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Can we design schools where teachers and students thrive?

Research on teacher work environment addresses the most promising collaborative opportunities for improvement

In order to fully support teachers as they mold students into tomorrow’s innovators, school leaders must create schools that empower teachers to grow and have meaningful collaboration, according to a new report from 100Kin10.

Too often, the authors note, leaders assume they must choose between student learning and teacher learning, focusing on one and ignoring the other. In fact, the two are connected; when teachers flourish, they are more satisfied and stay in their classrooms longer, leading to stronger instruction and greater student achievement.

During a two-year period, 100Kin10 developed the Grand Challenges, which created a roadmap of the underlying problems facing STEM education. It also identified 104 critical challenges and catalysts that, if improved, could be the impetus for the greatest STEM education improvements across the education system.

The report draws from three of those catalysts to address three major issues related to teachers’ work environments:
1. Relevant professional growth during the school day
2. Opportunities for teacher collaboration during the school day
3. School leader responsibility for creating positive work environments

100Kin10 intends the report to help “lay the groundwork and be the launchpad for diverse, coordinated, and mutually reinforcing efforts to improve school work environments.”

A number of components contribute to better integration of professional growth and collaboration:

  • One to two hours per week of consistent, frequent, intensive interactions between a coach and/or teacher leader and with collaborative teams
  • Formal roles for teacher leaders that are well-defined, with clear authority and accountability attached to the role, multiple roles in a teacher leadership career path
  • Clear, new roles for school leaders as supporters of teacher leadership, and through a distributed leadership model
  • Structures, tools, and resources that guide collaboration and professional growth activities and ensure they are relevant, meaningful, and actionable
  • Capacity-building and ongoing support for school leaders, teacher leaders, and teachers to effectively carry out professional growth and collaboration activities during the school day
  • A high-quality standards-aligned curriculum serving as a precondition of and foundation for teacher growth and collaboration activities

Research points to three key aspects of a principal’s role that have a direct impact on teacher working conditions:

  • Principals as overall school managers, ensuring administrative concerns are handled, systems and structures are in place to enable teachers to do their best work, and teachers have the resources needed to deliver effective instruction
  • Principals as instructional leaders, ensuring teachers have the support to master their craft and leadership is distributed to expert teacher leaders
  • Principals as drivers of a community and culture within their buildings, ensuring that they are great places for adults to work, with an overall sense of community and culture of mutual respect, collegial support, and collective ownership of vision and outcomes

One of the biggest challenges in improving the work environment for teachers is likely to be figuring out how to enable access to the promising practices for those who are in a position to incorporate them into their own efforts, the authors note.

The report offers a breakdown of actions to take now and in the future, organized by four different themes: shifting collective beliefs about schools, implementing structures that value teacher learning, equipping school leaders with additional capacity to create the structures that value teacher learning, and bringing more and flexible resources to districts and schools.


Do now: Engage communications expertise to develop messaging tools to talk to state and local leaders, school boards, teacher and principal preparation and support providers, and school leaders themselves about the importance of a strong work environment for teachers in schools and its impact on teacher retention, teacher satisfaction, effective instruction, and student learning.

Then build: Adapt messaging tools to local contexts and for their specific perspectives and needs.


Do now: Building on the research in this report, perform a landscape scan to consolidate evidence-backed school models that value teacher work environment, alongside student achievement.

Then build: Involve a subset of 100Kin10 partners and allies in a “micro-network” of districts, CMOs, and other school management and support groups to implement and test school models that value teacher work environments, based on findings from the landscape scan.


Do now: Perform a landscape scan including both secondary research and surveys with principals to identify the specific actions by principals that are most critical to building positive work environments.

Then build: Develop processes and systems that enable principals to capture data that help them understand if and how effectively they are employing the practices identified through the scan of school leaders excelling in building positive work environments.


Do now: Develop a cohesive set of materials and guidelines that encourage states and districts to use Title II formula funds to strengthen principal quality.

Then build: Connect and network organizations that are using these materials and guidelines to enable their effective implementation by sharing successes, acting as thought partners to overcome roadblocks, and serving as peer experts.

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Laura Ascione

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