Laney Shaler, a 2018 graduate of The Broad Residency, is chief of staff of the Equity and Engagement Division and former director of Teacher Pathways and Development for Denver Public Schools. She describes the school system’s approach to building a diverse and well-prepared teacher workforce.
The challenges of human capital development in school systems
As we plan for a post-pandemic educational environment, we know our students, particularly students of color and students from low-income backgrounds who were most severely impacted by COVID, will face (widening) social-emotional and academic gaps. To support our students and families, we must invest in and support our teachers.
As we consider the needed investments and support, DPS’s commitment to teacher talent has not waivered. Denver’s goals of increasing the racial diversity, preparedness, and retention of our teacher workforce are as central to our work as ever, and we believe that an intensive focus on our newest educators will help us achieve our vision of cultivating a teacher workforce that is homegrown and more reflective of our students and community. Our early investment in our teacher workforce stems from a rigorous analysis of our broader workforce, which included findings that prompted a shift in our approach:
- 75% of DPS students identify as individuals of color, while just 28% of DPS’ teacher workforce is comprised of individuals of color
- More than 65% of DPS paraprofessionals identify as individuals of color, many of whom are subsequently enrolled in a teacher prep program or would be interested in becoming a teacher
- Denver hosts at least 300 pre-service teacher candidates (an individual enrolled and nearing completion of a teacher prep program) each year, about 40% of whom identify as individuals of color
- Denver historically hires about 800 new teachers each year, about 30% of whom identify as people of color
Focusing on early investments in our pipeline could position DPS to achieve our long-term teacher talent goals. With this clear charge, we began shifting resources, including our central teams’ time and effort, and also made strategic and programmatic shifts.
Our approach to building teacher pathways in Denver
To support our district in building a more racially diverse and better-prepared teacher workforce, DPS supports future teacher candidates by developing the knowledge, skills, and mindsets necessary to be an effective educator in DPS before they lead a classroom of their own. To fulfill this vision, DPS partners with local teacher-preparation programs to drive collective impact. In the past, the lack of alignment between teacher-preparation programs and district needs hindered academic progress and outcomes for students, as early-career teachers were unable to hit the ground running to rapidly advance student learning. To change this, DPS carved out capacity within our central team in order to:
- Deepen partnerships with teacher prep programs in service of the alignment of prep program coursework to district needs and priorities to develop teachers who are ready to meet the instructional and socio-emotional needs of our students.
- Match preservice teachers with mentor teachers who model strong instructional and culturally responsive practices and mindsets.
- Train pre-service teachers in schools that are similar to the schools where they will be hired as a first year teacher. In Denver this means we train preservice teachers in Title I schools so that they can better leverage their learning experiences as they transition to a teaching role in DPS.
- Establish an Early Career Teacher Pathway that begins with the cultivation of our students to become teachers. The Pathway creates a continuum of roles with a gradual release of responsibility and support—an extended developmental runway—so that we are able to develop our future teachers over time, improving our ability to retain our teachers.
Introducing Teaching through EdConnect
Some of the work we are most proud of within our Early Career Teacher Pathway is the establishment of our EdConnect Program, which provides current students course-based and work-based learning opportunities to explore the teaching profession. Through our EdConnect program, we are able to leverage our partnerships with our teacher preparation programs to provide concurrent enrollment courses that expose students to issues ranging from social justice to the science of reading. DPS also provides financial support to students to engage in teaching apprenticeships to get hands-on learning to inform their career and college paths. COVID has temporarily impacted our plans to expand our Teacher Pathways efforts, but pre-pandemic, more than 400 students were engaged in EdConnect, 95% of those students identifying as individuals of color, which demonstrates the criticality of the early investment in our teacher workforce.
Our Teacher Pathways and Development efforts in Denver have focused on building the pipeline of future teachers and also ensuring that long-term development opportunities for our teachers are accessible and of high quality. Cultivating a racially diverse and well-prepared pipeline is challenging work that requires deep partnership, and can be easier to accomplish with financial resources to help mitigate (or eliminate) the barriers that often prevent candidates of color from entering into the profession.
The work of cultivating the pipeline is only worthwhile, however, if the system and the culture of the system—including the mindsets of individuals—have evolved in alignment with and in support of a vision of equity. While there is still much work to be done, Denver’s commitment to racial and educational equity has provided the enabling conditions to propel our work around teacher pathways forward.
To learn more about DPS’s broader efforts grounded in racial and educational equity, please take a look at some resources offered below:
- The Bailey Report: An Examination of Student and Educator Experiences in DPS Through the Voices of African American Teachers and Leaders
- DPS Board Passes Black Excellence Resolution
- DPS Equity Statement
- Chalkbeat article on DPS' Black Excellence Plans
- DPS Equity Experience
Denver Public Schools does not have all of the answers, but we are committed to the necessary self- and systemic examination and learning to see this work through.