Pursuing a digital degree on a digital platform has been an amazingly meta experience for sure. As a mom of 10 who advocates for the removal of barriers to accessing quality education at every level, I am a living witness to the life changing power of innovation in education and how it not only changed the trajectory of my individual life but the lives of those I am directly responsible for and those who are inspired by my story. Before transitioning to higher education, I worked in the K-12 world for 20 years starting as a middle school science teacher in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. Upon relocating to South Jersey, to accommodate my growing family, I resumed my career as a biology teacher in Philadelphia moving quickly into administration where I fell in love with the intentional design of schools, professional development, and overall school leadership. I’ve had the opportunity to support the full life-cycle of an educator’s professional career from new teachers to veteran teachers, principals, as well as the Executive Leadership.
This breadth of experience also exposed me to intense push back regarding innovation, personalization, and pretty much any type of pre-emptive change, with the mantra “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” proudly embraced by many. Both K-12 and higher education are seeing record declines in enrollment. According to “Homeschooling on the rise since the Covid-12 pandemic,” the number of homeschooled students rose from 3% (which is where it has held steady for years) to 11%. Higher education figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) show that overall college enrollment fell to 16.9 million students this spring, down more than 600,000 students from a year ago. That one-year decline of 3.5% is the largest spring semester enrollment decrease since 2011, according to the final spring report by the NSCRC.
Teachers and students are engulfed in a more social, more mobile world than ever before which is pushing an industry who previously had the luxury of status quo to get on board and find ways to engage their customers – the teachers, students, and families they serve.
Pre-pandemic, there was very little competition in education. An article in the Hill entitled, “Reimagining the future of public education after COVID,” includes the following quote from the U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, “We would be missing a great opportunity if our goal is to reopen our schools to look exactly like they did a year ago today, before the pandemic.” Better, he says, is to ask, “What do we want our system to look like?” One suggestion according to Jim Kwik, a brain and memory coach, is to shift one of the most disempowering questions schools ask their customers,“ How smart are you?” to “How are you smart?” Schools aspire to teach their customers what to learn, what to think, and what to remember rather than helping their customers to identify how they learn best, how to think, and how to remember. By adding the how rather than focusing explicitly on the what, schools can help their customers realize how they learn best, encouraging them to apply it towards the subjects that they wish to explore more and ultimately succeed in.
So where do school leaders start? They must believe that change is needed and reflect this belief in their recruitment strategy. Like minded people who believe in what innovative schools are trying to do are already out there searching but sadly struggle to find their match. Aside from salary and benefits, when asked which of the following factors are very important in determining where you teach, with multiple responses allowed millennials reported the following:
Despite the call for schools to market their culture rather than the position Recruiting Millennial Teachers, reports that nearly 82% of districts sampled provided job postings alone, without any reasoning to why teachers should apply. While 5% didn’t even have job postings, just a general interest form for candidates to complete. In addition to this Recruiting Millennial Teachers also reported that while 81% of teachers are checking district websites, only 8% of districts have a dedicated career page.
While I know for sure that there is no silver bullet solution to fixing the complex problems with our current school system, I do recommend that schools first acknowledge that change is needed, infuse a better understanding of mobile/social media strategies into the methodology by which they recruit students into the profession, hire and retain teachers within their communities and communicate their offerings to students, with the goal being to innovatively personalize and increase customer voice/choice in program development and use a data driven approach to increasing engagement.