Schools, districts, and parents are being dealt a wake-up call that, if not heeded, will result in a disastrous lack of teachers in the near future (it’s already happening in some locations). In-service teachers are leaving the profession, and fewer students want to enter it. “Few professions have been more upended by the pandemic than teaching.” The long-term effects of the pandemic will be profound; schools must act now if they are going to change the tide of educators streaming out of the field.

First, let’s consider the current state of teaching:

  • – The personality type most drawn to teaching thrives on structure and routine. It’s predictable, comfortable, and safe to know you have a specific schedule, a curriculum, a group of students you see across a semester or year, etc. The pandemic took much of that predictability, comfort, and safety away.

  • – We’re at a time in history when the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation is reaching 60 years of age. So, while they may have been planning to retire within a few years anyway, the pandemic has become a catalyst.

  • – The pandemic-panic response in schools has been to tighten controls and script what teachers do: a new curriculum to follow; pacing guides; different resources to use for academics, equity, and SEL. What little flexibility teachers had to add their own creative touch to their teaching is all but gone.

  • – The pandemic has thrown us into a time in which we need innovation to succeed. What schools need is to coach and hire teachers to become innovators who are comfortable with uncertainty and change (but remember, the teaching profession has not been designed for innovators, so we now will have a mismatch between what we need in a candidate and the position we have to offer that candidate).

Thus, schools must innovate their thinking at all levels. Let’s look ahead of the curve and take steps now to save this worthy profession:

Challenges

Innovations

If you feel students are lagging behind, avoid building pacing guides, purchasing constraining curricular materials, and asking teachers to just follow a script. What the teaching profession needs is creativity and empowerment.
Provide professional development in creativity, possibility-seeking, design process and how it applies to learning, and out-of-the-box thinking. Let teachers find their way to success by supporting them in taking the risks they need to accomplish what they truly want: to ensure success for all!
“Put your own mask on before putting on the mask of your child!” We’ve heard this on airplanes. If you want to address students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), start by having teachers address their own SEL!
Offer professional learning opportunities that allow teachers to break down SEL components, determine how the pandemic affected their SEL, and take steps to return to a stronger sense of self that will empower them to take steps for their students.
Engaged students are fun to teach; engaged teachers naturally engage their learners. Compliant teachers create compliant learners, at best. We must maximize student engagement for achievement and teacher retention.
Design a problem-based curriculum that engages students through real-world problems and challenges, building efficacy. This approach will trigger a “felt need” to learn content, which yields learning acceleration and retention of learning. A PBL approach also supports equity and SEL – all in one!
With uncertainty and change abounding, provide teachers with inspiration, ongoing support, and resources to help them feel safe as they tackle these highly challenging times.
Provide ongoing and sustained professional learning experiences that allow for collaboration, sharing among colleagues, and outside expertise and support to create a culture of professional learning.

It’s time to reinvent instruction (see my book Reinventing the Classroom Experience: Learning Anywhere, Anytime). But it’s also time to reinvent the culture of school for teachers.

Join me on Thursday, March 3, at 2:00 PM Eastern Time for my session on “Teacher Retention and Reinventing a Profession.” Register here; there is no cost to attend.