Teacher retention continues to be a top concern for school leaders. In Texas, HB 1416 (which updated and replaced HB 4545) requires schools to provide accelerated instruction to help students catch up if they performed poorly on the state assessment, the STARR. In some Texas districts this is having the unintended effect of adding to teachers’ workload, which can exacerbate teachers wanting to leave the classroom and contribute to the teacher shortage.
In a recent on-demand webinar “Supporting Texas Teachers: Time-Saving Resources for Spring and Beyond,” hosted by Boardworks Education, we spoke with Texas school administrators Dr. Chris Miller, chief academic officer at Blue Ridge ISD; Rami Tulp, assistant director of intervention at Katy ISD; and Yolanda Delaney, director of elementary school leadership at Canyon ISD. They shared strategies to comply with the requirements of HB 1416 while supporting teachers and actually lightening their workload:
1. Filling the content gaps
According to our panel, one of the best ways to support teachers is to provide resources that will help to fill gaps in teachers’ content knowledge rather than leaving them on an island to figure it out for themselves. Miller shared how in a small district like Blue Ridge ISD, teachers often have to stretch to support instruction in areas they may not be completely familiar with.
For instance, a chemistry teacher might have strong knowledge of chemistry content, but is also being asked to support biology instruction and might not be as strong in that area. With HB 1416 this can become even more of an issue. Tulp shared how at Katy ISD a physical education teacher who has a math background is also pulling students out a few times a day for accelerated math instruction per Texas HB 1416. The teacher hadn’t taught math in a few years and requested some support in creating engaging lessons for her students.
To help support these teachers, districts can set up frameworks that provide curriculum tools for every content area so teachers can easily access lessons that will fill their content gaps. And if a student isn’t understanding the content, or if a teacher needs to accelerate learning for a student who gets it right away, districts will have resources and a plan already in place for those teachers so they know exactly what to do.
At Blue Ridge ISD, Miller said, they created a curriculum management plan where the district brought in resources and wrote curriculum to fill gaps. The Boardworks lessons that the district uses, for instance, are aligned to and specifically state how they address Texas state standards. They are ready-to-go lessons that teachers can easily implement to support the content areas they might not be familiar with.
2. Supporting new teachers who don’t have teaching backgrounds.
In Texas and elsewhere, many districts are hiring teachers who don’t have a traditional teaching background. We discussed during the webinar the hypothetical situation of hiring a teacher who switched from a career at Best Buy to being a teacher. The teacher may have a bachelor’s degree, but will likely need additional support with some aspects of teaching that they may not have experience in. For instance, how to scaffold instruction for students who may be two or three grade levels behind—something that’s needed in order to support Texas HB 1416 requirements too.
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Again, having the right resources is key. Tulp shared that Katy ISD provides content in multiple grade levels so all the students can work on content at their grade level. The district uses Boardworks lessons because it’s easy for teachers, especially those who don’t have experience, to implement and scaffold the lessons. It helps new and non-traditional teachers feel supported and makes their jobs easier.
Teachers like the Best Buy teacher might not be knowledgeable about scaffolding, but, Tulp said, when you have (the right resource), “it’s totally life-changing. It provides the opportunity for those students to have access to good quality content, and their teachers feel so much more confident.”
Miller pointed out that this support also ties back to the teacher retention issue. “If we can say to that alternatively certified teacher ‘don’t worry, we have resources and a curriculum framework that are going to help you succeed,’ that might be the difference between them staying or going to a different district,” he said.
3. Protecting teachers’ time
An Education Week survey found that the typical teacher worked 54 hours a week, but only 25 of those hours were actually spent teaching. Teachers spend a lot of time on other tasks, including lesson planning. One of the best ways to support teachers and keep them from getting burned out is to find ways to give them back some of that non-instructional time.
Canyon ISD’s Yolonda Delaney shared that one of the challenges at her district was that teachers had smartboards in their classrooms, but didn’t have time to create lessons for them. Teachers were spending hours creating interactive lessons for students to use with the smartboards and it just wasn’t sustainable. For them they addressed the challenge by adopting ready-to-use lessons with built-in interactivity. So instead of spending time creating the lessons, the teachers could spend the time teaching.
“Lesson planning and lesson execution is hard. The time to get all of that done – there’s not enough,” Delaney said during the webinar. “So how do we provide them with resources and take that off their plate so they don’t have to create (the lesson,) but can still execute it well?”
She said providing a good supplementary resource has helped the district meet this need. In addition to adopting the lessons, Delaney also stressed the importance of having principals engaged in the lesson-planning conversations to make sure teachers understand what’s being asked of them instruction-wise, and what it looks like in the classroom. When everyone is on the same page and that support is there, it makes teachers jobs easier.
The bottom line, Miller said, is that schools have to provide quality instruction for students. Whether there is a teacher shortage, a substitute shortage, or both, district leaders need to be able to find solutions to keep their learning happening. Providing teachers with quality curriculum and resources that will help them fill content gaps, save time, and scaffold instruction to accelerate or extend learning, empowers them. It shows teachers—including new teachers, alternatively licensed teachers, and substitute teachers – that they are supported and are being provided with the tools they need to succeed. This support will go a long way toward helping students succeed and making sure great teachers stay.