Profile of an Educator Part 2: Creating District-Wide Conditions for Clarity, Equity, and Empowerment
Last week Dr. Kate Newburgh introduced the idea of developing profiles of educators to help identify and train teachers in a holistic way, attending to the technical elements of teaching as well as the personal characteristics of the teacher. In it she identified two advantages. In this second article in the two-part series she offers two more advantages along with a roadmap for creating an educator profile.
Advantage #3: Demystifying Expectations
In addition to encouraging a growth mindset toward educators, the PoE empowers educators to take on a growth mindset toward themselvesby demystifying hidden expectations.
I can safely say that every time I’ve sat on a hiring committee or observed a coaching session I’ve seen two sets of expectations at play. First there is theovert and statedset of expectations where we analyze credentials, evaluate technical skills, pick apart student achievement, and scrutinize lesson plans.
Much more powerful, however, are the hidden and unstatedset of expectations that exist on the level of emotion and the subconscious. These expectations (which we are often not even aware of) are driving our impressions of the person and the decisions we make about them. While our mouths are asking questions about the person’s credentials, our hearts and heads are sizing up: is she a good person? Does she have integrity? Can I trust her? Does she have a positive outlook? Would I want to spend time with her? These may seem like unprofessional thoughts, but everyonehas them in one form or another when hiring, coaching, and making decisions about staff.
In my research I have noticed that one of the most damaging feelings a teacher can harbor is a vague, uncertain awareness that the administration “just doesn’t like me.” Overcoming that feeling is like trying to fight a giant marshmallow. The educator is grappling with this big, amorphous, squishy thing that no matter what she does she can’t make a lasting impression or get a handhold on it. Sometimes she wonders if it’s all in her head, but at the same time she knows it’s suffocating her.
In schools we seem to have an unspoken agreement to exist, communicate, interact, and coach on the level of overt expectations. But this agreement denies the existence of the actual driving force behind many decisions and interactions.
This unspoken agreement also makes it easy to dismiss the teacher’s anxiety, as often she doesn’t have anything visible or clear to point to when trying to describe her struggles. She knows something is wrong, she just doesn’t know what it is or how to advocate for herself.
This is why establishing is Profile of an Educator is crucial for communication, professional development, and equity in schools. The Profile of an Educator creates space and language for leaders, coaches, and teachers to make those hidden expectations transparent. When this is the case, educators can advocate for themselves with clarity and self-validation. This in turn allows leaders and coaches to support their colleagues and staff explicitly in these goals.
Advantage #4: Freeing up Resources
I’ve worked in and for a number of school districts, and I’ve noticed one pervasive question that occurs for every person in leadership: “how should I best spend the money and time that was entrusted to me?” These are enormous responsibilities that the community scrutinizes closely.
In the same way that the PoE streamlines the focus for coaching and hiring, it also streamlines decision-making processes around money and resources. Once a district has an unambiguous vision for who they want working in and for their schools, decisions regarding professional learning opportunities and district-wide resource acquisition become much, much easier. The question moves from what can sometimes be a vague: “will this be good for our district?” To a targeted: “will this resource or opportunity help educators grow into the profile we’ve established?” Decisions around money, time, and resources become much easier to make, justify, and stick to.
Because the PoE promotes trust, transparency, and continuity across the district it helps alleviate the “initiative fatigue” phenomenon that happens when educators hesitate to adopt what they see as the latest trend because they think there will be another in a month or year (or sometimes, week). Because the PoE is established with input from all stakeholders in the community it creates the accountability and visibility necessary for it to take root. In the long run, the PoE saves an immense amount of money, time, and energy because it prevents many of the failed experiments, lost traction, and dead-end initiatives that every district is familiar with.
