BetterLesson April 2, 2018

Tackling the Teacher Shortage in Rural Schools


National Rural Education Association logoChattanooga, TN and Cambridge, MA – April 2, 2018 – As part of an effort to combat an acute teacher shortage in rural school districts, the National Rural Education Association (NREA) is partnering with BetterLesson to deliver one-to-one professional development to educators in some of the country’s most remote regions. Core to the effort’s success is helping teachers implement instructional strategies into their classrooms and give them the ability to reflect on how well they work.

BetterLesson has deep experience providing personalized coaching to teachers in rural districts from Central New York to Central California. District administrators report renewed enthusiasm, confidence and even joy among teachers who have worked with coaches.

“Rural districts are already challenged with attracting and retaining teachers due to a lack of local human capital, a lack of housing availability and a struggle to compete with salaries offered in urban districts,” said Dr. Allen Pratt, NREA Executive Director. “By working with BetterLesson to pair rural teachers with experienced peers, we are able to give them the kind of support they’re starved for – a fellow professional who understands their classroom experience, and who can empathize and be a supportive coach. This kind of personalized attention can help districts keep teachers engaged and excited about their work.”

The need for personalized training in rural districts is critical for teacher retention. Rural teachers cite a lack of professional development, or “PD,” as top a reason for leaving their posts. Studies show that the less training and support new teachers receive the greater the likelihood of their leaving their positions after their first year. Other research shows that when teachers have access to high-quality professional learning opportunities, along with time for collaboration and planning, and the ability to build professional relationships, they are more likely to stay in their positions.

Yet the cost of a dedicated staff person to provide in-person PD is prohibitive in many rural districts. This is due to several factors, including the distance between schools and a shortage of available substitutes to cover for teachers in training. Often they are the only teachers of their subjects and grade level bands in their districts.

BetterLesson solves the search for dedicated PD. Each educator receives ongoing, one-on-one sessions via video conference with an instructional coach, eliminating the need for staff to leave the district. Virtual coaching via video conference (as distinct from pre-recorded modules by subject matter experts) has become a critical solution for rural districts trying to give their teachers both collaboration partners and relevant, ongoing professional development. This is especially true in rural districts that are too small or underfunded to hire instructional coaches full-time.

BetterLesson coaching is ideal for remote, rural districts that sometimes feel that they are on their own,” said Michael Porter, Director of Teaching and Learning for Omak School District in Washington. “We find those who are participating in BetterLesson coaching on a regular basis have increased the number of teaching tools that they have at their disposal. Teachers who participate regularly are able to better address student needs.”

BetterLesson coaches are matched with teachers based on the teacher’s years of experience, subject area of expertise, grade level, and personality. Each pair meets one-on-one via video conference every other week to focus on specific problems of practice. Teachers regularly implement strategies introduced by their coach into their classrooms and engage in data-driven reflection during coaching sessions.

BetterLesson’s methodology has helped teachers across the United States to shift their practices toward personalized and experiential instructional models, address the needs of an increasingly diverse student population, and foster growth among teachers wherever they are in their careers. Its diverse set of customers includes small rural districts such as Lindsay Unified School District in Central California and the elementary school in Groton, New York, as well as large multi-campus urban districts like Manassas City School District. All share an urgency to help their teachers make a dramatic shift towards putting students at the center of their learning.

“We believe that all students, everywhere, must be prepared for a rapidly-changing world and that such preparation requires a massive shift to our educational system. While technology and curriculum are important, teachers are at the heart of this change. We are excited for the opportunity to help educators everywhere keep inspired about their work and especially to be able to positively impact rural communities,” said BetterLesson’s co-founder and CEO Alex Grodd.

This partnership directly supports three of the NREA’s advocacy and research priorities: teacher recruitment and retention; teacher preparation for rural schools, and technology integration to meet needs of rural schools.

The partnership between BetterLesson and NREA will support NREA members with thought leadership, professional development opportunities and the opportunity to participate in case studies that will help define what works in rural K-12 education.

Download our guide to Tackling Teacher Turnover to learn what works to retain teachers.

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