Innovative Approaches to Building Teacher & Leader Capacity

Last week, I attended the Closing Opportunity & Achievement Gaps conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Center on School Turnaround, Council of Chief of State School Officers, and the National Center for Systemic Improvement, and several of the presentations have stuck with me. One of those presentations was by Bryan Hassel of Public Impact and Scott Thompson from DC Public Schools. Bryan provided great information on the Opportunity Culture Initiative and presented innovative approaches to getting the most highly skilled teachers in front of the greatest number of students. Scott followed Bryan with some examples of policies and practices DCPS has implemented to improve teacher quality and retention. Below, I’ll highlight some of the pieces that I found most interesting:

  • DCPS launched a new program, called the Strategic School Operations program, to create new positions in schools that focus on the operational aspect of school relations. This allows the principals to focus on the instructional part of the school. These two leaders must work together to run the school, but the pilot program saw strong results. Scott reflected that before the position was created, school leaders spent almost 50% of their time on operations, and within 4 months, that percentage dropped to 20%. The positions were funded with existing budgets by reorganizing existing staff and FTE positions. The model was developed after looking at key components of successful charter school models. This is a model that should be closely watched and likely replicated in schools and districts across the country.
  • As a result of the SOS program, teacher satisfaction improved as schools are better managed (i.e. they don’t run out of paper, copy machines are fixed, busses run on time) and they receive more support (i.e. principals actually have the time to support and mentor teachers with job embedded professional development).
  • DCPS talks about transactional vs. transformational change – with an emphasis on transformational change.
  • DCPS has experimented with increasing base salaries and offering bonuses and has found that increasing base salaries is much more impactful than offering bonuses (even substantial ones). Scott Thompson stated, “People don’t make life decisions based on bonuses.”
  • Teacher candidate quality drops drastically as the hiring window moves along, e.g. the teachers hired in May are found to have much higher capacity and effectiveness than the teachers hired in August. As a result, schools and districts need to develop practices and policies that allow for the most in need schools to hire earlier (such as bonuses for teachers to alert the district of their non-renewal by an early deadline, preferential treatment in the candidate pool, etc).
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