A “Second Wind” For Turnaround Teachers

Today, we continue a series of guest posts by Betsy Doyle (Partner) and Nithin Iyengar (Consultant) in The Bridgespan Group’s Education Practice. Each Wednesday during the month of October, Betsy and Nithin plan to explore key priorities and promising practices from the field.  Many of the themes they find in their own conversations coincide with Mass Insight Education’s 3 Cs of turnaround: conditions, capacity, and clusters.  We invite – and encourage – you to join the conversation. This is the third in the series of blog posts on “Rethinking High School Turnaround.”  Last June, Green Dot Public Schools and Bridgespan convened a small group of education leaders focused on high school turnaround and transformation to share problems of practice and work together on solutions – all toward the ultimate goal of college- and career-readiness for every student.


For the education leaders who gathered in June, developing and sustaining teacher talent topped their must-do list.  They agreed that the job of a turnaround teacher is a daunting one, that retention is an urgent challenge, and that increased demand for experienced turnaround teachers (due in part to more districts and operators tackling this work) often exceeds the available supply.

So what might it look like to build a stronger, more sustainable pipeline of great turnaround teachers?

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked AUSL to double the number of teachers in its Chicago Teacher Residency (from 90 to at least 180) and to take on 6 additional K-8 turnarounds in fall 2012, AUSL leadership had an opportunity to tackle this question head on.

For the past decade, AUSL has developed and refined an innovative school transformation process, built on the foundation of specially-trained AUSL teachers.  Every year since its first turnaround school in 2006, AUSL’s average gains for elementary schools have more than doubled those of the Chicago Public Schools district.  AUSL’s teacher residency provides a full-year of training in a “training academy” classroom, under the guidance of an experienced mentor teacher.  After their residency year, most graduates go on to form the nucleus of the faculty at the new turnaround schools – today the network includes 7 training academies and 18 turnaround schools.  A dramatic increase in the number of resident teachers requires an equally dramatic increase in the number of mentors.

In responding to this growth opportunity, AUSL was able to recruit its own resident graduates to serve as mentors for the first time – an important milestone for an organization committed to both teacher development and school turnaround.  AUSL looked across the network and identified 94 home-grown teachers who had been in classrooms for at least three years and met a set of selection criteria, including performance on the Danielson framework.  Over six months, these teachers were trained to become mentors – and in fall 2012, each was paired with two new residents.

Early feedback from residents suggests that the chance to partner with graduates of the program is very motivating.  But the impact on the mentors and on AUSL’s residency program is even more profound. Resident mentors remembered from their training days what it was like to not get enough coaching or to not fully understand what a mentor was asking them to do.  A solution proposed was to move toward a more proactive model; rather than sitting in the back of the classroom with a notepad and providing feedback later, the mentor jumps right in – for example, co-teaching for a few minutes to demonstrate an instructional strategy in real-time.  “We’re moving toward a personal trainer relationship between the resident and mentor,” explains Michael Whitmore, AUSL’s Director of the Chicago Teacher Residency.  “The mentor is right in the action, giving feedback in the moment. They’ve really taken to this.”

Unlike other talent placement models, where teacher turnover after 2-3 years is common, AUSL believes accelerating student achievement in turnaround schools requires teachers committed for the longer haul.  For resident mentors, the chance to coach new colleagues and work in teams “has been an infusion of energy,” notes Whitmore.  “They’re having their second wind.”

AUSL’s early progress scaling its teacher residency model – at once training new teachers to hit the ground running while also motivating more experienced ones – offers promising lessons about what it might take to develop and retain great turnaround teachers.  Let us know what you think: what is compelling about this approach?  What challenges might AUSL face as it expands the residency?


Betsy Haley Doyle & Nithin Iyengar