One way to keep teachers enthusiastic about their jobs is to provide new ways for them to improve their craft. Better yet, pay them to engage in professional development that fits into their busy lives. Teachers in Bellwood School District 88 just outside Chicago are now earning micro-credentials in blended learning and other skills necessary for student success in a post-COVID, future-ready classroom.
Superintendent Victoria Hansen launched the PD initiative at the outset of the pandemic when she was the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. She realized the overnight shift to virtual learning would put intense pressure on teachers to adjust to conducting class on a screen. She also expected that even after students returned in person, some instruction would remain virtual and blended. Most importantly, teachers were crying out for support in navigating the new world of online learning.
“It’s a way for me to let teachers know that I believe in them, that I trust them and that I want to provide as much support as I possibly can,” Hansen says. “I know the hard work they were doing, and it was important to me to let them know I respected their craft.”
The online BloomBoard platform allows Bellwood’s teachers to work at their own pace. Teachers receive a $500 bonus for earning a micro-certification when they complete a series of micro-credentials in a certain skill or discipline. They can also earn college credits. “The teachers who have completed a micro-certification, they want more and more,” Hansen says. “They see the children thriving. They see their students really utilizing some of the tools they’ve taught them to use.”
Hansen has also expanded instructional coaching so teachers who’ve earned micro-certifications can model the benefits for their colleagues. One of those coaches is Nora Silva, a fourth-grade bilingual teacher who has completed the blended learning course. The micro-credentials included engaging students virtually and building better relationships with parents. A key to the program is that teachers have to show they are using their new skills effectively in the classroom before the micro-credentials are awarded, Silva says.
Bellwood’s teachers are learning how to show students to self-reflect and take ownership of their own education. “The students are the ones guiding the discussions on what they want to learn–sometimes it’s academics and sometimes it’s something within themselves they want to work on,” Silva says.
Removing hurdles and barriers
Amidst the current staff shortages plaguing K-12 education, there are yet more potential teachers who are facing too many hurdles to earn their classroom credentials, says Jenny Jordan, executive director of the new TeachStart, a new service created by Scoot Education. In California and Arizona, the company is working to remove the barriers of affordability and time for working parents and other adults who want to pursue a career in education.
The company, which is working with more than a dozen districts, starts its would-be teachers as full-time substitutes. They receive salaries and benefits as they work toward a debt-free teaching credential, says Jenny Jordan, TeachStart’s executive director. These teaching candidates also receive paid time off for professional development. “From an administrator’s lens, we’re aiming to solve a few problems: the acute substitute shortage and the teacher pipeline,” Jordan says. “This will get you more substitutes today and grow the pool of educators for tomorrow.”
One district she works with used to be able to fill almost all of its substitute needs but now can only do so about two-thirds of the time. That means a significant number of students are sent to the gym to watch a movie or crammed into another classroom when their teachers are out. Also, 60% of substitute teachers across the nation enter classrooms with little to no training, Jordan says.
TeachStart works with its partner districts to determine their needs for teachers, including which skills to target in professional development. Popular topics at the moment are supporting the whole child and social-emotional learning. These approaches should help children move past the trauma they’ve experienced over the past few years. “Substitutes often get the brunt of challenging behaviors so we’re helping our educators navigate that,” Jordan says.
TeachStart’s credentials are offered through Alliant International University, a private business school based in San Diego that also provides scholarships for the program’s students. The company also gives its graduates a placement bonus when they are hired by a school. This assistance leaves the student with a credential and a bill of $4,000. The company is able to support students through a mix of philanthropy and district fees, which administrators often pay out of their budgets for substitutes, Jordan says.
TeachStart also intends to help districts and charter schools diversify their teaching teams. About 75% of its participants are of color compared to just about 20% of the current K-12 workforce.