The Learning Accelerator Blog/Researching, Developing, Integrating, and Guiding: TNTP Explores New Roles for Blended Learning Teachers

professional development research & measurement

Researching, Developing, Integrating, and Guiding: TNTP Explores New Roles for Blended Learning Teachers

by Beth Rabbitt on November 18 2014

Last week, and with TLA’s support, TNTP released a first version of guidance to help districts and schools rethink their human capital systems to support blended learning. The working paper, “Reimagining Teaching In a Blended Classroom,” summarizes the findings and ideas of their talented team, which were informed by visits to schools across the country and interviews with more than 60 practitioners and experts on the ground. I highly encourage anyone thinking about blended learning teacher talent to check it out. In addition to providing some really great general advice and some actionable tools you could put into practice immediately, there are many great examples and new ideas to ponder.

One of the findings that most sticks out for me is this: Blended learning doesn’t “redefine” the educator role. Rather, it creates opportunities for expanding the roles a teacher can play. We talk a lot about the ways blended learning can offer students more choice and customization in their learning, but less so about the ways it can open up new options for how teachers get to do their jobs. At a time when so many of us are trying to figure out what it is we’re asking of teachers in blended classrooms, as well as how to support them as they make changes, this is such an important idea that I wanted to dig in further.

TNTP looked at the many tasks teachers were undertaking in blended and personalized models and identified not one but three different buckets of work:

  • Research and development (R&D) of new online and offline tools and content to define instructional approaches.
  • Integrating content, approaches, and data coming from R&D and the classroom in order to plan out student learning pathways.
  • Guiding students dynamically along their learning process, providing in-time coaching, support, and content expertise.

TNTP’s Re-imagination of Blended Learning Teacher Roles

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Image credit: TNTP, “Reimagining Teaching in a Blended Classroom"

Put together, these three groups of tasks, which we can break into distinct roles, paint a more complete picture of what it takes for an educator to implement blended learning. TNTP unbundles and offers a more “chunk-able” frame for thinking about how the traditional aspects of teaching interface with newer ones. The paper also offers some great ideas for how we can think about the competencies and selection mechanisms for each, as well as some examples from the ground.

In practice, the roles TNTP identifies aren’t mutually exclusive; they are moderated by contextual factors like school design, existing expectations for teachers, and the capacity individuals are bringing to their jobs. For example, things like how much collaboration a teacher gets to do (and for what) can really affect what their work can be on a day-to-day basis.

In the context of most school systems, where staffing is more traditional and blended learning is not yet ubiquitous, teachers are taking on all these responsibilities by necessity. There are a few places, like Summit Public Schools, where leaders are bucking the one-size-fits-all teaching trend and offering differentiated jobs and pathways. But, for the most part, all three jobs remain squarely on teachers’ plates. It’s essential we recognize this fact and provide holistic supports, whether that be through targeted training and professional development or by using collaboration amongst teachers more effectively to create work economies like sharing the R&D load or intervention planning.

Current state aside, I’d love to us move past it. If we can customize student experience, why can’t we do so with teachers’? We should aggressively try to figure out ways to match our talent more clearly to our needs in blended models and our job opportunities to the aspirations and passions of our workforce. Could we use teaming and flexible assignments to ask some teachers to take on R&D for their grade levels, leading the tech piloting process, while focusing others on honing in-the-moment delivery and coaching to perfection? Could our planning rockstars and data nerds take more of the lead to look at student needs and help match personalized approaches across classrooms? It seems like we should be able to. This idea of letting educators specialize in what they are best at is something TNTP sees as part of a “new value proposition" for teaching, and it could be very powerful.

Taking this further, what if we asked every educator (current and future) what his or her dream job in the classroom would look like and then built career opportunities around those dreams? It’s a good bet that we’d see higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and retention, keeping our best and brightest working in schools for longer. The TNTP team also calls this out as an opportunity for bringing in new talent at a time when enrollment in traditional pipelines like schools of education is decreasing.

If we could use some of this “unbundled” thinking to transform the experience of an educator on the ground, we make a huge leap by using talent more effectively in schools. If we could try it out, we could also take on some other interesting experiments at the sector level to transform training and support. Here are two ideas I’m thinking about:

  • Target training by mimicking structures like medical resident rotations. We could use these three roles as the basis for offering teachers targeted learning opportunities throughout their careers to specialize or try out new jobs. At the novice end, we could replace the traditional student teaching experience with apprenticeship models that would allow new teachers to rotate through different roles under the mentorship of master experts in each domain. Once they identified the best fit based on interest and strengths, they’d receive a placement with a focused scope of responsibility. Over time, as teachers mastered these skills, they could add on or switch into new roles in later-career fellowships, becoming generalists. Or, they could take on new residents themselves as masters and specialize.

  • Organize and build a more robust foundation for codifying and sharing professional knowledge and learning. We tend to organize our knowledge and training around content area or grade level. It would be interesting instead to orient and build our expertise around these evolving roles, creating communities of practice oriented towards essential questions about how to do the work practically. For example, in R&D, could we more quickly share data on emerging technologies? Could we learn together how to pilot these technologies better? For integrators, could we collaboratively hone in on and build better data dashboards to facilitate planning? For guides, could we create coaching networks so that teachers could experience with peers what we’re asking them to be excellent at in practice with students?

What do you think? More ideas? Let us know! I’ll be reflecting on a few other ah-hahs on this blog and would welcome your thoughts.

About the Author

Beth Rabbitt is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to, and follow Beth @bethrabbitt.