Four innovative staffing takeaways from personalized learning schools

By: and

Mar 14, 2018

Through our research over the past few years, we’ve seen schools around the world adopt technology to amplify the impact of teachers and make learning more student-centered. And, while technology is a powerful learning resource, it’s not the only lever for helping students succeed. Increasingly, we also see schools experimenting with staffing arrangements—essentially, how adults are being utilized in the classroom—in an effort to further magnify personalized learning.

For the better part of the past year, the Christensen Institute has worked in collaboration with Public Impact, a national education policy and management consulting firm, to study how schools are implementing innovative staffing models in conjunction with blended learning to personalize instruction and improve student achievement.

To gain a deeper understanding of this trend, we scanned the field for promising examples, then conducted interviews with eight schools serving disadvantaged student populations to learn from their teachers, support staff, school leaders, and students about the unique models each school is championing.

We are excited to share our first set of case studies on these schools. The second set will come out April 10th. Below are some interesting themes we noticed during our research.

1. Non-teacher roles to increase student support

All schools we studied created positions for adults who are not licensed teachers to supplement the work done by the core teacher. At Brooklyn Lab Charter School (LAB) in New York, “fellows” and “residents” work under teachers and learning specialists to give extra support to struggling and advanced students. At Navigator Schools in Gilroy and Hollister California, small-group instructors help teachers give students more targeted instruction. In Clark County School District (CCSD) Franchise schools in Las Vegas, certified temporary tutors supervise blended-learning labs and provide small-group instruction. And Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in San Jose uses volunteer tutors to provide individual and small-group instruction, and math coaches take on some of the tasks that normally fall to teachers. In all instances, more adults in the classroom create more points of contact to support students.

2. Software to support better teacher-led instruction

The software is a tool that helps these staffing models succeed; from allowing for more small-group time to aiding collection of student learning data for differentiated instruction. LAB utilizes a platform called Cortex to provide teachers with a dashboard for tracking students’ learning progress, allowing them to identify where students need additional support and provide targeted instruction. In the CCSD Franchise schools, educators administer formative assessments using software to gauge students’ progress and adjust learning groups. Navigator’s teachers developed a set of common formative assessments through an online assessment platform that provides teachers data to target struggling students. The software at Cristo Rey generates reports on student learning data that guide how teachers organize small-group lessons and projects. While technology gives students some personalized instruction and practice, it also provides educators with insights on how to better meet their students’ learning needs.

3. Development and coaching programs to support teachers

These schools also utilized some form of teacher development or coaching to help teachers grow and improve. LAB has lead teachers that provide coaching to the resident teacher that works with them. In the Navigator Schools, both formal and on-the-spot coaching sessions are critical components of their approach. The CCSD Franchise schools use growth analysts to provide immediate support for teachers, as well as structured professional development seminars and events. Cristo Rey’s administrators observe teachers daily and set up weekly teacher coaching sessions. The coaching and development opportunities in each school ensure that teachers are constantly receiving feedback and support.

4. Talent recruitment pipelines to grow excellent educators

In addition to using staffing as a means to promote effective instruction, most of the schools also use their staffing arrangement to help them recruit and retain effective teachers. LAB created a teacher pipeline to bring in recent college graduates as fellows first, then as resident teachers, and finally as leaders of their own classroom. The lead principal at the CCSD Franchise schools created a “next man up” strategy that identifies and prepares high-performing current staff to move up to jobs as they become available in the schools. To ensure consistent instructional quality among its educators, Navigator Schools created a teacher pipeline that recruits small-group instructors, who transition into teachers-in-training, and eventually teachers. All of these schools realized that the best way to grow excellent educators was to train them internally.

We hope these case studies help other schools as they think creatively about how they might use staffing as another means to personalize learning. Keep an eye out for more case studies coming out in April that analyze a new set of schools and their innovative staffing practices.

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.

As a research assistant on the K-12 team, Luis supports research efforts around the changing roles of teachers in blended learning environments and teacher professional development.