When we hear about the use of technology across K-12 school districts, we immediately think of students utilizing a variety of online resources, computing and mobile devices, and applications designed to enhance their learning process. Indeed, technology continues to transform the education experience and how children learn and develop, both in and outside of the classroom environment.
But why is the usage and application of technology in our schools solely focused on the student experience? What about the experience of the educators? Unfortunately, in the haste to push new kinds and uses of technology towards students, we have forgotten to incorporate technology to benefit teachers and district staff in their own learning and professional development.
This lack of engagement comes at a price, as evidenced by the growing crisis in retaining our K-12 teachers. Studies by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future demonstrate that teacher attrition has grown by 50 percent over the past fifteen years. The national teacher turnover rate has risen to 16.8 percent. In urban schools it is over 20 percent, and, in some schools and districts, the teacher dropout rate is actually higher than the student dropout rate.
Beyond the attrition is the desperate need to recruit new teachers to fill the holes left by retirees and those choosing to leave the profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that U.S. schools will need at least 1.6 million new teachers in the next few years. This begs the question, what are districts planning to do to retain and motivate these new teachers and reverse the alarming attrition trends?
Building Support Networks
Nicole Gillespie, executive director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, recently wrote for Education Week about the need to create a network of STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) teachers that provides the engagement, development and training to retain educators in the STEM teaching fields. She concludes:
“We recognize that the United States can't build a top-down network of teacher leaders by force of federal action. But what we can do is support efforts to back promising teachers and develop their leadership and pedagogical skills, as well as connect them through networks that grow organically by subject area or need. We can also link these networks to allow research and best practices to scale across traditional educational boundaries.”
I completely agree – but the simple truth is, without incorporating technology-driven talent management solutions that enable professional development, learning, training, and cross-district networking, our ability to support Ms. Gillespie’s call to action is limited. The high turnover of teachers and massive challenges in encouraging people to enter K-12 STEM teaching careers make it clear that current district teacher and staff engagement efforts are not enough, and are not working. Something must change.
It Takes a Village
K-12 districts need to expand their view and usage of technology beyond the student to also meet the needs of teachers and staff – their professional development, ongoing training, career development and engagement. These professionals need to be seen as a district’s talent, and that talent must be fostered, grown and managed.
A student’s support comes from a network of teachers, administrators, support staff and other district professionals – this complete workforce must be engaged and motivated to ensure ongoing commitment to student and district success. Technology, and specifically a talent management system, is critical to facilitate this engagement, deliver the training, and track the progress of K-12 faculty and staff development. These efforts not only improve existing workforce engagement and retention, but also help district recruitment efforts.
It’s unfortunate to note that the programs encouraging professional growth and retention of teachers aren’t coming from the states, the districts or the schools. Organizations and foundations such as Ms. Gillespie’s are reacting to the STEM teacher crisis and providing the infrastructure to meet the desperate need for engagement and development. But we need to also hold our schools and districts accountable for providing the talent management solutions needed to engage and inspire our K-12 faculty and staff, and as an extension, the students.
As we look at the statistics demonstrating the massive decline of our students’ competitiveness against other nations, let’s stop pointing a finger at the educators whom we accuse of not doing enough to help our students succeed. Instead, we need to point the finger at ourselves and realize that we aren’t doing enough to help the educators succeed.