How should we staff our school for the 2021-2022 school year? Every academic leader should be focused on this question right now. We can’t assume that the staffing needed next year is what we needed during this wild school year, nor can we assume that staffing should return to a pre-COVID world. We also can’t assume a “normal” year in terms of teacher retention or retirements. So how might we think about effective staffing for next school year?
As we dive into this question, it is important to remember that faculty and staff expenses are the primary expenses at independent schools -- at day schools 70-80% of expenses are staff related, at boarding schools, it is 50-60%. Thus, staffing at our schools is the most important factor in schools’ ability both to meet their missions and to thrive and survive financially. With this in mind, let’s dive into the two sides of consideration for staffing the 2021-2022 school year.
What staff do we need to meet our mission and thrive financially?
The school that thrives in the post-pandemics world will not simply “return to normal,” but instead be a school that has learned key lessons from the COVID-pandemic and from addressing the pandemic of systemic racism. Schools transformed overnight in March and continued evolving rapidly throughout the summer. Sacred cows suddenly weren’t so sacred. That’s a good thing.
Throughout the pandemics, we have been advising schools to have an archivist -- someone responsible for documenting what has changed. As you plan for staffing the 2021-2022 school year, review the list of what has changed and consider what changes should stay going forward. For example, did you change your schedule and in the process realize that time and space could be used differently? Might your keep a “start time” change in the future to improve student wellness? Did you find that a mix of synchronous and asynchronous work allowed more time for project-based learning?
In addition to a review of what has changed and should remain, academic leaders also need to take an inventory of competencies and skills that are needed moving forward, both for your faculty as a whole and for individual faculty members. For example, almost certainly faculty job descriptions should include increased expectations for everything from diversity, inclusion, and equity practices, to course design, to assessment practices, to expectations for being on campus (or not?), and to technological acumen. These competencies are no longer “nice to have,” but now “need to have.”
At the same time, enrollment will be a moving target for schools throughout the winter, spring, and summer. Some schools will see marked increases going into next school year; some schools will see marked declines. Academic leaders will need to be in constant contact with admissions offices, and build their faculty corps for flexibility -- faculty members with an ability to teach a range of classes will be more valuable than faculty members with specific niche skills.
Will faculty stay?
This is a real question given this past year. Faculty and staff members are exhausted. In many schools, the trust relationship between faculty and administration has frayed. And, the stock market remains high, giving enough comfort to allow teachers close to retirement age to feel secure enough to retire sooner rather than later. As academic leaders, you need to know who is not planning on returning now, not later in the spring. And yet, many faculty members will want to wait to make decisions about returning until later in the spring, once it becomes more clear what the 2021-2022 school year may look like. Academic leaders will want to reach out to faculty members directly and consider setting deadlines for decisions. Leadership teams will also need to be in constant communication with each other so that, for example, information gained by a department head is relayed to the dean of faculty. Finally, another reason academic leaders need to know faculty retention decisions early is that the hiring process itself will likely be very different, without an ability to have finalists on campus.
Happy New Year! 2021 couldn’t come fast enough this winter. At One Schoolhouse, our team always looks forward to the start of the year because it’s the moment we launch our courses for the next school year. Our 2021-2022 course catalog is live, and registration for summer and school year courses is open. We’re continuing to offer a wide range of courses across disciplines, and we’re excited about the new courses we’re launching this year:
Expanding Languages: In 2021-2022, we’re continuing to build our American Sign Language program out with ASL - Beginning II. (Look for ASL - Intermediate coming in Fall 2022!) We’ve heard the feedback that language students and heritage speakers have different needs, so we’re adding AP Chinese for Heritage Speakers to ensure that every student gets the preparation they need to succeed at the highest level. In addition, we’re adjusting our French sequence to offer both French - Intermediate I and French - Intermediate II, ensuring we have the right entry level for every student in our program.
Focusing on Identity: In our annual survey of consortium schools, we saw an unprecedented consensus that our schools want to offer academic courses that reflect the diversity of their students and their communities. We’re excited to offer two new fall semester courses, Black Identity in the United States, and Latino/a/x Identity in the United States. These courses take a transdisciplinary approach to explore the history, culture, and politics of oppression and resistance in Black and Latino/a/x communities.
Increasing Advanced Placement Courses: We continue to field requests from our schools to add to our Advanced Placement course listings. This year, we’re offering AP Chemistry for the first time. In addition, we’ve added AP Physics 2, which means we’re now offering all four of the College Board’s AP Physics offerings.
Offering More STEAM Courses: As college majors in STEAM disciplines continue to grow, we’re meeting the need for high school students who want to get a jump start in related fields. Three fall semester courses with spring seminar options provide opportunities for advanced study. Advanced Topics in Chemistry: Applications in Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Environmental Chemistry allow students to apply what they learned in the lab to real-world settings. Anatomy & Kinesiology focuses on the human body through the lens of exercise and movement. Artificial Intelligence provides students with the opportunity to explore the intersections of technology, coding, and design as they learn the foundations of AI. Finally, our new summer course, Algebra I, provides the foundation for high school math. This course is a great opportunity for rising ninth graders to ensure they’re on the path to Calculus before graduation.
Calling For Teachers: We’ve opened our Call for Teachers for the 2021-2022 school year. One Schoolhouse is looking for growth-focused talented educators. If you discovered that teaching online opened new possibilities for you, visit our website to learn more.
