Skip to main content

NEPC Talks Education: Discussing the Design and Implementation of Healthy and Professional Teaching Environments

BOULDER, CO (April 18, 2023) – In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks EducationChristopher Saldaña interviews Linda Molner Kelley and Derek Pierce about creating and sustaining professional and healthy school cultures that support teachers. Molner Kelley has served as co-director of the Schools of Opportunity project housed in the National Education Policy Center and Pierce is the Principal of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine. Both are contributors to the new book, Schools of Opportunity: 10 Research-Based Models of Equity in Action.

Molner Kelley explains that the Schools of Opportunity project is a high school recognition program designed to identify schools committed to closing educational opportunity gaps. The program uses criteria such as broadening and enriching learning opportunities, and maintaining a healthy school culture, to select and celebrate schools from across the United States. Casco Bay High School is a School of Opportunity school.

Recognizing that great schools require great teachers, Casco Bay intentionally offers an array of inspiring learning and leadership opportunities for its staff, described in the book chapter. Within a culture of interdependence and support this includes ample time for teachers to plan, collaborate, and reflect on individual and whole school practices.

Pierce describes how Casco Bay High School drew on the Schools of Opportunity criteria to assess the design and implementation of school equity and anti-racist practices. Pierce explains, for example, that the process of becoming an anti-racist school can be demoralizing at times, because of the amount of work to be done. He found that the Schools of Opportunity criteria provided Casco Bay teachers and staff with a barometer to gauge what the school was doing well, what practices needed improvement, and what programs and resources did not yet exist.

Pierce notes that his priority in doing equity-centered work has been to include his teachers and staff, and increasingly his students, in the design and decision-making of school improvement efforts. He explains how, for example, Asian American students helped him and teachers to redesign Casco Bay’s history and social studies courses to include greater representation of Asian Americans in the curriculum, a move that teachers supported and were deeply engaged with.

Molner Kelley and Pierce recommend that schools continue to strive to create learning and teaching environments that value and listen to the diverse and numerous voices present in schools. They argue this is a first step to enacting educational change that disrupts inequities and offers all students high-quality learning environments.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: