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  • Writer's pictureAli Simon & JoDee Scissors

Why Educators Bring the Best Skills and Knowledge to Social Impact Roles


During the COVID-19 pandemic the education system was pushed and tested like never before. We’ll discuss the new skills and knowledge teachers gained during the pandemic and how to transfer that expertise into a social impact role.


How Teachers and Community Organizations Come Together


Ali 0:33

Thank you so much for joining us today, I'm really excited to introduce our guest, Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu, who grew up in Arlington, Texas, and currently resides in Omaha, Nebraska. He is CEO of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy counties, working to make a positive impact on the community by combating the effects of poverty and resulting inequities through an education and empowerment lens. Welcome, and thank you so much for being here.


Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu 1:09

Oh, thank you so much. I'm very happy to be here. Very happy to meet you all, and spends time with you.


Teacher Poll: What Teachers Want to Achieve by Leaving the Classroom


JoDee 1:13

We're gonna start off the episode today. And I want to share some statistics with you from our listeners. So we recently did a Facebook poll asking our listeners what they are trying to achieve when they leave the classroom. Our results showed that 45.1% of respondents said they wanted to leave teaching to achieve more a flexible schedule. So flexibility 37.8% wanted better mental health 9.8% wanted career growth 6.1% more family time, and 1.2% said higher salary. But why would I bring this up to you is because despite wanting to achieve flexibility, or better mental health, a teacher may still want a job that impacts young children or communities. And I think these goals can be achieved even if you don't work in the classroom, which is why we're here to talk to you today and about the organization that you work with very interesting.


Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu 2:09

No, I am in many similar conversations I think about you can call it quality of life or work life balance, or really this this idea and this, this kind of aura of wellness starts to come to the to the forefront. And I think what this time, and really just the current state of education has brought forward is people are really asking themselves, am I living the most well, or healthy or happy or fulfilling life. And I think that's survey is very indicative. But then when you look across districts and states, and I mean it, it is truly a great migration or resignation from the way that things quote unquote, used to be some of those things, you know, similar to what you just said, some of those things like, pay. And I would say appreciation have always been like that, unfortunately, it's always been like that in education. So it's kind of like that that's there. And even with small incentives, financial incentives lately, that's still not seeming to move the needle for some instructors. So yeah, for sure. I mean, I, I would be one of those that would say quality of life and personal and community wellness has to be at the top of the list really, for everybody. But more specifically for teachers.


Ali 3:27

Absolutely. And one of the other things that you touched on was the pandemic and how things have shifted a bit through the pandemic, from your experience, how have you seen the roles of teacher and administrator evolve during the pandemic?


Shift to Online Teaching and Lack of Fluency


Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu 3:42

Sure, well, you know, way back to when it first started, you know, that first March, it was an immediate, you must become an online teacher. Now, for those who have never taught online, that is a complete, I mean, it's a brand new language that you have to learn to learn in real time, in the face of a lot of uncertainty. So what we call them locally, kind of within the camp, that, that I work with that learning community, we call like, everybody had to become a zoom producer, we now became a Zoom producer right overnight. So not only do we have to become aware of what Zoom is and what online, you know, offerings can bring you but now we have to educate ourselves on how to to become fluent and then activate by teaching others from afar on how they can become aware and educated and fluent ends in the Zoom world. You know, teachers and administrators I think kind of morphed into this role, at least here locally into what all term as a social assistance navigate. So food, access to internet, access to housing, you know, many caregivers lost their jobs. They might have been displaced somehow. All of the the inequities that were there to begin with, we're still there but we're capitalized daycare needs transportation needs obvious To the medical needs. And so the role of the teacher more or less morphed into, like, Hey, how can I, as a trusted adult and a consistent figure in the in the child's life, play an additional support role to and our family unit, which I think was, you know, again, kind of built in before, but it was, you know, heavily pronounced afterwards. And then fast, you know, fast forward to Okay, the next school year, and even the school year, we're in now, I think the modification of curriculum was one big, and I think, still current thing that instructors had to think about when they go into school, and again, trying to teach toward comprehension, but then also trying to teach for just survival, like, we want to make sure that these kids stay engaged, that we don't lose any more to truancy or absence, we don't lose any more to any kind of other, you know, discipline issue that may be keeping them out of the classroom, for whatever reason, we're holding on with one hand, but we're trying to teach and stay at, quote, the average level are teaching to the test. And then very few are able to modify it even more to challenge them to do more to learn more in a way that modifies their curriculum above and beyond. So those were the really the, the big ideas I saw and some of the ones that are still have some residual effects now.


