By Dan Brown
Who will be the next generation of educators we are all counting on to be highly skilled change agents? How can we cultivate them to be durable, empowered professionals who stay?
Starting early and thinking local is the core of a promising new movement to help communities grow their own teachers.
The needs are certainly immense.
PDK’s contribution to building the next generation of educators has been to create Educators Rising, a national network launched in 2015 to support existing grow-your-own efforts aimed at attracting and supporting high school students interested in becoming teachers. Since professional standards defined by practitioners are a hallmark of professions, Educators Rising led the development of standards to define what teenage, aspiring educators need to know and be able to do to take their first steps on the path to accomplished teaching. Educators Rising believes that an essential part of closing the gap between the supply and demand of the teaching profession is by engaging bright young people in test-driving teaching before they reach college.
It’s easy to feel disillusioned about the teaching pipeline. The Condition of Future Educators 2015 report released by ACT in July 2016 declared “interest among ACT-tested [high school] graduates in becoming educators continues to decline at an alarming rate.” As educator preparation programs across the country continue to face drops in enrollment and teenagers recoil on surveys when asked to gauge their interest in teaching, we seem to be moving further away from building a skilled, diverse, empowered teaching workforce.
We urgently need to increase diversity in a teaching profession that is 82% white but serves a student population in which students of color comprise the majority. Bright young people, with no mechanism to explore the extraordinary rewards of teaching, are steering away from the profession. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs, especially in high-needs areas like STEM and special education, is down across the board. Band-Aid solutions abound.
America hires 300,000 new teachers every year. Most are homegrown: Over 60% of teachers work within 20 miles of where they attended high school. A majority of each community’s future teachers — who will have extraordinary influence on that community — are sitting right there on the student side of the desk today! Starting intentionally and early — in secondary school — to build a broad, diverse, skilled, committed teaching talent pool is an important and logical yet historically overlooked endeavor.
Local teacher academies
Where opportunities are provided, high school students are interested in exploring teaching. In the first year of Educators Rising, 15,000 students and teacher leaders (with students of color comprising 49% of student membership) in over 1,000 schools across the country signed up for the free resources, opportunities, and networking.
That Educators Rising attracted 15,000 students in its first year is encouraging, but other national, career-technical student organizations show what is possible for the front end of the teaching pipeline in terms of size and engagement. National FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) has over 650,000 members exploring agricultural science. More than 200,000 students studying marketing have joined DECA. To meet labor market needs, the teaching profession needs to be nurturing talent on a significantly larger scale — and the size of other student organizations demonstrate that it’s possible.
In these local teacher academy programs, students take elective courses or career-technical education programs of study in which they explore teaching. A skilled teacher leader facilitates the coursework, which often aligns with introductory education courses at a local college or university. The central plank of a teacher academy program is an array of clinical opportunities to try teaching. This is done through job shadowing, observational fieldwork, and, ultimately, student teaching internships in a local classroom several hours per week.
We need a lot of bright young people to fall in love with teaching. The good news is that teaching — specifically working with students — is lovable. Working with students is the best part of teaching. It’s uplifting, heartbreaking, hilarious, fulfilling, and transcendent. Research confirms this.
The NEA’s Status of the American Public School Teacher reports that from 1970 to 2005, 70% of teachers cited “desire to work with young people” as their top reason for becoming a teacher. Additionally, 64% of teachers from 1980 to 2005 selected “desire to work with young people” as their top reason for remaining in teaching.
The teacher academy experience for the teenage, aspiring teacher is eye-opening. “We get the behind-the-scenes look on teaching,” said Mallory Matusevich, an Educators Rising national student vice-president who recently graduated from high school in Smyrna, Del., and is headed for an education program at the University of Oregon. Most students in her Educators Rising chapter aim to pursue a career in education, and Mallory underscored the transferrable benefits of the opportunity to try teaching. “This experience taught me how to manage my time better, communicate, plan things out, and work with others. It made me an all-around better student,” she said.
- Related: Microcredentials: Show what you know
- Related: Microcredentials: Teacher learning transformed
In Smyrna, where grow-your-own efforts have had the unbroken support for district and school leadership for more than 20 years, there is no teacher shortage. In a video testimonial to the program’s ability to cultivate durable educators, Smyrna School District Superintendent Deborah Wicks credited local grow-your-own efforts with Smyrna’s position as having the best teacher retention out of all districts in the state.
