Tips for Tightening up Grow-Your-Own Teacher Initiatives

Tips for Tightening up Grow-Your-Own Teacher Initiatives

Grow Your Own” (GYO) programs have emerged as a promising approach to expand teacher supply, address localized teacher shortages, and diversify the profession, according to K-12 Dive.

But little is known about the scale and design of GYO programs, which recruit and support individuals from the local community to become teachers.

Brown University’s Anneberg Institute conducted an analysis to describe 94 GYO initiatives. Researchers find that GYO is used broadly as an umbrella term to describe teacher pipeline programs with very different purposes, participants, and program features. Results suggest that misalignment between some GYOs’ purposes and program features may inhibit their effectiveness. 

The analysis found grow-your-own programs existed in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia as of spring 2022. Given that these programs are likely in the early stages of development, there’s little comprehensive research measuring or tracking the success of grow-your-own efforts.

According to the analysis, the only common thread across grow-your-own initiatives is a commitment to increase the teacher supply. With less than half of those programs intentionally eyeing diversity, only 23% were found to target recruitment efforts toward underrepresented populations, and only 21% specifically look for people of color. However, the analysis noted that 76% of the programs focused on recruiting paraprofessionals — of whom 40% nationally are people of color — to become teachers. 

GYO program leaders should design and implement their individual programs to meet their most pressing staffing needs rather than treating it as a silver bullet to solve all teacher recruitment challenges.

The report’s authors recommend tightening what defines grow-your-own programs to explicitly refer to recruitment efforts targeted at individuals who work, live in or attend school in the community, rather than programs encouraging new teachers to work in communities they are not from. 

Most high school grow-your-own programs typically provide a teaching experience like a course or an extracurricular. The analysis found almost a third of those initiatives attempt to increase interest in the teaching profession through high school teaching opportunities — but they don’t provide financial support to obtain a teaching degree or certification after high school graduation. 

Experts suggest seven best practices for education leaders beginning to implement these programs: 

1) Tap into existing partnerships

Before starting a program, leaders should ask themselves what local partnerships and relationships are already in place, said Jennifer Jirous-Rapp, a technical assistance consultant for AIR.

Jirous-Rapp said other related questions could include: 

  • “Do we have an existing relationship with a training provider that is very effective already?” 
  • “Do we have an existing relationship with our workforce area in the state or at the local level?” 
  • “What are the relationships, what are they like already, and who else do we need to grow in that relationship to really do this well?”


David Donaldson, managing partner of the National Center for Grow Your Own, said an apprenticeship program is often the second phase of existing, high-performing grow-your-own and teacher residency efforts to address shortages. Federal funds should either support or expand these programs, he said.

2) Get district buy-in

The apprenticeship model isn’t meant for everyone, so education leaders need to ask themselves, “Is this the right program for me?”

If it is, then leaders need to reach out to the right partners in their state to get the ball rolling. But as seen from current apprenticeships, those conversations can be difficult, and this work can take years before noticeable results come through. 

Start with what the district needs.

At the end of the day, districts serve the public — to produce good teachers for the public. 

3) Gather the right people in the room

The key players to always involve in program discussions are districts, teacher prep providers and state leadership, said Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

“If you can get the right people in the room and build the relationships, then you can have a successful apprenticeship program,” Gangone said. 

4) Use principals to identify candidates

Tapping into principals to find teacher candidates for these programs makes for a great resource. Principals might notice parents, older students or even staff members like cafeteria workers or bus drivers. 

They’re the ones who are going to have to hire the individual as a teacher. Really leverage the people, the leaders on the ground, to identify folks.

5) Consider dual endorsement

Leaders should strongly consider making teaching candidates graduate with a dual endorsement to either instruct special education students or English learners.

“We’re better preparing folks, and they’re having more tools in their toolkit,” Donaldson said.

Such endorsements could also help education leaders tap into more available federal funds through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for special education or Title I funds for English learner instruction, he said.

6) For states, leverage tuition costs

To lower expenses, state education agencies should try to negotiate tuition costs with teacher prep providers, Donaldson said. That way, districts also have more leverage and better options when deciding what college to partner with.

Additionally, Donaldson said districts could use an apprenticeship program as a recruitment tool by advertising to prospective teachers about the potential for a free degree and a higher paying job.

The mentorship aspect is also important, he said, because a district isn’t throwing a teacher in training right “to the wolves,” given the strong support system they’ll have in the participating school.

7) Don’t give up before trying

Funding an apprenticeship model is not impossible. The Clarksville-Montgomery teacher apprenticeship program is entirely free to students, and both district and university leaders often say this can’t be replicated. Prentice Chandler, dean of Eriksson College of Education at Austin Peay, says he’s yet to hear about a model where they couldn’t overcome the financial obstacles.

Chandler said district and university leaders just need to give it a try before giving up. “There’s a way to make it work,” he said.  

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