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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Short on Staff & Needing a Renewed Vision - Challenges to Overcome

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #83

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the challenges schools face, and I started to list some of the problems I think we need to solve. Unfortunately, my list grows daily, and my article would be too long if I included everything I wanted to discuss. Instead, I’ve chosen two issues to outline in this article.

Staff Shortage and Retention

For many different reasons, schools are struggling with a growing shortage of teachers and a high turnover rate. Teachers have the highest burnout rate of all U.S. professions, and more than four out of ten teachers feel burnout. Districts are trying to hold on to veteran teachers, and some districts are trying to rely on paraprofessionals instead. Without dealing with the underlying causes of teacher burnout, it will be challenging to generate and sustain success for instructional programs.

Madeline Will | Education Week, September 6, 2022

The author suggests that the studies of the Annenberg Institute may have limitations but do contribute some questions for consideration. For example, are the solutions applied to the problem appropriate? Is the problem universal or in specific subject areas or geographical regions?

To my surprise, there is no data on teacher shortages at the U.S. Department of Education, except in subject areas, but it does provide some data to support the size of the problem. Two professors at Kansas State University developed a study based on student population and teacher-certification programs in each state. They estimate that there are more than 36,500 teacher vacancies nationwide, and more than 163,500 positions are filled by teachers who aren’t fully certified in their teaching areas.

A second study found that not as many teachers left the job after the pandemic as was expected. There were many reasons teachers stay on, even when feeling burnout; these include retirement considerations and money. This study did not support the assumption that teachers were leaving in masse, yet my interactions with school leaders contradict this study. Teacher shortages in some schools and subjects have been a problem for decades; whether a crisis or not is immaterial when we know students are not getting the teachers they deserve.


Needing a New or Renewed Vision for Education

There is no question about the impact of the pandemic and remote learning on students and general education. What previously was busy with having a school with all the traditions, instructional methods, and conformity was disrupted. Educators, students, and parents wanted to get back to normal. But I don’t think it is possible to get back to what was because the light has shone on the good and bad of our current educational system. The challenge is whether we can emerge from a significant disrupter with a new or renewed vision for education. The gate is open for innovation and transformation.

I’ve always admired the progressive policies of our northern neighbors. I follow the works of Michael Fullan, the former dean of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education. In 2014 I read Achieving Excellent, Ontario’s vision for education. I haven’t researched whether they met their goals in 2014, but their vision is a good idea for schools today.

The Minister’s Student Advisory Council Representative crafted the following statement:

“We want schools where students will feel free to dream about their futures, where they are able to connect their passions with possible career options, and where the resources needed to support these decisions are provided.”

They listed four goals.

  1. Achieving Excellence Children and students of all ages will achieve high levels of academic performance, acquire valuable skills and demonstrate good citizenship. Educators will be continuously supported in learning and recognized as among the best in the world.

  2. Ensuring Equity All children and students will be inspired to reach their full potential, with access to rich learning experiences that begin at birth and continue into adulthood.

  3. Promoting Well-Being All children and students will develop enhanced mental and physical health, a positive sense of self and belonging, and the skills to make positive choices.

  4. Enhancing Public Confidence Ontarians will continue to have confidence in a publicly funded education system that helps develop new generations of confident, capable, and caring citizens.

Eight years ago, Ontarians recognized that the world is changing rapidly. Similar conversations began in schools in the U.S.A during my first year of teaching in 1972. The world has changed significantly since then, but most educational change has been tinkering with the industrial age system. Now is the perfect time to reinvent or create a new education system with specific goals and an inspiring vision for the future.


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