The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

In late summer 2015, I sat at my desk with a list of names, email addresses, and a task that I was certain would be impossible. Just days before schools across the country would open their doors to a new school year, I needed to set up interviews with teachers to learn more about the innovative work they were doing. Thinking back to my own years teaching in the classroom, I doubted that any of these teachers would have time for a two-minute bathroom break, much less a one hour phone call with someone they had never heard of.

To my delight, two months later, I had 100 pages of notes from interviews with 77 teachers and administrators from all over the country. Not only had these teachers squeezed spare time out of planning and after-school meetings, they had inspired me with a joy and enthusiasm that is often expected to be lacking in conversations about the teacher profession.

At KnowledgeWorks, we’ve spent the past few years researching how to support an education system that puts individual student needs at its foundation. We’ve been actively shaping federal policies that enable personalized learning. We’ve learned from districts that have been leading the movement towards student-centered instruction. We’ve also worked with school districts to identify which state policies are barriers or enablers for scaling personalized learning.

This work opened the door for us to partner with the National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) and to consider the implications of personalized learning on another level of the education system: the teachers who spend every day with our students. We wanted to understand how the personalized learning actually plays out in a classroom, and we wanted to know what it takes for teachers to shift practices that have been the norm for generations. After several months of interviews, poring over the interview notes, and identifying big picture implications for the teaching profession, we are eager to release a paper summarizing our findings today. You can download the paper here.

The teachers who contributed to the research included veteran teachers who were re-energized by their new approach to teaching, cautious teachers who weren’t sure about new approaches their colleagues were taking, and grab-the-bull-by-the-horns teachers who took professional risks and devoted a significant amount of personal time to finding new ways to reach all of their students.  In conjunction with the paper’s launch, we are reconnecting with several of the professionals interviewed and making space on our blog for them to share their story in their own words. We look forward to the conversations that will emerge as education professionals across the country consider the cost and benefits of a transformed system that strives to meet the needs of every single student.