If you work in a school, education headlines are harrowing. The words “crisis” and “shortage” are peppered across the pages of every national publication. The data is daunting. Here in Pennsylvania, our latest annual new teacher certification count is less than one third the number of new teachers certified ten years ago. Yet, every day, passionate professionals show up at schools to teach children challenged and changed by traumas. Yes, our schools, and our teachers, may be more vulnerable now than ever. But as Brené Brown wisely states, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” And here at Innovageous, this moment is our call to action.
Supported by a generous grant from The Neubauer Family Foundation’s Re-Start Grant for Neubauer Fellows, Innovageous invited dozens of teachers, leaders, consultants, higher ed professionals, non-profit leaders, and hiring managers from multiple states to share their insights in four virtual conversations. Together, we began with the question: How will schools rise to the challenge of ensuring every child has access to skilled teachers that care in our current climate? Each saturated 75-minute session seemed too short, yet so full. Brené Brown also says,“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Our sessions manifested that truth. Seeing and hearing ideas from diverse perspectives in our brave space illuminated so much more than we expected - not only about staffing our schools, but also about what teachers need most right now.
Our innovageous dialogues were both rich and real. We considered ways to amplify the impact of post-secondary partnerships. We pushed assumptions to think beyond our current constraints and reimagine roles in our schools and the policies that impede innovation. We wondered who beyond school walls might be the village our children need, and pledged to prioritize our Black and Brown children and educators, and those with disabilities, when making decisions that impact learning. We looked for new ways to apply our recent, hard-won confidence in using technology. We heard stories. We held space for what’s been hard. At the end of these four sessions, three things were clear: 1) Longer term creative solutions are easier to imagine; 2) Teachers need help right now; and, 3) More empathetic connections like these are essential to making both happen.
While there is no doubt that we closed the conversation with more questions than answers, we also discovered the hope and agency that comes with facing these challenges head on. And the new questions were powerful ones!
What might schools look like if highly qualified teachers focused on innovative teaching and learning and OTHER experts supported them more fluidly by wrapping around education professionals with skills and resources in wellness, project management, data management, social services, industry connections, technology, financial services, and more?
What might starting recruitment for diverse and passionate future teachers look like in elementary, middle, and high schools to maximize enthusiasm for the profession, and how might these young future educators also advocate for culture change that impacts policy, increased compensation, and increased respect for teaching and learning?
How might we connect schools together to provide advanced and goal-specific learning opportunities for students through job sharing without needing to dedicate a full-time staff member to teach highly specialized content?
How can we ensure that individuals in teacher prep programs have routine and significant practical experience in real (and functional!) school environments (teaching schools like teaching hospitals) that both bolsters school capacity and gives apprentice teachers concrete and essential skills?
Who can tell authentic (not toxically positive!) stories in compelling ways to change the public perception of teaching as a horrible, low-paying, disrespected, and stressful obligation into teaching as a fulfilling, joyful, sustainable vocation?
In what ways might we create lasting solutions to address the sources of stress in schools, taking the onus off teachers to make time for self-care or attend mindfulness workshops to combat it?
These conversations must continue. Of course, all of us working in education (and the students and families we serve!) feel the urgency of needing to know that every child will be championed by a skilled teacher who cares this fall. The real antidotes to the staffing challenges we face lie in deep empathy and context for the lived experiences of educators today and creatively leveraging that knowledge to prioritize changes that matter most. But, maybe these conversations are paramount for another reason. The conversations themselves, and the connections they foster in our moments of greatest vulnerability, are good medicine. As weary as we are, let’s be innovageous enough to keep having them. They might just be the spark of hope we need to energize us in the months ahead. Will you join us? We are just getting the conversation started.
This blog was written by Dani Shylit, Consulting Partner for Innovageous, as a follow up to our conversation series.