When I first moved to Sacramento in 2008 like many teachers I was happy just to land a job. The recession had not started, but it was easy to predict that we were all in for a bumpy economic ride. I was fortunate that having both multiple subject (elementary) and single subject (secondary) science credentials, along with a specialized job at the district office helped me ride out four years of severe economic cuts and seniority-based layoffs until I moved to Natomas Charter School. Each year I received a pink slip in early March and was simply elated when it was rescinded, usually around the last day of school. Like many of my colleagues, I was simply happy to have a job for the following school year. I hardly gave any thought to where it might be – middle school science, technology coach, high school biology. I lived by the motto, “I can do anything for a year.”
Since moving to Natomas Charter School I have had numerous opportunities to sit on teacher interview panels. This year I’ve noticed a bit of a change. Where in past years we often attracted applicants who were new to the profession or simply looking for an escape from the uncertainty of seniority-based layoffs this year more and more of our applicants are veteran teachers looking for a more supportive professional environment. Listening to their interview responses they’re looking for an escape from district-office mandated pacing guides, teacher-proof boxed curriculum, and an opportunity to innovate. Considering the fact that California may soon be experiencing a teacher shortage districts might want to take a moment and ponder this question – Why would someone want to teach in one of your schools?
Last Saturday I led a session at the CUE Conference, Building the Schools Our Students Need, describing some of the ways in which we are prepping for Common Core and beyond. During the session one of the attendees posted this Tweet.
On the way home from Palm Springs her tweet, along with some of the responses I heard on recent interview panels, made me think about the professional learning environment we’re creating at Natomas Charter. Often we focus on creating learning environments that meet the needs of kids, but as educational leaders we should always consider how these environments support teachers as well. Considering the question I posted above for other district leaders, here are some of the reasons why I think teachers (and administrators) are coming to Natomas Charter School.
When talking to people about our school I always joke that there should be an asterisk next to the word charter in our name. As a charter school I find that people often think Michelle Rhee hangs on out on campus all day and we fire teachers at the drop of a hat. Considering that our school is a teacher-initiated charter that was started with a teacher co-op philosophy, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Teachers are treated as knowledgable, education professionals who are leaders in their profession. We don’t purchase boxed curriculum – smart teachers build it using powerful instructional approaches and high-quality materials. All of our teachers engage in teacher-led action research through self-organized professional learning communities, called PIPs (Professional Inquiry Partnerships). Many are teacher-leaders within the community as well, whether they are Nationally Board Certified Teachers or actively involved with the National Writing Project, History Project, Math Project, and Science Project, or Computer Using Educators. All of our administrators are also teacher-leaders and consider our roles to be knowledgable thought-partners, helping our staff create the best learning environment for our students.
Culture of Innovation
So often I hear of teachers who are required to innovate in secret. Between district-mandated pacing guides and rigid boxed curriculum some teachers are only free to try a new instructional approach when the principal isn’t looking. I wish I could say I have only heard this story once, but I have heard it so many times that I often find myself trying to find ways to rescue great teachers and bring them to our school. Natomas Charter has a culture of innovation that has existed for 21 years. Culturally, we expect our peers to try new things and to share the results with the rest of us. That is the whole basis of our PIP program. One of the main reasons why I became an educator is that I love learning and I know that I am not alone in the desire to be part of a school where both learning and innovation are valued.
Supportive Professional Environments
In my previous posts I have discussed our filtering policies, technology support, and provided examples of the technology professional development available to teachers. On the surface these might just sound really nice, but believe it or not these are some of the reasons why teachers are applying to work at our school. They are tired of working in environments where everything requires a technology department work around. But this is just the technology support. Teachers are also moving to our school because they know the school has a fantastic counseling program, a supportive administrative staff who assists with discipline problems, and a culture of parent support. They also know we’re a school that values on-going professional development through PIPs, weekly technology workshops, teacher summer camps, and partnerships with groups including CUE and the National Writing Project that bring high-quality, community-based professional development directly to our school site.
Now all of this is not to say that teaching at Natomas Charter School is a breeze. Like all teaching jobs it has its challenges. For example, developing curriculum takes time, lots of research, and investment in finding the most valuable educational resources. However, it is the type of work many of us entered teaching to do. No matter where you sit within your educational organization take some time to consider why teachers, administrators, and support staff would want to work at your school. Do you have the culture, support, and resources to attract and retain the candidates for the long-term? It is an important question to ask because employees are school shopping.