Ali 6:16

Yeah, and I think what we're dealing with now is the long lasting effects of the pandemic. So that was an extremely difficult time for educators. And we haven't even brought up that a lot of those were parents, a lot of educators were parents, so they're doing all of this, and their own kids are at home. And that's just mental health wise. I mean, it was stressful enough, being home with my my own children, two children, and having a more flexible job. But if I had to be on a Zoom producer during the day, too, and have a five or an eight year old, that I was also responsible for overseeing their learning, it's just it was too much. But something that did emerge during the pandemic was an even greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, which became a major catalyst for social impact roles and organizations. So I'm wondering, how did your organization pivot during this time to support the needs of your community?


Equity and Accessibility to the Internet and Technology


Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu 7:14

Sure, I think you know, absolutely incredible. I want to go back and ask so many questions about what you both just shared. I, you know, I think one of the big things that we had to consider, as far as an equity lens was, many families here are just like families everywhere else in our country. Number one, they don't have language proficiency. So that, you know, I one, one day is is a good day, you know, I think it was Thursday. March would be 12. Because Friday, the 13th Everybody got sent home. So Thursday is a regular day, Friday, the 13th. Everybody gets sent home, and they have that they, really, they're on a waiting list to get a machine, then this iPad shows up at their house? Well, it shows up and it's in a language that I don't understand. I've never seen this before. I even if I've seen it, I've seen it on movies. And it looks really cool to operate on movies, but I don't I don't know how to do it. You know, the TV didn't tell me how to operate it. You get it open, somebody's families don't have email accounts. What is an email address? What where do you go to log in? What is login? How do I log in to find where my child is supposed to meet his or her their classmates or teacher. And you know, back up even before that not everybody has equal access to internet, not not all of them had that. So we were working with local nonprofits, I mean, we literally had like a hotspot van that would go and park at the end of the block, and try to have this radius of about a 5-10 block connectivity. And you know, we're knocking doors saying if you need internet, here's the network. And here's the password in multiple languages, in real time, on sight, in the face of pandemic, from the yard, basically yelling this or putting a piece of paper down and walking away and having them come get the piece of paper and take it back to their home. I mean, little things like that. So all of that. I mean, very, very plainly that that is where we had to start. That was part of us being a Zoom producer as well, we have to put something up online again, how do we get families to the online, you know, short YouTube video tutorial, and we have hundreds of videos, you know, we just kept producing it and say, Hey, this, if you have a question about this, I know you don't have to learn it all and know it all in my 20 minute visit because I need to move on to the next family. But But go and get it from there and and again, teach yourself. And again, my same question is at what point in time, at what inflection point do I as a caregiver of a young child, say yes, this is how I'm going to dedicate myself to team teach essentially, with the child's teacher on site. You know, fast forward all the way to like these. I would say older students, maybe middle school and high school students, the amount of Mental Health Social emotional connection that they did or did not have. Huge we were getting away from looking at, like, what the state test math and reading scores tell us. And we're doing a lot of deep, very, very metric based evaluation on what social learning looks like, or what emotional maturation looks like. And then some all the key indicators of what an overall wellness or mental health status would look like right now. We're just trying to track healthy people right now, it's not even healthy learners, we're all the way back to the very beginning and foundational blocks of we're looking for healthy individuals, healthy learners to show up to be able to receive quality instruction right now. So a lot of focus on opportunity for all, it was mentioned earlier accessibility for all, and then trying to create an equitable framework to where teachers are teaching from the same place, learners can learn from the same place. And then hopefully, at the end of the day, I mean, it's going to be our faith that leads us and, you know, we're hoping on the goodness of society to see this generation through to hopefully something better in the future.


