Monday, January 28, 2013

Professional Specialization for Educators Emerging from Next Generation Models

Online and blended programs are changing the learner experience by flipping, flexing, and rotating the classroom experience around online/individualized learning. Educators in these programs are adapting professional practices to support the new models, sometimes figuring it out as they go. Some of the more innovative school models are abandoning typical features of schools, such as schedules, grade levels, and classrooms, in order to optimize a learner-centric design. Some models also recognize the need for new professional roles to support the different uses of time, physical space, and modes of learning.

One example is the model used by Cornerstone Charter Health High School in Detroit. The school, a Next Generation Learning Challenges grantee, recognized the need for professional specialization to support individual student learning absent of grade levels and class schedules. Instead of one-size-fits-all classroom teachers, Cornerstone has specialists:

  • Relationship Managers ensure students set and meet their daily, monthly, and yearly goals. Similar to a traditional guidance counselor, relationship managers follow a student from enrollment to graduation, helping students craft their individual learning plans and use student data and feedback to ensure students stay on track toward their goals. Relationship managers are the primary contact for parents and guardians. 
  • Relevance Managers provide direct instruction and support students in the design and evaluation of real-world projects and internships. 
  • Rigor Managers oversee online coursework, providing support and setting standards for mastery. 
  • Success Coaches work to help students make the transition to college and career, providing practical advice as students consider life after graduation. 

It is too early to tell whether this is an effective model of professional specialization for the student-centric model, since the school just started in 2011. Other organizations are piloting other models in hopes of optimizing the use of human resources for optimized student learning. Some universities offering scaled online courses have teams of instructional designers, licensing managers, counselors, staff trainers, adjunct professors, and process managers to ensure fidelity of implementation when different students will take the same course with different professors at different times.

This shift to learner-centric models and new educator roles raises questions about educator preparation and certification for these emerging roles.

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