On a larger scale, using the PoE to guide professional learning is extremely practical in decreasing attrition and burnout because it promotes the deep supports (Newburgh, 2018) that alleviate the emotional stress that leads to attrition (Headden, 2014). Attrition causes significant losses in institutional knowledge, which ultimately arrests long-term reforms and requires us to spend countless hours retraining new staff and establishing culture. Establishing a Profile of an Educator helps guide decision-making, creates community-wide engagement, and has the potential to defray much of the stress associated with initiative fatigue while freeing up resources and time to help us get into the work that led us to education in the first place.
Creating a Profile of an Educator
Creating a usableProfile of an Educator with rigor and fidelity should be an in-depth process that involves gathering input from a large cross-section of the community. The resulting transparency creates widespread ownership over (and accountability to) the concept.
Clearly teachers, school leadership, district representatives, parents, and students should have opportunities to advocate for the qualities they believe should be present in their educators, but it is also good practice to create surveys and focus groups that tap into the wider community. All people have a stake in the quality of their neighborhood schools, and in making space for their voices to be heard, traditionally disengaged parts of the community will feel more involved, protective, and committed to local education. In addition, they often provide valuable insights that educators, as insiders, would not always have considered.
As in all things, it is important to remind participants that the PoE is an asset-based tool designed to clarify needs and expectations for our teachers. It is not meant to be used punitively, and it does not mean that these characteristics are not already present in the educators in the district.Overall I believe most people will understand this implicitly, but it’s important to note this as an expectation while gathering input from stakeholders.
Who can do this?
Any district or school can (and should!) create a profile of an educator. Not only does it break down the school walls by inviting input from all stakeholders, it creates a focal point and rallying cry in the community. Smaller districts will want to establish a district-wide PoE, but larger, diverse districts that provide school-level autonomy could find it beneficial to target individual schools or school clusters to establish their own Profiles of an Educator.
Moreover, while I’ve written about the PoE in terms of school districts, the concept could be useful in any organization and for any position. One powerful variation I believe organizations should explore is establishing a Profileof a Leader. Leadership is crucial in culture formation, and the more clarity we can generate around our expectations for our leaders the easier it will be to set and develop the types of cultures we want. Truly though, any industry or organization would benefit from adopting this practice of defining the characteristics that matter to them in themselves, their colleagues and community members.
Go for it!
Go for it! Every district should consider creating their own unique Profile of an Educator. A PoE provides both a larger vision and a practical tool for school districts to stand on. It’s a powerful way to communicate outward while also providing concrete guidance for internal development and allocation of resources. It gathers community input into one place and creates a concrete, clearly articulated goal for all educators to aspire to. It alleviates stress, guides professional learning, emphasizes Deep Practices, invites the community into the schools in a real way, and has the potential to save incalculable amounts of money, time, energy, and bandwidth. It’s already benefited countless districts in the form of a Profile of a Graduate; why not extend those benefits to the adults who give themselves every day in service to their schools and students?
Interested in learning more? For more information on Profiles of an Educator you can contact Dr. Kate Newburgh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Newburgh, Ph.D
Dr. Kate Newburgh has over a decade of experience in education. She began her career as a New York City Teaching Fellow in the Bronx, NY. Since then she’s held diverse roles in the field including Educational Researcher, Academic Affairs Director for a national non-profit, and Curriculum Specialist and Instructional Coach for Eagle County Schools, CO. She is a member of several large-scale networks including the Colorado Education Initiative and America Achieves. She is trained in Project-Based Learning, Capstone Design, Competency-Based Evaluation, and Social-Emotional Learning Development for teachers. She received her Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Denver with a research focus on teacher retention and adaptive whole-teacher supports.
Contact Kate or check out her website (www.deeppractices.com) for more information.
Headden, S. (2014). Beginners in the Classroom: What Challenging Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society. Stanford, CA:. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Michalec, P., & Newburgh, K. (2018). Deep Practices: Advancing Equity by Creating a Space and Language for the Inner Core of Teaching. Teacher Education and Practice, 31(1).
Newburgh, K. (2018). Teaching in good faith: Towards a framework for defining the deep supports that grow and retain first-year teachers. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1–14. doi:10.1080/00131857.2018.1537878