JoDee 11:10

One, I want to say, bravo to you guys, for making those efforts to bring internet and access to those students and families who had those barriers, because that's the extra mile you have to go to make sure that there is equitable education, you can't do the same thing. But something you said was, you know, you're you're examining the mental, the health of the whole child, which a lot of schools will say, we teach the whole child. And then they place the data in front of me. And I say nothing about that says anything about my child's mental health. And so there's that, but what about the teachers health? That has been we get a lot of messages from educators, and they are not taking care of themselves? And how do districts evaluate the health of the educator?


Ali 12:06

And Jody, to your point that we really do need to prioritize our educators, as well as our children. But they're the one delivering the instruction. They're the one who see the kids every day and help fill in these gaps, help notice these changes in family situations.


JoDee 12:22

We are seeing like a rise in those social impacts positions across the nation, all of my non educator friends, when they talk about issues with within their organizations, such as HR or conflict with their peers at work. I always think back to teacher professional development. All of these trainings that we do to learn about people and community inequities. Every organization needs that. So as someone who doesn't work in a school setting, how do you think that an educator who comes from that background, do you see that a value in an organization like yours or in other companies?


Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu 12:59

You know, without question, I'm glad you brought up that idea, too, based upon what what you two just shared. The idea of PD, I think first has to that there's this like, negative connotation that comes with PD. PD is just another thing on your plate, you guys have 12, 13, 15, 18, 20 things you have to do. And you have PD to go to or, you know, this thing is on Friday, and it's made this big deal, and it almost seems punitive to a certain sense. But if we can get a PD, where it is focused on you, it is here to help you and try to edify you in some kind of way. Hopefully, that changes the tone. I'll also say that in some schools that we're very fortunate, they had somebody on site that would run around and check in on you and ask you like, hey, move curriculum and discipline, and planning and extracurriculars out of the way. Like, how are you doing? They had time to be able to do that? Well, no, those teachers got pulled into classrooms, they all they they got a job on top of a job on top of a job and that service or that that time that QT went away all of that those conversations were not had it was more of a desperation survival type thing. You know, I guess linking into you know, an idea of of implicit bias we're going into a learning community learning environment where hopefully you know that you don't know everything is the best way I can see it. And the best way I tried to describe the others is almost like a study abroad. If you want to learn a language if you want to learn a culture if you want to learn the people, the ins and outs, the good bad and ugly, pick yourself up and go drop yourself in Santiago or Rio or Moscow or somewhere like that. You will learn in a hurry. What's good, what's bad, what's ugly, what you can say what you can't say what you can get away with what you can't you understand the humor and the culture. You understand that? This is what it looks like when people get mad. They're not aggressive. They're not meaning to be a are harmful in any kind of way. This is just how they express themselves. So I think some of that, that exposure, some of that awareness is absolutely critical, maybe go to a site around some, some neighborhoods, maybe go hang out a little bit go where the quote unquote locals go. So that when you get to the classroom, and you're able to make you have to teach math on the board, but you're also teaching like life and community, in your classroom, you have to be fluent in that too. I think that's what's missing. I don't think people will naturally want to do that you stay where you're comfortable, right? You don't necessarily go to places that you're unsure of you, you link up with the folks that look and talk and act and smell and eat just like you, you know, you're not going to necessarily go to those other places, but if it's your profession. And you the next cube over the next office over a part of your team has somebody that is different from you. I mean, that it's it's I think that's the encouragement and really the unification the teamwork that goes into that, as far as understanding like, can I come walk in a day a week in your shoes, can I see it from your eyes for a little while. And then we will honestly realize that we are so much more alike than we are different. We have our own unique identities. And we can bring a lot of gifts and talents to the table. I just I was cooked differently than you were, I just I have a little bit of different ingredients in mine than you do in yours. And both are great.


JoDee 16:23

Very well said you're hitting on so many traits, abilities and knowledge that so many teachers already possess. And I think it's safe to say that if you have a passion for social impact, or DEI jobs, those roles exist and a teacher should go after them. I personally think that all organizations can be improved with the lens of an educator on their side. And you you and what your team is doing is showing the value of that educational lens and how it can impact society outside of a traditional classroom role.


Ali 17:01

It's such a great conversation and I really enjoyed hearing about what your organization did during the pandemic to try to help solve these inequities that exist in your community and empower families to be able to support their children through learning. If you'd like to reach out to Dr. Bradley Ekwerekwu. Well, you can find him on LinkedIn. And we'll highlight that when we share this week's episode.




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