Meeting together in-person for the first time since February 2020, the Arkansas Teacher Corps staff spent two days at the beautiful DeGray Lake State Park Resort in Bismarck, AR for a beginning-of-year kickoff retreat. For new staff and returning team members alike, the two-day retreat provided the perfect opportunity to get to know each other, reconnect, and build community among our team. Because our staff typically only meets virtually, the time spent in-person was critical for setting shared goals and norming on expectations for how we will work together the rest of the year.
The focus for the first day was team-building. Staff shared about their personal core values that motivate them as professionals, and we reflected on similarities between different people and the ways in which we currently honor those values in our work together. From our personal values, we moved into discussing our organizational core values (Continuous Learning, Brave Vulnerability, Collective Responsibility, and Leadership for Equity); in addition to celebrating how we currently live those values out, the team set intentions for embracing them even further as we move through the year. Staff members also shared stories of self for better understanding of where we each come from and what experiences have shaped up in our work as education leaders.
On the second day, we shifted to goal-setting. The morning was spent discussing our individual Myers-Briggs personality types, as well as our different communication styles and leadership approaches. While exploring the strengths and weaknesses of our team overall, we reflected specifically on what we each need from the team to be successful and what each of us can do to help others on the team be successful. This led to a great discussion of our personal and professional triggers that allowed us to set concrete norms and agreements around how we will communicate and collaborate throughout the year. The afternoon was all business as we split into small groups to conduct a SWOT (strengths-weakness-opportunities-threats) analysis and set our team goals for the 2021-22 school year.
We continue to work toward the nine strategic priorities outlined in our 2020-2025 strategic plan, setting a bite-size SMART goal for each priority for this year. While we want to maintain the rigorous outcomes we’ve seen with students and fellows over the past two years, recruitment and retention are our two primary focus areas for 2021-22. Through a combination of retaining current fellows and recruiting new applicants, we are aiming to have 65 fellows teaching in the Arkansas Delta in the 2022-23 school year, almost double our current capacity. In addition to the work we continue doing on a daily basis, our team also identified five projects to help us recruit and retain fellows:
- Expand the Community Sponsored Fellowship pathway to new partner school districts in the Arkansas Delta
- Launch an online application portal that allows for easy application submission/review and required documentation uploads throughout the full three-year fellowship
- Hire an additional recruiter and teacher coach
- Provide free self-care opportunities to fellows (continue with mindfulness offerings and add new yoga offerings)
- Partner with mental health professionals to allow fellows easy and affordable access to therapy
We are excited about this potential for growth and look forward to what this year brings! Join our mailing list or follow us on social media to stay informed of our progress on these projects and our goal of 65 Delta fellows. Even better, help us spread the word by recommending ATC to the outstanding community members and other potential educators you know. Together, we can tackle the teacher shortage and ensure that all students are empowered as rigorous learners, resilient individuals, and responsive leaders.