Educator Environment Improvements in Disadvantaged Schools

Teachers in high-poverty schools tend to rate the conditions at their school more poorly than teachers in more affluent schools. Enhancing the educator environment is an important strategy for addressing equity. Working conditions include the following:

  • Teacher workload and levels of collaboration among the staff
  • School atmosphere, including student behavior and motivation as well as community and parent engagement
  • Opportunities for teacher growth and instructional leadership
  • Supports for teacher growth and development through mentoring and professional development
  • Physical building conditions, including classroom safety
  • Relationships with local teacher and leader associations
  • Accountability pressures on teachers and leaders

What Can I Do to Support Equitable Access to Great Teachers and Leaders?

Strategies to Consider

  • Support a Focus on Instructional Leadership

    Ensure that local education agencies focus on supporting instructional leadership in high-need schools to provide teaching staff the working conditions they need to succeed for improved teacher recruitment, development, and retention. 

  • Empower Teacher Leaders

    Empower teacher leaders to collaborate on curriculum and data and to provide constructive feedback to peers. 
  • Focus on School Staff Perceptions of Working Conditions

    Conduct working conditions surveys, focus groups, and interviews among teachers, other instructional staff, and students, and encourage school leaders to use the resulting data to focus and improve their school improvement plans and their own leadership performance. Research continues to show that working conditions influence a teacher’s decision to stay in or leave a school and sometimes the profession. Research also shows that working conditions can affect teacher effectiveness. 

  • Improve Working Conditions to Recruit and Retain Educators

    Improve working conditions to attract, develop, and retain teachers for students from low-income and minority families. 

  • Provide Opportunities for Teacher Leadership

    Establish opportunities for teacher leadership:

    • Provide strong instructional support to teacher leaders.
    • Empower teacher leaders to collaborate on curriculum and instructional design.
    • Empower teacher leaders to provide constructive feedback to peers.
    • Empower teacher leaders to provide induction, mentoring, and other professional development support to develop a strong collaborative school atmosphere. 
  • Use Educator Perception Data to Improve School Improvement Plans

    Encourage school leaders to use climate and working conditions data to focus and improve their school improvement plans and their own leadership performance. 


  • Beyond Classroom Walls: Developing Innovative Work Roles for Teachers

    The job of “teacher” in most schools today remains centered on full-time classroom responsibilities that are defined by the location, timing, and schedule of the school day and a one-teacher-per-classroom model. But particularly in today’s budget climate, interest in quality-focused job redesigns is increasing among forward-thinking state, district, and charter school leaders. This report, prepared by Public Impact for the Center for American Progress, profiles two organizations—the Rocketship Education network of charter schools and the Fairfax County, Virginia, school district. These organizations have redesigned the teacher role to provide new types of leadership opportunities and let great teachers reach more students.
  • Building and Sustaining Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning

    This report from The Education Trust recommends policy changes that districts and states can consider to address issues of school culture, and how these issues relate to rates of teacher dissatisfaction and turnover in schools that serve students from low-income and minority families. The authors highlight the quality of school leadership and staff cohesion and provide examples from five districts: Ascension Parish Public Schools (Louisiana), Boston Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (North Carolina), Fresno Unified School District (California), and Sacramento City Unified School District (California).
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Strategic Staffing Initiative

    Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (North Carolina) established the Strategic Staffing Initiative, which moves teams of administrators and teachers to high-need schools. Under this initiative, effective principals are identified and allowed to select effective members of their current staffs to take with them to a high-need school.
  • Creating a School-Community Culture of Learning: Exemplary Leadership Practices in Four School Districts

    The authors of this report reviewed four districts that exhibited shared leadership. The report defines the different components of shared leadership and the conditions that enable it, and it also provides some examples of shared leadership. The authors believe there is no one right way to distribute leadership; both bottom-up and top-down approaches can be successful.
  • Creating an Atmosphere of Trust: Lessons From Exemplary Schools

    The authors of this report, which focuses on 11 schools in North Carolina, discuss the importance of trust in schools. Going beyond the issues of what effect trust has on a school and why, they address how a school leader can foster a trusting school culture. Strategies for building trust are provided, along with practical examples in the words of those school leaders who succeeded in creating trusting school communities.
  • Finding a New Way: Leveraging Teacher Leadership to Meet Unprecedented Demands

    This paper, by Rachel Curtis of Human Capital Strategies for Urban Schools, gives examples of school systems that have created unique teacher career pathways as part of a larger vision to transform the culture of teaching and learning within schools. Through these profiles, Curtis outlines a process to help school systems develop new roles for teachers and create and implement systems and structures to support teacher leadership efforts.
  • Houston’s Effective Teacher Pipeline: Workshop Outlines Plans for Improving Low-Performing Schools

