Great educators have strived for centuries to deliver instruction and experiences tailored to individuals. However, the task has proven immensely difficult within our current education system to achieve in practice for every student, in every classroom, every day.
Our organization, The Learning Accelerator, focuses on ensuring every child in America has a highly effective, engaging, and equitable education. We develop open and free resources for school leaders and educators that contain specific and concrete instructional strategies, often centered around challenges educators and education leaders face in their schools, districts, and organizations, to help achieve this vision. We recently launched a three-part “Problem of Practice” series focused on supporting diverse learners with specific strategies from our Blended and Personalized Learning At Work site as well as research and insights obtained from the team at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
A key question we address in this series is how strategic staffing can better serve diverse learners. Supporting diverse learners within innovative models is key to ensuring an equitable education for all students. In order to allocate staffing to serve diverse learners (those qualifying for special education services/IEPs), we need to recognize, as a field, that we need more trained personnel in classrooms. This is especially true when working within a blended and personalized learning model. Without proper training, making decisions about technology, differentiation, and specific supports for diverse learners becomes incredibly hard for educators to do successfully.
We are excited to to see schools, districts, and charter organizations being more creative in how they hire, staff, and utilize teachers. Some of these new approaches focus on how to reinvent the role of the special education teacher. Others concentrate on providing additional training to general education teachers. We also applaud schools that work toward lowering the student-teacher ratio through creative hiring.
Reinventing the role of the Special Education Teacher
Mitigate Isolation for Diverse Learners
Traditionally, diverse learners are pulled out from classes to provide small group and one-to-one instruction in separate spaces.
This has been shown to improve learning, but can also cause students to feel isolated from their peers during those times, which can lead to social discomfort. In classrooms implementing personalized learning, we can reduce this isolation by allowing special education teachers to serve as additional supports for all students.
Diverse learners are supported on an ongoing basis alongside their peers, instead of being isolated, thus marked as “different.” By pushing-in to personalized classrooms, special education teachers have an opportunity to work with more students and can provide tiered levels of support as needed.
Additional Training for General Education Teachers
Better Support All Learners in the Classroom
In addition to rethinking the role of special education teachers, schools are rethinking training for general teachers to better support all learners. This is crucially important since diverse learners often spend the majority of their day in general education classrooms.
This is crucially important since diverse learners often spend the majority of their day in general education classrooms. This training can take several different forms. Schools can bring in experts from the community to facilitate discussion and professional learning on how to support diverse learners in classrooms.
Special education teachers can also be used to lead professional development for general education teachers on best practices in supporting diverse learners.
Creative Staffing to Lower Student-Teacher Ratios
Better Leverage Educators in the Classroom
Finally, schools and districts facing teacher shortages have had to get creative about staffing. There are a variety of approaches being implemented, including bringing in paraprofessionals, AmeriCorp members, teaching fellows and others to help fill in these staffing gaps.
By using flexible hiring strategies like these, schools are better able to leverage the educators in the classroom and provide opportunities to these additional nontraditional educators/professionals so they can develop important teaching skills through their in-class experiences.
If you are interested in learning more about these innovative staffing ideas, please visit our Problem of Practice series. If you have any thoughts or other ideas to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Jennifer Wolfe is a Partner with The Learning Accelerator. The Learning Accelerator (TLA) is a national nonprofit organization focused on ensuring every child in America has a highly effective, engaging, and equitable education that’s informed by data, personalized to their unique needs, strengths, and interests, and mastery-based.