Teachers Wanted: Ursinus, PVSD Lead Conference for Area School Leaders
More than 40 school administrators representing 12 area K-12 school districts attended “Strengthening the Teacher Pipeline,” a special conference cohosted by Ursinus College and the Perkiomen Valley School District and designed to promote collaborative opportunities to attract and retain teachers.
There are an estimated 55,000 vacant teaching positions in U.S. schools, and many districts are facing the same pressing question: How can they not only retain their teachers, but attract new teachers to a profession with a dire need for more?
Schools surrounding Ursinus College are grappling with this problem, too, and many of the top administrators from a dozen of those districts participated in a conference on Nov. 3 in the Schellhase Commons on the Ursinus campus. “Strengthening the Teacher Pipeline,” cohosted by Ursinus and the Perkiomen Valley School District (PVSD), was a chance to identify challenges and collaborate on solutions to the teacher shortage issue.
“Schools are facing tremendous challenges, and that’s taking a toll on whether people enter and stay in the profession,” Ursinus Associate Professor and Chair of Education John Spencer said.
Some of those challenges can be traced back to the COVID-19 pandemic, said keynote presenter Julia Skolnik, CEO and founder of Professional Learning Partnerships (PLP). PLP partners with K-12 school districts primarily in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to transform learning and leadership using brain science.
“Teachers are under the microscope in a way they’ve never been because families and parents had a direct view into what classrooms look like under the most stressful circumstances,” Skolnik said. “And the dynamic has shifted to where everyone has an opinion on how teachers should be teaching.”
Skolnik asked the administrators in attendance about obstacles facing districts’ ability to attract and retain teachers. Examples included competition from other industries and a shift away from wanting to remain in the teaching profession for a long period of time.
“There is a mindset in today’s culture that your first career is not your only career,” Skolnik said. “So, the question for us is how do we push the gas pedal on passion and create a space where people are spending time doing things they love, so that they can do it for another 10 to 15 years?”
Skolnik’s organization collaborates with school districts to design customized, innovative, and sustainable school experiences that allow students and staff to thrive. It was fitting that the conference’s cohosts, Ursinus and PVSD, have demonstrated their own longstanding partnership with a track record of success.
Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education awarded Ursinus a $21,960 grant through its Innovative Teacher Prep2Practice Program, which is aimed at stimulating the creation of highly cohesive clinical experiences for aspiring teachers, in hopes of strengthening the pipeline into teaching. The effort is enhancing Ursinus students’ field experiences within PVSD.
“We need to get our students into your schools for quality field experiences throughout the preparation program, not just at the end,” Spencer told the conference attendees. “We need to match our student teachers with excellent teaching mentors, and we want to build strong partnerships with all of you to produce high quality teachers that you can hire to become part of your system.”
Mentorship was a key tactic that emerged from the conference—for both new teachers and future teachers.
“Something that is really important to me is making sure that we’re developing mentors and teacher leaders,” said PVSD Assistant Superintendent Laurie Smith, who has led the school district’s collaboration with the Ursinus teacher program. “We need to cultivate strong teacher leaders to mentor the next generation of educators.”
Following remarks from Skolnik and a presentation on the Ursinus-PVSD collaboration, attendees participated in “job-alike” breakout conversations, in which superintendents and assistant superintendents, principals, curriculum administrators, and human resources administrators collaborated on challenges and solutions.
“Teacher preparation programs and school districts benefit from strong partnerships with each other,” Ursinus President Robyn Hannigan said. “Through these partnerships, pre-service teachers and students of education writ large gain significant practical experiences, mentorship, pedagogical insights, and early membership into a community of practice that positions them for life-long success.”
Hannigan continued, “Collaboration around teacher education is essential right now, given the worsening teacher shortage in Pennsylvania. This is not just a challenge; it’s a call to action. The future of our education system and, more importantly, our students’ futures depend on our collective efforts to address this crisis. Together, we can and will effect positive change and craft a brighter future for our young people.”
Districts represented at the conference were Spring-Ford, Methacton, North Penn, Wissahickon, Owen J. Roberts, Tredyffrin/Easttown, Pottsgrove, Souderton, Perkiomen Valley, School District of Haverford Township, Radnor Township, and Unionville-Chadds Ford.