America does not have a shortage of licensed teachers. It does, however, have a shortage of people who want to teach.

High pressure. Low pay. Little encouragement. More responsibilities heaped on each year. These are a few of the reasons the profession is bleeding personnel.

But that could change if educational institutions consider systemic and structural approaches that spark imagination, encourage collaboration and improve outcomes for both teachers and students.

The team-teaching model is one of the many insights that emerged at Next Education Workforce Summit 2022, a virtual conference hosted last week by Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“We need to think about school communities as teams. We have to think about how to build a team of adults around us that may include key school personnel and outside key personnel,” said keynote speaker John B. King Jr., president of the Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education during the Obama administration. “The important thing is that young people have powerful, positive relationships with adults who are helping them acquire the skills they need for long-term success. … We also need to think about how do we shift our culture to a continuous improvement culture.”

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In addition to King, other experts who led conversations about these topics — collaborative partnerships, school funding, policies, inclusivity, teacher retention, infusing tutoring in the classroom, workforce pipeline and team-teaching models — were Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association; Patricia Levesque, CEO of Excelin Ed; Bryan Hassel, co-president of Public Impact; David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and professor of education at Johns Hopkins University; Sarah Beal, executive director of US PREP; and Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

The two-day event, held Feb. 2–3, encouraged education practitioners, leaders and experts to explore how colleges of education and others are working in partnership with K–12 schools and communities throughout the country to design the Next Education Workforce.

The virtual summit attracted approximately 300 participants from public and charter schools, universities, think tanks, nonprofit organizations and foundations. These participants represented three continents; 38 states and the District of Columbia; 85 school districts; 60 institutions of higher education; 50 school support organizations; and 60 organizations who support education through philanthropy, government and media.

The summit was the outgrowth of work that the Teachers College has been pursuing for five years — work rooted in the recognition that the education workforce needs a total redesign that takes a team-based approach to instruction if school systems hope to retain teachers and improve outcomes for learners.

“When I said Next Education Workforce, I’m not talking about a generation from now. I’m talking about what we need to do right now to think differently about staffing our schools,” said Brent Maddin, executive director of the Teachers College Next Education Workforce initiative and organizer of the summit. “If we build teams of educators who have distributed expertise, we can leverage that to personalize and deepen learning not just for some kids, but for all kids. And if we arrange our profession and design our workforce this way, it creates new ways to specialize and to advance.”

According to a Learning Policy Institute report, teacher education enrollment has dropped by 35% in recent years. In Arizona, there are 35,000 people who are certified to teach but have opted not to ply their trade for a variety of reasons.

Domenech said schools around the nation are closing not because of fewer students, but because “the workforce is not there.”

“There’s going to have to be a shift, and we can no longer do things the way they used to be,” he said in a Feb. 2 panel discussion. “The team idea has such great promise and is a significant option. Great things can be done.”

Experts at the Teachers College have said for years the one-teacher, one-classroom model is outdated by a few centuries and was originally conceived for the industrial era. That’s why the college is working with school districts locally and throughout the country to adopt a different approach where students are served by teams of educators that include certified teachers, specialists and trained volunteers (called community educators) who can address individual learning needs.

Carole Basile, dean of the Teachers College, said this team-based model is a way to offer teachers “more flexibility in their classrooms, improve working conditions and also stop the isolation of teachers. With that comes advancement opportunities and all kinds of things that help us retain our teachers.”

This approach is no longer conceptual or a new “big idea.” Thousands of students are now being taught this way, and what the Teachers College started in 2017 is not just catching on, but catching fire.

Former Secretary of Education in the Obama administration John King Jr. (right) delivers the Next Education Workforce Summit 2022 keynote conversation with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Dean Carole Basile, via webcast, Wednesday, Feb. 2. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

The Mesa Public School District, which educates more than 60,000 students and is the largest in Arizona, has been struggling to retain full-time teachers, substitutes, paraeducators and staff. The district is now building Next Education Workforce models in 19 of the district’s schools. These models establish teams of educators that share rosters of students and adapt instruction to meet the individual needs of each student, leveraging expertise among certified teachers, paraeducators and other adults in an educational role.

“What was most important in the Mesa Public Schools community is that our students, when they walk across that graduation stage, that they have had experiences from preschool all the way to 12th grade, so they will not just graduate but be ethical, inclusive and resilient,” said Andi Fourlis, superintendent of Mesa Public Schools. “And then when you see those skills, you’ll also see someone who is a collaborator, a community contributor, a creative thinker and innovator, and a problem-solver. … That’s what our business community is asking for.”

Fourlis said the collaboration with the Teachers College has been so successful she hopes to incorporate Next Education Workforce models in 50% of her district’s schools by 2023.

In breakout sessions on Feb. 3, nine schools offered anecdotal testimony on how they’ve incorporated team-based models into their classrooms.

One of them was the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, a school in Clovis, California, that serves students from two districts. Teachers there say they enjoy collaborative teaching experiences and witnessing student achievement.

They do this by combining rigorous academics with technical, design, entrepreneurial and critical-thinking skills. Classes are taught by three rotating instructors in chemistry, physics and English.

Dave Watson, CEO of the center, said students benefit greatly from this model.

“After their experience at our school, students walk away feeling as if they can accomplish anything.”

And at Bronx International High School in New York, a culturally diverse institution that educates approximately 400 students — most of whom have been in the United States for less than four years — a new design is also making a big difference in student outcomes. Teachers there are broken up into “academic teams,” and students work on interdisciplinary projects with various instructors.

Their approach to teaching and student assessments are done in a collaborative manner, according to science instructor Jesusa Merioles.

“We meet twice a week and visit each other’s classrooms so that we can address a myriad of problems,” said Merioles, who has been at the school for almost a dozen years. “Student achievement is the bottom line as teachers, both individually and as a team.”

Maddin, who organized and hosted this year’s event, said the summit was successful on many levels. This included the presentation of the content, the number of participants, the exchange of ideas and the networking opportunities afforded to those who virtually attended.

“We think next year’s summit will be even bigger,” Maddin said. “We are excited by number of national partners who are committed to building more sustainable staffing models in schools that produce better outcomes for both educators and learners.”

Learn more about the Next Education Workforce and review the 2022 Next Education Workforce Summit.