Why teams? The power of distributed expertise

Logo of Next Education Workforce Summit with circle graphic of student and educators
February 16, 2023
Kelly Jasper

“All industries work in teams; why hasn’t education done that?” It was a common question among participants at the 2023 Next Education Workforce National Summit and one addressed in a keynote presentation from a lead scientist of an interplanetary NASA mission.

The fifth annual event brought together education leaders and practitioners to highlight how educators, schools and systems are integrating team teaching, leveraging technology and incorporating community educators to redesign the educator workforce.

The February event, hosted by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, featured more than 80 speakers and hosted more than 400 attendees from 38 U.S. states and several countries. They represented more than 35 higher education institutions, 80 school districts and systems, 50 school support organizations and 45 education supporters, including philanthropists, journalists and policymakers. 

Keynote speaker Lindy Elkins-Tanton joined Dean Carole Basile for a keynote discussion on the value of distributed expertise and innovations in staffing at her NASA mission, Psyche. 

The Psyche mission leverages a team of more than 500 individuals to land a spacecraft on a unique metal-rich asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. 


Kira Orange Jones, Chief Executive Officer of Teach Plus, joined Elkins-Tanton for a panel discussion following the keynote.

“I love that we’re bringing in examples of teaming in other sectors, including planetary science. Humans have always worked in teams starting with family units. Over the years, teaching has become an incredibly isolating profession with each teacher in each classroom and no time to collaborate,” Orange Jones said. “At Teach Plus, we believe teams are most effective when led by teacher-leaders and the team should look at data and have opportunities to collaborate and work constantly on getting better together.”

The Summit reflected the growing national interest in redesigning the educator workforce — work led and supported by MLFTC’s Next Education Workforce™ initiative, along with partners and peers. Over the past four years, the initiative has grown from a single pilot in one Arizona school system into a national network of school systems exploring and launching Next Education Workforce models. 

To date, 45 schools from 10 school systems are currently building Next Education Workforce models, which are grounded in common elements but flexible enough to adapt to the priorities and needs of communities. 

An additional 87 school systems from more than two dozen states learned about Next Education Workforce models in an inaugural Learning Cohort last year. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, teamed up with the college to offer a first-of-its-kind cohort to introduce school system leaders to Next Education Workforce models. Those systems are now sending their principals and school leaders to a series of virtual sessions to prepare them to launch Next Education Workforce pilots in schools across the country next academic year. 

The Summit also highlighted research outcomes associated with Next Education Workforce models, innovations in teacher preparation, professional learning communities, technology and more. Sessions included:

Partnering with Communities to Address Complex Student Needs
Malika Ali of
Highlander Institute and Karla Arevalo of Rhode Island’s Central Falls School District shared how a partnership between the institute and district is activating community educators, substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. In addition, the session highlighted the district’s human capital challenges and new ways school and systems leaders can actively design new staffing models that support social-emotional learning and academic growth. One attendee remarked, “I attended Highlander's session Partnering with Communities to Address Complex Student Needs. I was blown away by the idea of using Pod teams to create this safe space for the incubation of student voice/recovery/development and an intersection for the collaboration of parents and families.”

Beyond the Walls: Using Technology to Expand Teaching Teams Beyond Space & Time
Amanda Kocon and Sarika Simpson of Edmentum explored how technology can enable schools to increase teaching capacity and build a team of educators with distributed expertise. The discussion provided insight into how educators can leverage technology as part of Next Education Workforce models and highlighted the partnerships between virtual and in-person educators. 

Using Teacher Residency Programs to Build Community and Capacity
Violet Ford and Ashley Fellows of The Learning Accelerator shared research on the first-year impacts of Lindsay Unified School District’s “grow-your-own” residency program. Among the findings: fostering collaboration between mentor teachers and residents helped increase overall instructional capacity. Session participants also discussed how developing mentorship skills among teachers opens the door for new educator leadership opportunities through team-based teaching models such as the Next Education Workforce model.

Day two of the summit featured panels of district leaders, lead teachers and early career educators and presentations from schools implementing Next Education Workforce models and other staffing innovations. View school spotlights to learn more about team-based models in various contexts. 

A couple of weeks ago, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten visited a few of those schools. 

“She kicked off a nationwide tour to help introduce a big idea — Raise the Bar: Lead the World, a set of initiatives from the United States Department of Education. She kicked off this work in Mesa, Arizona, where we’re lucky enough, with Mesa Public Schools, to be arm-in-arm building new staffing models,” Brent Maddin, executive director of the Next Education Workforce initiative, told Summit participants. 

One of those initiatives aims to boldly improve learning conditions by eliminating the educator shortage in every school. 

“Solving the educator shortage is key, but I’d ask that we’d go a step further,” Maddin said. “We will not have solved the right problem if we’re eliminating teacher shortages, but we are not addressing inequitable access to deeper and personalized learning. 

“We have not solved the right problem if we don’t address the lack of educator diversity. And we have not solved the right problem if, quite frankly, we have a person in every classroom, but the conditions are undesirable and unsustainable. That’s why we’re building a Next Education Workforce. We’ll be able to deliver on the promise of deeper and personalized learning for all students, and we’ll empower educators to work jobs they don’t want to leave.”

Learn more about the Next Education Workforce.

Register for the 2023 Leader Launchpad.
Principals and school leaders: Join us March–May 2023 and learn to design school pilots for the next academic year. Learn more.

Or, save your seat for the 2024 Summit.
Save the date for Feb. 7–8, 2024 or register now.