New teaching roles: 6 innovations that may save the profession

Lead teacher and community learning guide are two "unconventional" positions that have the potential to flip the script on burnout and shortages.

New teaching roles that come with increased autonomy and time to forge deeper personal connections could be among the innovations that will rebuild educator morale in K12 schools, new research suggests.

Providing higher salaries, more precise professional development and clearer pathways for advancement—as many district leaders are now doing—should help repair the teaching pipeline.

But additional strategies are likely needed to reimagine the essence of teaching so as to make the profession “more fulfilling, joyful, and sustainable,” says the “Teaching, reinvented” report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

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“While new freedoms honored educators’ personal needs and interests, stronger relationships meant that they had greater insight into the needs and interests of others,” the researchers wrote of the teachers and innovations they have observed in schools. “They did not feel like cogs in a machine, but rather members of an authentic community.”

New teaching roles defined

The Center analyzed six new teaching roles that may be familiar to some K12 leaders as educators break away from traditional job descriptions. Some of these approaches are being tested in private schools and micro-schools but could translate to public K12 settings:

  1. Lead teacher: Acts as a mentor, curriculum developer and co-teacher for small teams of teachers, often in the same content area or grade level.
  2. Empowered teacher: Works with other teachers and administrators to set the academic calendar, dress code, student learning targets and other policies and structures.
  3. Team teacher: Works on a team with two to four educators and 50 to 80 students. The other team members may be pre-service student teachers, paraprofessionals or licensed teachers.
  4. Community learning guide: Creates community-connected learning experiences that may connect with students’ cultural backgrounds and the natural environment, sometimes in partnership with local businesses.
  5. Solo learning guide: Teaches independently, with five to 15 students, often as a standalone micro-school based out of the educator’s home.
  6. Technical guide: Leverages educators’ expertise in technical subjects like architecture, product design or robotics to design curriculum and guide student work. Often co-teaches groups of 10 to 20 students in a private school setting.

The researchers found nearly all the educators they encountered liked working in unconventional roles but the teachers also wondered whether the practices were sustainable long-term. Others had concerns about getting sufficient training and support due to the newness of the approaches.

Putting ideas into action

Administrators thinking of adding these new roles should “give educators more reasons to love their work.” That starts with giving teachers more control over customizing their curriculum and re-aligning course schedules so teachers have more time to collaborate with grade-level colleagues and participate on policy-setting committees.

Teachers who take on unconventional roles also need unconventional support as they develop new skills and become comfortable with new structures. Leaders also need to look at the “long-term trajectory” by preparing for when the trendsetters move on from the new roles and need to be replaced.

Those administrators who are experimenting with these new roles also need to assess how student achievement is being impacted. “While competitive compensation and benefits are critical, educators also want to be more intrinsically motivated by their jobs,” the researchers conclude. “Not only did autonomy and personal connection help foster ownership of their work and investment in their community, but it also helped them find meaning and fulfillment in jobs that oftentimes were more demanding than a regular teaching role.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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