At the end of 2020, we asked our staff to reflect on the past year. Over the upheavals of the past twelve months, we’ve been makers, breakers, and innovators. We’ve learned some essential lessons about how our work creates change, and how we are changed by it. This week, like last week, we’re sharing those reflections with you. - Brad
"Less is more" was the mantra of many schools (and rightly so) as we pivoted from campus-based to emergency remote teaching in the spring of 2020. At the time, the idea was, naively, to survive a temporary shift to online instruction. Now, as schools try to stay focused on their mission and core values amidst this swirl of complexity, "less is more" isn’t a strategy to survive. Instead, it’s a directive to thrive.
Right now, the upheavals of running a school ask leaders to keep one, or just a few, true north stars--a very small set of institutional priorities that are fundamental to the school’s identity. The challenge is to articulate those few priorities at every turn, and intentionally connect programming, practices, and policies to those driving principles. Alignment and effective communication allow each school to be excellent in its own way, and avoid the trap of trying to please everyone.
As a new member of the One Schoolhouse team, I have seen this approach in practice in an intentional and aligned way. One Schoolhouse's mission calls us to "empower learning and transform education," and our pedagogical north star is personalized, competency-based learning grounded in strong student-teacher relationships. We reflect that approach in our pedagogy white paper, course development standards, and teacher training and competencies, as well as our student surveys and data analysis. In short, we are able to be focused and effective in our work because we've articulated what we are about. Because we know what's essential to us, we can more easily say no to what’s extraneous. When we sharpen our focus, we do more of what matters.
Meera Shah, Director of Studies
It's a challenge to narrow these to just 1 or 2 sentences, but I think my greatest lesson learned is just how important relationships are. It would have been so much harder to get through this year without colleagues, friends, and family to share ideas and reaffirm each other. The remote nature of everything has made this especially clear.
Lynnae Boudreau, Instructional Designer
This has been a learning year, for sure. I’ve learned a whole lot about how schools work and about the pressures that society puts on all schools to be perfectly accommodating to every demand. I’ve seen teachers and administrators worn to ragged ends by the competing urgencies in their lives—urgencies that include, it must be said, the need to make positive things happen in their personal worlds when others around them are also frazzled. My late father, a pessimist about so much in his life, once told me to never say things couldn’t get worse, because then they would. The year 2020 has proved him correct on that point, alas.
But I’ve also had confirmed for me what I knew as an administrator, which is that no one running a school or some part of a school really wants to be doing it alone or to be working in a vacuum. The COVID pandemic has surfaced its own special horrors, and the political climate has forced us, at last, to acknowledge horrors in our history and in every corner of our world. But I have witnessed the power of connection in the lives and work of academic leaders with whom I have been privileged to work through One Schoolhouse. The horrors are our reality, and the only way out is through—and educators working together, sharing ideas, questions, resources, and even their own fears and pain, are forging paths to the far side of this. At last, we’ve begun to learn the power of candor, cooperation, and collaboration.
Peter Gow, Independent Curriculum Resource Director
I’ve asked some of our staff to reflect individually about what they’ve learned this year, and we’ll be sharing those thoughts with you this week and next week. One Schoolhouse has also been reflecting about how we’ve responded and grown this year in our Annual Report. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it as your year concludes as well. - Brad
I value how 2020 has invited me to practice radical imagination more courageously. More than daydreaming about what the future could be, radical imagination prompts us to uproot our antiquated beliefs and practices, and work daily to bring equitable futures into the present. This year, I have confronted bigotry, performative activism, and oppression in new and radical ways. I have unearthed a greater joy in navigating the contradictions, tensions, and conflicts inherent in fighting for change. And I feel inspired to reimagine a bold, more equitable “normal” for 2021 and beyond.
Tracie Yorke, Instructional Designer for Equity, Accessibility, and Innovative Inclusion
One of the most important aspects that I try to include in my life, both professionally and personally, is empathy. 2020 has been an exercise in learning how to find the capacity for additional empathy when I feel like I've reached my limit, or how to be supportive of a colleague who has overdrawn on their own supply.
I saw firsthand how hard this year was with teachers while facilitating the summer course, Designing for a Hybrid Environment. To ask the teachers to reenvision and reshape their practices was incredibly freeing for some, and for others, it was so daunting. When teachers grew frustrated (often right before a breakthrough), I did my best to put myself in their shoes; they were worried about family members and didn't know when they'd be able to see them again; they were stressed about their children's social and mental health being affected for many years to come due to the pandemic; they were at their wits' end because despite the best efforts of their schools, there were always more unanswered questions than not. This has been a year that has shaped my own practice as teacher and administrator and provided me growth in ways that I didn't know I needed.
Beta Eaton, Director of Student Support
Let’s be honest: not every student is thrilled with the idea of taking an online class. This is especially true when taking it comes at an unexpected time (like last spring). While the benefits of an online class outweigh the costs in most cases, sometimes the news that a course (or all of school for that matter) is only being offered online triggers what feels like a crisis. But it’s not. And everyone knows it now too.
Online learning should never create a crisis. Teachers and students are adaptable, even those who had no intention of ever going to school online. The very definition of learning -- the process of acquiring new knowledge and skills -- is what this profession is all about. This year, independent school teachers and students showed up, learned to do school in a range of modalities, and made learning happen online. And while there were plenty of crises in 2020, online learning wasn’t one of them.
Corinne Dedini, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning
This year I learned that the adults in schools are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to support the children in their care--academically and emotionally. I have seen schools do massive systems overhauls that would normally be spread out over 3 years. Teachers have upended their instructional practices, searched their souls, and revised their entire curriculum while researching tirelessly to find ways to build more just and equitable classrooms.
Sarah Hanawald, Assistant Head for Professional Development and New Programming
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)