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Ten years ago, Boston Public Schools (BPS) were composed of 23.9% Black educators, 9.4% Latinx educators, and 5.2% Asian educators. And, as of 2019, there were approximately 21.6% Black educators, 10.6% Latinx educators, and 6.3% Asian educators. The needle isn't moving.
This is in huge disparity with the fact that studies have found educators of color have a greater impact on students of color and, as of the 2019–2020 school year, BPS is composed of 86% students of color compared to less than 40% of its educators.
Despite those stats, the number of Latinx educators actually declined from 500 in 2017 to 490 in 2018. At the same time, the total number of educators of color increased by just three, from 1,779 to 1,782.
And while the disproportionate racial makeup of BPS students and their teachers has a deep impact, including missed potential to close opportunity and achievement gaps, children now entering BPS have no more access to diverse teachers than children graduating.
The Recruitment, Cultivation, and Diversity (RCD) team within the Office of Human Capital is an organization committed to hiring and maintaining a diverse workforce for the district. As the RCD team builds new programs to attract, train and support educators of color, it sought an overarching framework that could connect the disparate elements of its work.
We worked together with the RCD team to develop The Purpose Engine, a model that names and reflects back to teachers an understanding of the purposes that draw them to their profession. This strategy channels our collective knowledge of teachers into a framework that allows the RCD team to develop new programs, to refine and iterate existing programming, to engage partners, and to market and communicate current programs.
The Purpose Engine strategy advances BPS's progress toward teacher diversity with the express goal of maximizing opportunities to connect with individuals across recruitment, development and retention efforts.
"We will need to draw on a person's purpose to reclaim them into the work that we need to do." — Ceronne Daly, Managing Director of Recruitment, Cultivation and Diversity ProgramsOffice of Human Capital | Boston Public Schools (interviewed in the context of current school closures for coronavirus)
Currently, the Recruitment, Cultivation, and Diversity (RCD) team offers a rich set of programs to support its diverse BPS educators, enabling them to connect socially, pursue advanced positions and degrees, nurture their classroom work, and more. However, while the programs are effective and a network of users has been established, RCD wanted to find a way to help its educators connect on a deeper, less one-size-fits-all-diverse-person level.
Agncy's challenge was to establish a durable, flexible framework for communication and program development capable of extending through all phases of the RCD process: recruitment, development, and retention. It also had two specific goals:
1. Help educators understand the range of programs available to them
2. Empower RCD to make decisions and shape its work
PROCESS AND KEY INSIGHTS
Agncy spoke with 6 RCD staff members, 5 principals/administrators, 2 WEOC (Women Educators of Color) coaches, 3 experienced teachers, and 6 newer teachers with the ultimate goal of understanding the values, needs and mindsets of educators and how RCD programs resonate with them.
Areas of focus during interviews were as follows:
- Career trajectory: How they got into teaching and where they want their career to take them
- Professional/personal learning: How they learn both professionally and personally and how this knowledge influences their teacher and leadership
- Day-to-day challenges and wins: The challenges and bright spots they face in their classrooms and schools, and their strategies for pushing through challenging times
- Support systems: Who they rely on for personal, professional and district-level support
- Professional values: What values are most important to them and how these values influence their teaching and leadership
- RCD program awareness: What RCD programs they have knowledge of and how they learned about those programs
Teaching isn't a punch-the-clock job; it's an intensely personal career. Teachers come to their profession for reasons of personal resonance, whether those are through love of content, social justice commitments, or community connections. This also means that their personal and professional health and growth are closely intertwined.
The job is always changing
Teaching is dynamic. Teachers talked about how important it is to stay current with shifts in their landscapes and in themselves. While core content and standards may be relatively static, the way these connect to the lives of their students is constantly changing because of technology, community factors and so much more. Teachers too are constantly impacted by shifts in district leadership, school culture and teaching trends.
Expected and desired career trajectories are often not the same
While there were some who had aspirations for "higher" roles, many of the educators Agncy spoke with found their greatest gratification came from the classroom. Some even moved into leadership roles and chose to step back. Unfortunately, there's a culture at BPS that frowns upon teachers who choose to stay in the classroom. Educators need to be able to see and value their progress, even when, on paper, they remain in the same place.
Some teachers are hunters, others are gatherers
Hunters are proactive and driven. They seek out opportunities as they work toward objectives. However, they don't all have upward ambitions; there are hunters who want to stay in the classroom and need ways to strive and thrive within that role.
