Opportunity culture offers teachers flexibility and support through team-based model

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December 03, 2021
Meghan Ensell

The country experienced a “hangover” from the last workforce-oriented push in education, which focused on teacher evaluation and within that, far too much on ridding schools of the least effective teachers, says Bryan Hassel, co-president of Public Impact, an education policy and management consulting firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“The risk that education advocates would drop talent and workforce as a focus? No. Teachers are still the most important school-based factor in student learning, and that won’t change any time soon,” he says. “So what’s next?”  

Hassel is one of 22 education leaders who will be featured at the Next Education Workforce Summit 2022, hosted by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, in February. The virtual event, which will take place over a day and a half, will bring together education leaders, practitioners and experts, and provide the opportunity to collaboratively redesign the education workforce. 

Here, Hassel shares how Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture initiative — which seeks to put high-quality teachers in front of more students, give every educator greater career opportunities and support, and redesign schools into small teams led by multi-classroom leaders — intersects with the Next Education Workforce. 

Q: What is one thing would you most like to tell readers about your work?

Hassel: Third-party studies have found that, on average, teachers who joined Opportunity Culture multi-classroom leaders’ teams moved from producing 50th percentile student-learning growth to 77th percentile student learning growth — adding an extra .2 to .8 years of learning in reading and an extra .3 to .7 years in math.

The Next Education Workforce is a big idea. It's about teams of educators coming around students to deliver on the promise of deepening and personalizing learning for all students. What connections do you see between your work and the Next Education Workforce?

Tons of connections! In Opportunity Culture, schools form teams of three to eight teachers, led by a multi-classroom leader (MCL), an excellent teacher who continues to teach, earns more (20% above the salary schedule on average) and helps the whole team deliver great teaching. These teams also include paraprofessionals and teacher residents who can (among other roles) provide abundant small-group tutoring to students so that every student’s personalized needs are met.

What have you seen in your life and your work that has convinced you we need a different model of schooling and learning?

I’ll actually invoke Public Impact’s other co-president, Emily Ayscue Hassel, here. Prior to leading the invention and development of Opportunity Culture, she worked in several different professions, like law, consulting, and nonprofits. No other profession does what the education profession does: have professionals, including novice ones, work largely alone, doing all of the work, on day one — and then throughout their careers. Every other profession groups people into teams and differentiates roles within the teams so everyone can make their biggest contribution. Emily created Opportunity Culture to bring that same professional model into schools.

What approaches have you seen used by school and district administrators who are successful in creating systems-level changes to educator staffing models? Can you give us a specific example?

Here’s one: Make staffing models sustainable from the start. The education landscape is littered with initiatives that worked well at a small scale from the beginning and then died once the funds ran out. The good news is if schools have some flexibility over use of funding and positions, they can fund staffing model changes from day one. 

What about the education policy landscape needs to happen — or stop happening — for the U.S. to achieve sustainable, equitable gains in learning outcomes? 

Ultimately the big changes needed are in schools. If we want to see big shifts toward X (you pick the X), we’re much more likely to succeed if schools are organized into teams with strong leaders. Otherwise, the shift has to happen teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom. If you’re trying that at scale, how’s that going for you? That said, education policy can still play a couple of key roles:

  • Sweeping away barriers to school- and system-level innovations. Policies related to funding line-items, inflexible position allotments, rigid class size limits, “line-of-sight” requirements for certified teachers, and others can make it harder for schools to shift toward teams. Sometimes these are just perceived barriers, but when they’re real, scrap them. There’s no evidence that any of these policies are nearly as important as giving teachers the power of MCL-led teams.

  • Funding transition costs. New staffing models can be sustainable on regular budgets, but schools need help making the switch. Systems need to hire people or engage technical assistance providers to help — and that costs money, temporarily. Federal and state policymakers can fund this, and ask in return, the systems and schools make substantial and financially sustainable shifts towards new models that reach across whole schools and districts.

Enjoyed the conversation? 

Hear more from Bryan Hassel at his featured expert sessions at the Next Education Workforce Summit on Feb. 2, 2022.