It’s that time of year again. Wildflowers are blooming (at least here in Texas!). The sun is setting later. Winter jackets are being retired. The season is changing around us, just as it is in our schools. Around the country, test prep and standardized testing season are in full swing. End-of-year projects and field trips are approaching – and teacher appreciation week is coming up in the second week in May! As a teacher, it warmed my heart to receive kind words and tokens of appreciation from students, families, and administrators during teacher appreciation week, and I especially valued these thoughtful expressions as my emotional gas tank was running on empty during this stressful time of year. As a school leader, I organized massage chair appointments and sweet treats delivered to classrooms with the goal of making sure our teachers knew how much their work and contributions mattered to our school and community. While these gestures are important, thoughtful, and uplifting, one week of appreciation is simply not enough to propel the kind of lasting culture that truly highlights and amplifies the profound work of our teachers year-round.
There is a scene from the recent Star Trek movie reboot of a young alien named Spock at school. Spock and his classmates each stand in their own semi-circular pod, surrounded by screens while an automated “teacher” prompts them with questions. This eerie scene is what some fear will be the future of schooling. Students staring at screens, by themselves, while an artificial intelligence program delivers content and assessments. There is no doubt that digital programs, particularly adaptive ones, can be powerful tools in the classroom. However, that is all a digital program will ever be – a tool. A computer program can never replace a teacher. If anything, technology is making the role of teachers even more important and their job more complex.
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Are you a district or campus leader who struggles to find highly qualified or highly talented teachers? Do you find yourself losing out to other districts when it comes to attracting the best and brightest? Do you have a plan in place to recruit and retain those fantastic teachers who can not only impact student learning but help build the dynamic and innovative culture you desire in your district or on your campus? The National Center for Education Statistics reports 8% of the nearly 3 million teachers in the U.S. leave the profession each year. Additionally, over 41 percent of all new teachers will leave the profession within 5 years. Most alarming, 45 percent of all teacher attrition occurs in just 25 percent of all public schools: high-poverty, high-minority, urban, and rural. While attrition and staff turnover are common among all industries, the rate is noticeably higher in education than in other highly socially respected professions such as lawyers, engineers, architects, and several medical-related fields. Moreover, repeated staff turnover and teacher attrition can negatively affect a wide range of educational practices, including professional development, class assignments and scheduling, curriculum planning, and collaboration. Combined, these factors create a significant amount of disorder to schoolwide operations and potentially reduce student learning across a campus or district.
Do you ever have trouble falling asleep because you can’t stop thinking about what you need to accomplish the next day? Maybe you’re one of those people that has your best ideas for solving a problem while washing your hair? Have you found yourself half-listening to a loved one while saying, “Let me just finish one more email…”? What do all of these experiences have in common? They are familiar territory for professionals who never truly stop working during their waking hours, which is especially true of passionate and committed educators.
Teachers love their jobs. That statement may strike you as untrue, simplistic, or ill-informed, given the current state of the teaching profession, in which many teachers will leave the classroom in the first five years, and teacher retention is a crisis on the horizon for schools, districts, and state boards of education. I stand by it, though. In my fifteen years in education, working in and with schools and teachers, I have had many conversations with teachers about their job satisfaction. On balance, teachers I’ve encountered love their students. They talk about “their” kids with pride, concern, and (sometimes) exasperation. They seek professional development to improve their abilities to reach students, and they sacrifice their personal time (and often money) to ensure their students get what they need to succeed in school.
August is an important month for school leaders; it is the last opportunity to reflect, recharge, and realign on your personal and shared goals before the school year officially kicks off. While there is no debate that we all want better student outcomes, many discussions occur during this period regarding the best methods to employ. One of the most important systems to take into account is how your leadership team will structure the professional development (PD) curriculum and options that are presented to your staff this upcoming school year. As educators, we understand the importance of modeling our thinking and actions, and this is no different when it comes to PD. During my time as a school leader, it was important for me to acknowledge that if I was going to demand that our teachers be empathetic and innovative in their implementation of personalized learning, then we as school leaders must provide those same personalized qualities in the development opportunities we offer.