Monday, August 9, 2010

It happens in teams (a turnaround model?)

Boston is creating teams of veteran teachers to lead improvement in their weakest schools.  They're recruiting people to take challenging jobs with a full teaching load plus mentoring responsibilities, with a commitment to having them start work as a group rather than as isolated individuals.  The New York Times shares some key elements of the process:

Asked about applying to one of the city’s 12 turnaround schools, Lisa Goncalves, a first-grade teacher with seven years’ experience, said, “I’d be hesitant to go alone.”
And that is the simple idea behind a new program that is being used to staff three of the turnaround schools in Boston: you don’t go alone. Rather than have the principal fill the slots one by one, the Boston schools have enlisted the help of a nonprofit organization, Teach Plus, to assemble teams of experienced teachers who will make up a quarter of the staff of each turnaround school come fall.
“It’s like jump-starting a culture at these schools,” said Carol R. Johnson, Boston superintendent of schools. “In turnaround schools, you often wind up with a high portion of first- and second-year teachers, so you need some experience, a team of teachers who are enthusiastic and idealistic.”
Said Celine Coggins, the chief executive of Teach Plus, which developed the idea and is financed by the Gates Foundation: “I think teachers want to know they’re not going into a school alone as a hero.”
The teams will spend two weeks working together this summer. While teaching a full load, they will serve as team leaders for their grades and specialty areas like English immersion. They will work 210 days versus the normal 185 and get paid $6,000 extra a year.
On average they have eight years’ experience.
There were 142 applicants — from as far as Arizona, Florida and Nevada — for the 36 positions. Everyone offered a job took it. Sixty-eight percent came from Boston public schools, 18 percent from charter schools.
Because I think engaged colleagues are crucial to each teacher's ongoing growth, this model strikes me as full of promise. It's also full of peril: the teachers are forming their team from scratch and will need to move from there to forming strong relationships with the school's current staff and other incoming teachers, and the article makes it clear that the effort does not have full political trust and support behind it.

Especially important, the idea began with actually hearing what educators say over and over again about their own motivation:
The idea for inserting teams of experienced teachers came from teachers. In 2007, Teach Plus created a group of 15 teaching fellows, searching for ideas for turning around schools. The second most important thing they mentioned was a strong principal; the first, a team of effective teachers.
“We thought like teachers,” said Melanie Allen, a fellow, who’s a nine-year veteran of Boston schools. “We wanted to be surrounded with a group of equally collaborative and dedicated teachers with open doors. We wanted to create a tipping point that would inspire the school culture."
Definitely an approach to watch!


  1. Susan-is there a differentiated salary schedule for those teachers taking these challenging, albeit rewarding assignments?

    Yes, one of the keys to turn around is an experienced faculty that is willing to stay in assignment for 4-5 yrs-

  2. They'll receive an added $6,000 a year. The article didn't say this, but my hunch is that the added money is pretty much equivalent to some standard pay rate for added time on the job, rather than higher pay for a higher level of contribution during regular hours.


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