    The Houston (Texas) Independent School District (HISD) established the Effective Teacher Pipeline project to address concerns voiced by many teachers about working conditions in high-need schools. HISD is concentrating on a small number of high-need schools to increase the number of effective teachers on those campuses. The intent is to create supportive school cultures by placing several effective teachers at each school. Relocating teachers are given a financial incentive, professional development, and leadership opportunities.
  • Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009

    Ensuring safer schools requires establishing effective indicators of the current state of school crime and safety across the United States and regularly updating and monitoring these indicators. This report presents the most recent data available on school crime and student safety, including topics such as victimization, teacher injury, bullying, school conditions, fights, weapons, the availability and student use of drugs and alcohol, and student perceptions of personal safety at school. Indicators of crime and safety are compared across different population subgroups and long term.
  • Involving Parents: Best Practices in the Middle and High Schools

    This resource provides information to help schools engage families and communities in education.
  • Leading to Change/How Do You Sustain Excellence? (Leadership in Mead Valley School, California)

    Mead Valley School is one of the poorest schools in the United States. In almost every conceivable way, its students are very much underprivileged. Yet the school managed to beat the odds and sustain high levels of academic achievement. School leaders turned Mead Valley School around by using five main strategies:

    • School leaders developed a common curriculum and an assessment scheme. This approach ensured that all teachers were on the same page and could plan lessons knowing where they fit into a cohesive and meaningful curriculum. Both internal and external assessments were used, the key being that these were more rigorous than the final state assessments.
    • School leaders used time effectively to promote literacy. Every day, three hours were set aside to learn English, with special accommodations available for English language learners. No interruptions or other activities were allowed during these hours.
    • School leaders made time available for collaboration among teachers. Every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., teachers met to collaborate. All teachers participated, and there was a clear focus on student learning. During this time, data were analyzed, students in need of intervention were identified, and best practices were discussed.
    • School leaders worked to develop a school culture that built emotional confidence for both the students and the faculty. Recognition ceremonies and rewards highlighted achievements, success, and hope, which led to feelings of optimism and enthusiasm.
    • School leaders evaluated teachers and acted on those evaluations so that inadequate teaching did not hamper the school culture. Teacher employment decisions, including several terminations, were made so as to recognize, reward, and promote professional excellence.
  • Opportunity Culture: Teacher Career Paths

    This Public Impact webpage provides information on how school models that extend the reach of excellent teachers to more students can create new roles that enable teachers and paraprofessionals to pursue a variety of career paths.
  • Out of the Office and Into the Classroom: An Initiative to Help Principals Focus on Instruction

    This article describes how one new school principal in Kentucky transformed from a task-dominated agenda to one that allowed her to visit every classroom at least once per week. This approach allowed her to drastically increase the amount of time focused on instruction and learning. The key behind the transformation was a trained school administration manager.
  • Redesigning Schools to Extend Excellent Teachers’ Reach

    This Public Impact webpage provides an overview table and detailed descriptions of school models that redesign jobs, and in some cases, use technology in new ways, to extend the reach of excellent teachers to more students.
  • T3 (Turnaround Teacher Teams) Initiative

    The T3 (Turnaround Teacher Teams) Initiative at Teach Plus represents an innovative approach to recruiting, developing, and supporting teachers to serve in high-need schools. The T3 Initiative currently partners with schools in Massachusetts and Tennessee. The initiative creates cohorts of highly effective and experienced teachers, supports them in becoming turnaround specialists, and places them in teams in the schools in which they are most needed. When T3 teacher leaders begin their work in the schools, they have the opportunity to work with a team of effective teachers, and they can take on leadership roles without leaving the classroom. The Huffington Post blog features posts written by Teach Plus fellows, providing commentary from the teacher’s perspective on issues related to teacher policy and teacher innovation.
  • Teacher Leader Model Standards

    There is a growing acceptance, indeed enthusiasm, among policymakers and education leaders for a heightened teacher role in leading a stronger profession. More than 60 colleges now offer master’s programs in teacher leadership. Smart, dynamic, motivated teachers fear stagnating in their growth, and teacher leadership positions provide avenues to pursue new skills and interests while remaining in the classroom. In May 2011, the first-ever Teacher Leader Model Standards were released in Washington, D.C., by the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium, with the goal of stimulating dialogue about the knowledge, skills, and competencies that teachers need to be leaders. Seven domains are covered in these standards:

    Domain 1: Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning

    Domain 2: Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning

    Domain 3: Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement

    Domain 4: Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning

    Domain 5: Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement

    Domain 6: Improving Outreach and Collaboration With Families and Community

    Domain 7: Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession
  • The Role of School Leaders in Ensuring an Equitable Distribution of Teachers: A Review of the Literature

    This presentation from Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt overviews the literature related to the role of school leaders in addressing equity issues.