to design pilots of the model in their local schools. They’ll continue meeting virtually through May in preparation for the launch of their pilots in fall 2023.

Salamacia answers questions about the Leader Launchpad cohort, the challenges that school leaders face when pursuing innovative models of schooling, and evidence that team-based models are better for students and educators.

Q: What motivates someone to pursue an audacious goal like fundamentally changing schools?

KS: Our participants are from all over the country. They represent the wide diversity of students and school sites. For as different as they are, they’re really incredibly unified in why they’re here.

Two things drive someone to redesign how they staff their school.

One, they’re concerned about the performance and job satisfaction of their teachers. They’re dealing with teacher shortages. People do not want to be teachers, not in the way we’ve currently designed the job.

This cohort is for system and school leaders who want to change that. These folks want the job of teaching to be satisfying. They want teachers to be happy, fulfilled, challenged and supported. They’re willing to change how they operate to make that happen. They’re willing to change the workforce design.

The other driver is student outcomes. Outcomes have been flat and disproportionately low for students from low-income backgrounds and for students of color. They’re ready to try something new to make good on the promise of high social-emotional and academic outcomes for all students, not just some students. They’re working on this to figure out how to better meet the needs of the students who come through their doors. 

Q: How did ASU and these schools connect? 

KS: We teamed up with AASA, the School Superintendents Association and Learning 2025, an AASA initiative dedicated to systemic school redesign. Together, we share a commitment to a holistic redesign of the public school system that is student-centered, equity-focused and future-focused. School systems committed to those ends found natural synergies with Next Education Workforce team-based staffing models.  

More than 300 leaders from 58 school systems in 28 states joined us to explore Next Education Workforce models in a first-of-its-kind Learning Cohort. Superintendents and other systems leaders, including assistant superintendents, heads of human resources or teaching and learning, explored the core elements of the models, associated research outcomes and how the models fit into particular contexts.

It was all virtual over the course of five months, which allowed them to learn about team-based models in a low-stakes, exploratory way. They also had the option for personalized support via weekly office hours with an AASA liaison.

Some participants also traveled to Arizona to visit schools that had already implemented team-based models. We currently have 45 schools in Arizona with 480 educators and nearly 10,000 students learning in these models. The site visits allowed cohort participants to tour schools and talk with educators and leaders who had been in their shoes a few years ago. 

Q: How does ASU help schools and systems pilot Next Education Workforce models?

KS: Systems that decided they’re ready for team-based models can send school leaders — principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders and teaching coaches — to the Leader Launchpad. The cohort meets every other week to help school leaders make the decisions they need to make in order to be ready to launch this fall. Which school do they start with? How do they pick their first team? What outcomes do they want to prioritize? How can they use team-based models to prioritize deeper and personalized learning for students? 

We also help them build master schedules and reshape how a school day is used. We help folks think about how they use their space — and how to implement team-based staffing models without major construction and capital investments. But we also dream bigger: If they could raise money or had funds to use space differently — what might that look like over time and how does that work within school budgets?

We help them think through what teams need in order to work together successfully. When educators have data, shared planning time and autonomy to do their work, they can do what they need to do to help students learn. 

We also help them think about how to communicate about team-based staffing models with families and communities. They involve parents, staff and community members — sharing why they’re leading this change and how the community can shape how they build their individual pilots. It’s important to know that there is no “one” model. The work is contextual. The unique assets and needs of a community inform the design of team-based models in any given school. It looks really different from school to school. 

Q: What evidence is there that Next Education Workforce models improve experiences and outcomes for educators and students?

KS: Team-based models support educators. People like working in teams. People like having colleagues with whom to plan and share responsibilities, learn from, coach or support, or bounce ideas off of. 

I remember when I first walked into a classroom. I wasn’t prepared for it. In team-based models, teams only ask educators to do what they’re prepared to do. Novice teachers have support from experienced teachers. 

If my first job were as part of a team, my colleagues would have helped me. I would have been more effective for kids on day one because I wouldn’t have been asked to do more than I could handle. I’d get coaching and support with scaffolded responsibilities that grew as I grew. I’d be able to see other instructional models every day and learn from my team. It’s a better way to enter the profession. 

Those experienced teachers are also likely to be more fulfilled. They’re able to become leaders without leaving the classroom. It’s really exciting to be able to serve folks at multiple stages of their career. 

Our early research shows us that not only are teachers in these models more satisfied, but they also report higher levels of collaboration — both during planning and implementation. They feel that they have better relationships with students. There’s more time for rich relationships and building those bonds.

On the student side, we’re seeing some early indicators that suggest team-based models are associated with higher academic outcomes for students. When we compare students in Next Education Workforce models to those in a similar high school in the same district, the students learning with teams pass Algebra 1 at higher rates. We’re also seeing differences in reading. Third-grade students in Next Education Workforce models are projected to experience more reading growth in one school year than students in traditional models. 

Beyond the numbers, these learning spaces just feel different. You walk in and see kids smiling, engaged in higher-order thinking, and engaged in collaborative work. They’re not sitting at a desk filling out a worksheet. They’re learning skills that matter to them based on their interests. That joy and satisfaction are really palpable. 

Q: What challenges do school and systems leaders face when deciding to pilot Next Education Workforce models?

KS: The biggest question, once a school decides to pilot a team-based model, is, Where do I start? What’s my first step? Where do I go? What resources are available? It can feel like such a big change because it’s a total re-conception about how we educate kids. It’s an audacious goal and can feel really daunting. 

We’ve learned that the work starts small and moves at the speed of trust. So, you start by asking: Who are the folks who get inspired by innovation? Who is already demonstrating an aptitude for leadership? How can you bring together a diverse team with multiple skills, backgrounds and identities? If you select the right folks from the get-go, the work takes off. The motivation comes from seeing the results. 

Q: What are you learning from school and systems leaders across the country?

KS: We get to work with such amazing educators across the country. We’re constantly learning from them and what they share about what they need to move forward. 

We’ve learned that we must prioritize time and space for them to get together and learn from each other. We bring in school leaders — either live or via video — who made the same choices a year or two ago. They benefit from the dozens of schools and hundreds of educators that have gone through this process. They aren’t just early adopters, but innovators. Those who have gone before us are incredibly generous with their time and their learning and willing to share it with others.

Q: What’s next for schools currently designing pilots?

KS: The next stage is Summer Institutes. While educators partner with school leaders to provide input throughout the design process, Summer Institutes provide protected time for all of the educators on a team to plan for the upcoming year. 

The educator teams join us for four-day training in June or July and focus on their work together as a team and how to teach in a team-based model. How might you better deepen and personalize learning now that you are working together with a shared roster of students? How do you build team empathy and trust? How do you create student-centered learning conditions as a team?

We also have communities of practice that allow educators to deepen their team-based practices throughout the year. 

We’ve been really inspired by the level of interest and commitment from educators across the country. I’m so grateful that school systems want to innovate with us and want to be part of a movement to redesign how we staff schools. We’re really excited to work with them, learn from them and look forward to the day that visits to Next Education Workforce schools aren’t just happening in Arizona but all over the country.