More communities need what Smyrna has — but until now the profession has lacked a clear, shared vision of what grow-your-own work in high schools should look like. As a result, many in education have never even heard of the teacher academy model, let alone are implementing a quality grow-your-own program in their community.
The route to standards
The teaching pathway needs stronger structures; we need the teaching profession to emulate other strong professions in terms of cultivating a future workforce.
The profession has been wrestling with these issues for decades. In 1996, the landmark report What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future by the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) sought to throw down a definitive gauntlet for elevating the teaching profession and why — as the report’s title urgently indicates — it matters most. NCTAF laid out a blueprint for “the single most important strategy for achieving America’s educational goals: a blueprint for recruiting, preparing, and supporting excellent teachers in all of America’s schools.”
The What Matters Most recommendations are instructive here. That report’s first three recommendations are worth reprinting in part, as Educators Rising is taking steps to address them directly:
#1. Get serious about standards, both for students and teachers.
- License teachers based on demonstrated performance, including tests of subject-matter knowledge, teaching knowledge, and teaching skills.
- Use National Board standards as the benchmark for accomplished teaching.
#2. Reinvent teacher preparation and professional development.
- Organize teacher education and professional development programs around standards for students and teachers.
#3. Fix teacher recruitment, and put qualified teachers in every classroom.
- Aggressively recruit high-need teachers and provide incentives for teaching in shortage areas.
- Develop high-quality pathways to teaching for a wide range of recruits.
Following the lead set by NCTAF 20 years ago in What Matters Most and supported by a key grant from the National Education Association, Educators Rising embarked on an ambitious effort this year to write standards for aspiring teachers.
Educators Rising’s seven standards define what high school students exploring teaching need to know and be able to do to take their first steps on the path to accomplished teaching. The standards represent a new vision from the field: The teaching profession is mapping the front end of a coherent continuum from the initial exploratory phase to entry into the profession to becoming an accomplished practitioner. A diverse group of 12 professional educators formed the Educators Rising Standards Committee. The committee used processes and protocols borrowed from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), which served as a partner and adviser at every stage of the project.
Educators Rising Standards reflect a broad and powerful recognition that building the teaching profession begins by engaging secondary students. The standards will form the backbone of new secondary-based pathway programs and grow-your-own efforts in high schools across the country. To bring these standards to life for aspiring teachers, Educators Rising will release a set of micro-credentials (i.e. portfolio-based assessments of specific competencies where students can earn achievement badges) in October 2016. The EdRising Academy Curriculum will be available for implementation in high schools in the 2017-18 school year.
The programs, while boosting local efforts on career-readiness and teacher leadership, will help rising educators become empowered, informed consumers as they plan their trajectories to postsecondary studies and into the workforce. Additionally, the programs will serve as a pipeline for districts and postsecondary programs seeking talented, diverse rising educators who are actively taking steps on the path to accomplished teaching.
Inspired by the medical profession
The standards effort was explicitly inspired by the medical profession’s successful evolution a century ago. In “Sustaining the Teaching Profession,” his landmark 2014 article for New England Journal of Public Policy, the late Ron Thorpe drew a direct parallel between medicine’s journey and the one the teaching profession must take:
Possibly the most critical element in the rise of the medical profession was its ability to define and implement a trajectory from preservice to accomplished practice and then to insist that everyone in the profession follow that path . . . To establish such a trajectory, one begins with the end point, because people must have a clear view of the target if they are going to hit it, and the training must prepare them for such achievement. This means articulating what an accomplished practitioner should know and be able to do and articulating what the standards are that define the necessary knowledge and skills . . . The next step is to map backward from those standards through the novice and induction phases and through entry and preparation to ensure coherence and maximize the chances that those who remain in the profession become accomplished practitioners (p. 7-8).
A set of overarching themes guided the committee’s writing of the Educators Rising Standards. These themes are referenced explicitly and implicitly throughout the standards. While some concepts may hold more meaning for rising educators at present, others will accrue greater significance as rising educators gain experience and grow professionally. These themes are aspirational, communicating a sense of direction for rising educators and a vision for the profession as a whole.
Cultural competence. Developing cultural competence, the ability to successfully teach students who come from a culture or cultures other than one’s own, is fundamental to becoming a skilled teacher. It entails developing certain personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, understanding certain bodies of cultural knowledge, and mastering a set of skills that, taken together, underlie effective cross-cultural teaching and culturally responsive teaching. To achieve this level of understanding and respect, rising educators must build cultural competence early in their journeys.
