All staff must assume responsibility for all students. We must support students based on their needs, not a label. And staff must support students based on the staff members’ availabilities and expertise, not their job title or funding source. When any staff member, from tenured teachers to paraprofessional, receives the continuous support and resources needed to serve students, then they must be systematically and specifically deployed to meet students’ needs.

We all lament that there are not more staff to serve students and recognize that students would greatly benefit from additional staff. In our leadership roles, we have all reallocated the expenditures of fiscal resources to increase, even slightly, the number of educators providing direct supports to students. In the end, however, we must create successful systems of supports with the staff we have. When planning for which staff members will mentor, facilitate, and monitor student learning, we follow these principles:

  • We commit to using staff in innovate ways (to complement the innovative ways that we utilize times, as described in the previous section.
  • Staff may need to work with multi-age groups.
  • Staff may need to work with larger groups of students during a given period of time so that they or their colleagues can work with smaller groups of students.
  • General education staff must serve all students in fully inclusive environments.
  • Special education staff must serve all students, regardless of label or the funding sources to which a student’s label or staff member’s funding source may be tied – as long as the students to whom these special education staff are primarily assigned are receiving exceptional service.
  • Staff must change the what, how, and why of grading – if we continue to evaluate students on the number of points they earn, and not on what they learn, staff will be overwhelmed and reluctant to innovate; if we do not involve students in self-assessment, staff will be overwhelmed and reluctant to innovate; if we do view learning as continuous and require (not simply allow) students to recomplete work and assessments that they have missed or for which they have not demonstrated adequate levels of mastery, the inculcation of continuous improvement and growth mindsets will not be achieved.

We can deploy staff in innovative ways that allow for staff to better meet student needs. It’s far more a matter of will than skill. We use the follow process to uncover new and creative ways in which staff can be made available to provide highly-specialized and personalized supports to smaller groups of students, all while respecting contractual agreements. We…

  • List all staff (admin, teachers, paraprofessionals)
  • List times (e.g., 8:00-8:30) or periods (e.g., Period 1, Period 2) across the top of the table
  • Have ALL staff record their specific duties during each time span (e.g., making copies, providing phonics support, teaching biology)
  • And analyze…

…Identify times during which staff can provide supplemental supports.

…Identify staff that can re-prioritize their duties so that they, or others, can provide supplemental supports during the prescribed time period.

…Engage in dialogue that will result in using staff more efficiently AND in allowing staff providing more and highly-specialized supports to more students.

When staff’s time is analyzed, and when staffs collaboratively and flexibly determine new ways to organize themselves on behalf of students, students with significant deficits in foundational skills will receive the highly-specialized supports they need to be successful by dedicated educators. And students who are currently meeting and exceeding the school’s expectations will be guided by dedicated educators within opportunities to exercise choice over the what and how in pursuing the passions into which they will dive deeply.

It may be temporarily uncomfortable when staffs’ days and duties to be different than they’ve been. Ongoing supports will be required and we must determine the efficacy of our changes and make adjustments as necessary, but there is simply no way we can provide superior and more personalized supports to students if we do not reconsider the ways in which staff is deployed to serve student needs.

When engaged in the challenging work of re-allocating your precious human resources to provide more direct and impactful supports to students, don’t forget one of the most under-utilized and research-based assets on your campus: the students themselves. Peer tutoring, particularly when students receive coaching and structures to support them in the role, serves all students – both the tutor and the tutee (Hattie, 2009, Wiliam, 2016).

-Chris Weber



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