Gatherers are reactive, responding to outside forces to drive their trajectory. This doesn't reflect their appetite for development or advanced roles, rather, it shows how they identify opportunities and decide when to pursue them. Gatherers can feel "less than" in a district like BPS and need to feel valued and supported.
Specific, critical moments alter a teacher's path and approach
These moments of inflection have the power to change a teacher's perceptions, approach to work, view of their role and personal life. These moments are essential to how teachers build and view their own narrative about their work. We want to cultivate these moments, as they advance practice and deepen meaning.
Based on these insights, we identified opportunity spaces that were territories for ideation.
How might we share what we know about the arc of a teaching career to make the experience shared?
The goal of this opportunity was to recognize the natural stages of a teacher's career, from the challenging first few years, to the periods of stagnation that we found to be a natural result of confident mastery. We sought to show teachers that (whatever stage they are in) there is a path forward.
We also wanted to make it clear that this path need not take the traditional "up-and-to-the-right," hierarchical view of advancement. The district has the opportunity to nurture teachers in the classroom and to retain them by showing them how to grow and develop without changing their position.
How might we nurture people's sense of purpose?
Our goal in this opportunity space was to begin to speak a shared language across the district that connected to the "whys" of teaching. Much of the district's communications and programming were "how" specific, introducing new tools or providing lessons in practice.
We wanted to, as much as possible, manufacture moments and conditions that could spark the moments of inflection that teachers described as transformational. These are the pivots that bend the arc of a career, reconnecting teachers to the depth of their day-to-day work, contributing to a strong sense that their career had a narrative—a connective, sense-giving thread.
Taking research, insights and opportunities into consideration, Agncy created "The Purpose Engine."
The Purpose Engine identifies four core purposes that drive teachers in their work:
The Champion is all about the kids; these people come to teaching because they love working with children. They are motivated to ensure that every student they teach is fully seen and accepted as they are. And they love direct feedback from students, whether that's love notes from first graders or a return visit from a past student.
The Community Investor believes teaching is a social justice practice. They see teaching as a way to live their values and to invest in the change they seek for the world. They love to see their students organizing and standing up for themselves.
The Lifelong Learner loves to teach because they love to learn. It's all about the content—they see teaching as a way to deepen their own knowledge and to joyfully share a love of it with students. They are thrilled by the a-ha moments in class, when understanding clicks or when students engage in a content-driven debate.
The Role Model wants to connect with kids like themselves. These teachers were proud to talk about how their background relates to their students and were honored to have the opportunity to model success for their kids. These teachers love to connect deeply with their students and see their own impact in moments of trust between students and themselves.
Identifying these purposes gives the district a better way to talk to and support its educators, offering materials, communications, and programs customized to their strengths and what they care about. They're also given opportunities to connect with other, like-minded individuals so they have a chance to collaborate and affect greater change. Most importantly, identifying their purpose gives teachers a way to see and validate themselves, and to dig deeper into their practice and their values.
HOW "THE PURPOSE ENGINE" IMPACTS EACH PHASE OF RDC'S PROCESS
Recruitment: The Purpose Engine quiz is...plain ol' fun. Recruitment events are often filled with static literature, but the Purpose Engine quiz gets potential educators engaged. Plus, it automatically gives the recruitment staff a point of entry to talk to educators and connect with them.
Development: Purpose Engine personas help highlight individuals' strengths and values, in turn helping identify opportunities for growth/advancement that capitalize on those strengths while keeping educators connected to their core values.
Retention: Purpose Engine personas help foster deeper, more meaningful relationships between like-minded people within BPS; it also helps educators feel heard and understood, all of which adds up to people who are truly invested in the BPS system because they believe the system is invested in them.
"The creation of the purpose process was so powerful and I don't think we've actually fully maximized the capacity of it yet. When we return, it will be seen with fresh eyes by people most connected to educators. It's a nice foundation to be able to return to.
What was created, I don't think we knew what it was going to be. The power of the work is that it truly develops an organic product. Where did it come from? It came from our teachers. It feels so cool, but the fact that it never existed until we went through this process is even more compelling."
—Ceronne Daly, Managing Director of Recruitment, Cultivation and Diversity ProgramsOffice of Human Capital | Boston Public Schools (interviewed in the context of school closures for coronavirus)