Fairness, equity, and diversity. Teachers must work vigilantly to provide all students with fair and equitable access to resources and learning opportunities. This means teachers must achieve clear-eyed understandings of historical context and work proactively to nurture an antibias learning environment. In addition to infusing these tenets into their practice, teachers should actively facilitate meaningful discussions with students about fairness, equity, and diversity. These conversations will prepare students as global citizens, helping them expand their worldviews and become productive members of a more just and equitable society.
Reflective practice. Reflection is a habit of mind that is essential within all aspects of teaching, from planning through instruction, assessment, and adjustment. To promote student learning, teachers must find ways to evaluate themselves honestly and act responsively and resiliently. They must identify failures and successes so they can analyze their practice and determine what works in different contexts.
Ethics. Successful teachers commit themselves to be responsible, ethical professionals who do no harm. An ethical outlook guides their decision making, inspiring them to elevate students’ needs, honor diversity, and take action when necessary. It aligns their personal values and professional conduct. The responsibility that these teachers accept for their students, schools, communities, and profession encourages them to serve as role models in and out of the classroom.
Collaboration. Building relationships through collaboration with students, peers, experts, leaders, families, and stakeholders is essential. It helps teachers strengthen their practice, enhance learning environments, and invigorate the profession. Thoughtfully aligned efforts between educators and stakeholders benefit students. Collaboration requires patience, hard work, and humility, but it is essential for any teacher who promotes student learning first and foremost.
Social justice and advocacy. The teaching profession is a helping profession, and advocates education and opportunity for all. Rising educators’ voices are important in working toward this vision. Teachers should be articulate and skilled in the ability to promote the interests of students and communities. They must learn the proper channels to take appropriate actions as change agents and to empower peers, students, and other stakeholders to express their views as well.
Self-efficacy. Promoting self-efficacy in students is about capacity building — acquiring knowledge, skills, abilities, and dispositions to build confidence and achieve impact. Self-efficacy and empowerment develop when rising educators are recognized as important members of the teaching profession. They build networks, take initiative to broaden their perspectives, respond to feedback, reflect on what they learn, and proactively take on new projects.
The Educators Rising Standards aim to inform one piece — the front end of the teaching pipeline — in a sprawling, interconnected system. Yet the imperative to cultivate a new generation of diverse, skilled practitioners is at the root of all hopes for a more equitable and competitive future for our country, and this is an essential piece.
There’s power in teaching
High school students, who hunger for experiential learning and making a difference in their work, can gain early opportunities in these Educators Rising Standards-aligned programs to begin to build the skills and mindsets they will need to thrive as educators in the 2020s and beyond.
In closing “Sustaining the Teaching Profession,” Ron Thorpe offers a vision inspired by Paul Starr’s Social Transformation of American Medicine, substituting key words to envision teaching as the profession to be elevated: “In the 20th century, the teaching profession was generally weak, divided, insecure in its status and its income, unable to control entry into practice or to raise standards of teacher education. In the 21st century, not only did teachers become a powerful, prestigious, and wealthy profession, but they succeeded in shaping the basic organization and financial structure of American education.”
Ron Thorpe’s vision is plausible and necessary. Educators Rising Standards offer a key tool to help communities grow their own with focus and intentionality, and that takes us closer to achieving the teaching profession our country needs.
DAN BROWN (@DanBrownTeacher) is a National Board Certified Teacher and co-director of Educators Rising, which is part of the PDK International Family of Associations.
Originally published in September 2016 Phi Delta Kappan 98 (1), 31-35. © 2016 Phi Delta Kappa International. All rights reserved.
Educators Rising Standards
Standard I: Understanding the Profession
Rising educators learn about the profession to explore career opportunities, develop skills they need, and make informed decisions about pathways to accomplished teaching.
Standard II: Learning About Students
Rising educators learn about themselves and their students for the purpose of building relationships and supporting student development.
Standard III: Building Content Knowledge
Rising educators learn how to build content knowledge for the purpose of creating relevant learning opportunities for their students.
Standard IV: Engaging in Responsive Planning
Rising educators learn how to respond to students’ needs through thoughtful planning.
Standard V: Implementing Instruction
Rising educators learn effective instructional strategies to engage students and promote learning.
Standard VI: Using Assessment and Data
Rising educators learn to use assessments and interpret data for the purpose of making decisions that will advance teaching and learning.
Standard VII: Engaging in Reflective Practice
Rising educators learn how reflective practice enables them to advance student learning and grow professionally.
The complete set of standards is available at educatorsrising.org/standards.