Discover How One District’s Investment in Teacher Candidates Has Paid Dividends

A short video clip detailing recruitment, continuous learning, celebration and micro-credentialing efforts have helped one district attract and retain teachers

Find ideas and inspiration from one school system’s way of investing in their teachers’ growth.


Brent Raby:

It’s really important for me to highlight that everything starts with the question of what type of instructional culture do we want to create within our classrooms? And to be quite honest, since I’ve been here over the line the last nine years, we can hire anywhere from 25 to a hundred different teachers a year. And so, they come from all these teaching programs, but they all don’t speak a common instructional language. And so, when you really think about it, I did a presentation a week and a half ago on this very question for an hour and 45 minutes, so you might have to cut me off, but it was called Invest In Your 85%. 85% of public education budgets go to salary. So, when you have turnover, when you have those types of things, when you have teachers that you have to cut loose because for whatever reason they don’t meet that culture, you really have to think about that and really think about how you’re going to support.

So, the first thing that we do, and I won’t go really in-depth around this, but we talk to our principals about what interview questions you’re going to actually ask and to, so we are recruiting the right people to bring into our system because if you don’t have people that match with that culture, they’re never going to find success regardless of the support structures that you put in. And our ultimate goal is to get people to stay because that is a huge investment. So the things that we’ve done is to support our teachers in doing the day-to-day thing. Yeah, absolutely, we have a two-year induction program. I have a full-time staff member that runs that program, who facilitates all the afterschool meetings and goes into classrooms, provide support, et cetera. But the other things that we do is that we run throughout the school year, we’ll run a fall, a spring, and a summer professional learning week.

And so, we’ll offer almost anywhere between 100 to 150 different sessions all internally facilitated. So, we run them like the week before school. People are starting to get back in that mindset. They’re already in setting up their classrooms. So, we get to introduce some of the new things that we’re going to do. We also provide support. Our staff can actually take 15 of those classes and turn them in for grad credit where they can move on the salary schedule, which is really nice, they’re extremely well attended, and it’s also a nice way to get some of our new teachers in to hear some of our language early on. And then, again, it’s kind of in those laws where people start to feel down. Those sessions are always a pick me up, so we put them strategically through the school year.

In January, we run what we call the power of us. The first 90 minutes of it, all we do is recognize staff. We give awards for our best professional learners in the system who have taken advantage of a lot of our structures. We recognize our teachers that have been around for 25 years. We recognize our nationally board certified teachers. We recognize people that have really just kind of invested. We do Golden Apple Awards, et cetera. And then, we run 150 workshops just that day, all internally facilitated. We do not bring outside people in because again, it’s about building our culture in our language. So, they’re not hearing something like, “What does that mean?” And now, I have to translate this back to West Aurora. And then, this is where we’ve gotten a little bit more creative.

When I first got to West Aurora, nine years ago, we had a lot of people going out and getting grad classes from random colleges and universities that weren’t necessarily tied. And I got a lot of feedback, and this is coming from someone who has three masters and a doctorate. “I have a lot of money invested in my own education.” That was painful for me because I knew people weren’t necessarily always getting the same return or they were really taking hit or miss classes, so we’ve tried to take control of that. So, we’ve put in a micro-credentialing system here, which we call it West Aurora University. It’s all in-person, face-to-face, and here’s the beauty of it, it’s taught by our staff members. There’s 15 courses that have action learning built within it. It equates to about 36 hours of sea time and work, and we give people internal graduate credit. We call it graduate credit, I know college and universities don’t like that, but we give them internal credit that moves them on the salary schedule.

Now, think about that. It’s free, it’s controlled, they’re hearing the messages that we want them to hear, and they’re moving on the salary schedule, and those are non-transferable credits where they can’t take them to another or another school district because then they would start over on the salary schedule. So, it’s our investment in them saying, “Hey, we’ll do this for free, but we want you to stick around because we’re investing in you and we’re more than willing to pay you more money to keep going through that investment.” It’s one of our popular things. You can actually see some of the stickers on the wall behind me. And people, this is the crazy part. I go around at the beginning of the year and I recognize everyone that has earned a micro-credential and I give them a feather because we’re the Blackhawks and kind of fits the theme and all that good stuff.

People put them up in their classrooms. So then, when we do have teachers who are struggling around assessment or struggling around instructional practice, or technology integration, et cetera, they know who to ask because they know who has sat through some of those classes. So, it’s like this in internal marketing system too, where you’re not just asking the random teacher down the hall like, “Hey, how do I do this?” So, that’s been really popular. We keep expanding those year to year, so there’s always new offerings. We’ve had some people that have earned over 36 hours of just going through those programs. The other thing then, this is new this year, is that… Because like I said in the beginning of this is that we speak 60 some different languages within our system, and so, everybody has multilingual learner or multi-language learners in their classrooms, and we need to learn how to support that.

So, we actually took some of the federal money that we got through ESSER and we bought graduate credits to pay for people’s English as a second language certification. And so, we run internal cohorts of ESL certification, all taught by our teachers, all after school. We actually have a full-time facilitator who teaches the courses and then goes in and supports classroom practice when teachers have questions. So far, we have 120 people enrolled in those programs. So, we’ve gone from 150 people to almost 300 that are ESL certified, which has allowed us a lot of flexibility within the system.

The last thing we did, and I can talk about this a little bit more later, is that we regained institute time, like school improvement time, et cetera. Because I used to be a tech director, so the worst thing that I did is I put people in a computer lab and I taught them how to point and click through programs. We have built a competency-based badging system, which is self-paced online classes that tackle things like Google, Apple, Seesaw, Schoology, all these. There is no end to the number of programs that we weren’t learned in the system, and I don’t need to put people in it.

So, what we do is we create these self-paced programs where they go in, they submit that they’re competent using these programs, and then we pay them 150 bucks for getting it done, and that I’ve regained so much valuable learning time during the day because now, I don’t have to do that. I don’t ever have to show them how to navigate programs because we have a system to address that. We also do that for our paraprofessionals, our classified staff, et cetera. And here’s how I know it’s worked. When I got here nine years ago, our retention rate was in the low 80s, our retention rate now is in the high 90s. And we don’t have teacher shortage problems in our district because the word’s out like, you come to West Aurora, you don’t have to spend money to move on the salary schedule. We have a system to support. We have a really complex induction program, and then we have people all over this place that are either doing instructional coaching, resident training, et cetera.