How to scale 4 staffing innovations inspired by COVID

Replicating traditional brick-and-mortar instruction online had limited success for disadvantaged students, researchers say
By: | February 4, 2021

New staffing and scheduling models developed by by public and charter school educators to overcome COVID’s disruptions hold promise for improving education post-pandemic.

Strategies for sustaining and scaling these innovations are detailed in”Teaching Innovation: New School Staffing Strategies Inspired by the Pandemic,” a new report from FutureEd and EducationCounsel.

When schools closed, many districts tried to replicate traditional brick-and-mortar instruction online but had limited success, especially for the nation’s disadvantaged students, the authors of the report write.

Some schools and districts are “extending the reach of great teachers, leveraging co-teaching models and teacher teams in new ways, and creating more flexible student groupings and more student-centric classrooms—all with the goal of playing to teachers’ strengths, better serving students, and providing more support for educators,” they wrote.

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Here are some ideas for adopting these innovations:

1. Extending the reach of great teachers

Cadence Learning, a nonprofit formed by former public educators and charter school founders, contracts with local school systems and charter networks to bring high quality teaching to more students.

Cadence’s national teams of mentor teachers support support online instruction in partner schools, a majority of which or urban with high free and reduced-price lunch rates.

Mentor teachers deliver online lessons and lead class discussions while the partner teachers observe and work with individual students in breakout rooms.

2. Next-generation co-teaching

Achievement First, a network of 37 urban public charter schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, shifted its co-teaching teams online this school year.

In an EnglishLanguage Arts or math classroom, for example, one teacher leads the online lesson while second focuses on keeping students engaged and a third works in small groups with learners who need extra help.

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“Teachers have way fewer social interactions and connections, so just the social-emotional support and feelings of comradery and collaboration have been incredibly important,” Michael Rosskamm, a regional superintendent for Achievement First in Brooklyn, says in the report.

Achievement First built its co-teaching teams with of teachers-in-residence and other support personnel and increased class sizes modestly.

3. Abandoning uniform class sizes and time blocks

When the pandemic hit, Dream Charter Schools, a network of four schools serving 1,050 students in East Harlem and the South Bronx, provided live instruction, with limited screen time, to students in the earliest grades.

When its middle schools went remote, teachers formed teams of four (an ELA-social studies pair and a math-science pair) who now instruction entire grades.

The system is focusing on guided high school students to developing independence in preparation for college. Remote students attend larger lectures and spend the rest of their time working on projects with small groups.

4. New instructional cycle

The most radical model described in the report, according to its authors, is the personalized, student-centered approach developed at Kairos Academies, a new public middle school charter in St. Louis.

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The charter school operates on a seven-week cycle: Students attend class for five weeks and are off for two. Staff take one of those weeks off while the other is devoted to professional development and planning.

The model is designed to prevent student learning loss that can occur during extended school breaks. Staff have a regular cycle “to analyze and reflect on data, set goals, and adjust instruction,” the report says.

“With the cycle model, we operate in sprints, much like the technology industry,” Gavin Schiffres, the school’s founder and CEO, says in the report. “In a traditional calendar, you have kids in the building for such long stretches that as soon as there’s a break, everyone just wants to crash.”