Tag Archives: Talent

A Day in the Life: Bellwether Analyst Andrew Rayner

Andrew Rayner

Bellwether Talent Services analyst Andrew Rayner

Bellwether analyst and Chicago native Andrew Rayner always wanted to be a teacher. From a very young age, he says, he loved school, learning, and teaching people things. Teaching in the Marshall Islands and Bosnia after college reinforced his love for the world of education, so when he came back to the U.S., he worked as a behavioral specialist for kids with mental health and behavioral challenges. The following year, he was one of the founding teachers at a charter school in Boston, where he taught math and special education. “To see changes in my students, even over the course of a year, was so amazing,” Andrew explains about his love of teaching.

After five years in the classroom, Andrew joined Bellwether’s Talent Services team in August 2016. Below, we talk to him about his path from a classroom educator to an education graduate student to a member of our own nonprofit firm.

Why did you transition out of the classroom and into other branches of the education field?

My behavioral work with kids made me see the importance of organizational culture as a whole in terms of lifting up kids. The culture and environment you create for students, both in the classroom and in the school building, matter. I also saw how things outside the school building were affecting and enticing kids. When I was a charter school teacher, I taught the same group of kids for two years. Getting to know them reiterated the need to influence the culture inside the classroom, inside the school as a whole, and in the community outside of the school.

I love teaching. It is rewarding but also incredibly challenging. I wanted to find another way to impact the field. I’m a big believer that if you want to become an expert in a field, you should see it from as many angles as you possibly can. So, while five years is not an extensive period of time teaching in comparison to many people, I felt ready to see the field from a different perspective.

I went on to get my master’s degree with an interest in how to create safe and brave spaces in organizations to discuss issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I went to graduate school thinking I was going to do that work with kids, but I realized that adults actually need a lot of support to deeply and authentically engage in discussions about how to accelerate progress toward building and running DEI organizations.

Can you speak to your identities and how they inform your passion for DEI work?

As a person of color, I loved teaching in the Marshall Islands. You wouldn’t think that anything while living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would remind me of home (and the place itself didn’t, really), but the kids looked somewhat like me. They shared my complexion. Then, I did work in Bosnia, where my students didn’t look like me at all. It seemed like every conversation happening in sidewalk cafes would stop as I walked by. People would literally stare at me and point. It wasn’t malicious at all. They just had never seen a black person in the flesh. I felt like such a unicorn.

Working outside the country reminded me of the work that was needed in our country, especially in communities where the people looked like me. I was driven to go back to the United States and work in urban environments with historically marginalized and underserved youth, which is why I started work as a behavioral specialist.

My other salient identity is my queer sexuality. I came out to my parents during my second year of teaching in Boston. I never came out to my students — I was still figuring out what it meant to be a queer teacher.

However, during my third year of teaching, sexuality started to be talked about between the students themselves. The administrators wanted someone to talk to the seventh graders about it, particularly because bisexuality was “trending” in the seventh grade. I was asked by an administrator to consider talking to the students, and one of the reasons that was given for my involvement was because I was gay myself. At first, I thought it was an opportunity to leverage my identity for the betterment of the students. But then I realized I didn’t know how to do it! It also felt really uncomfortable that I would be asked to do it because I was gay.

It ended up being addressed by someone in that grade-level team, but it was the first time I really thought about how to talk about sexuality in a way that was beneficial and productive to the students and not just about me coming out as a gay teacher. I began to ask school administrators if there were any internal school policies or structures in place to support me as a queer-identified teacher if I were to have come out to the students and something went wrong (e.g., a student felt uncomfortable or a parent complained). The administrators said that there were no policies or structures in place and that they had never thought about it before. That was mortifying to me.

There are still challenges for queer educators. Where I am positioned now will hopefully allow me the opportunity to create safe spaces through talent planning in organizations. Through Bellwether, I hope to have opportunities to lead the field in this work.

What attracted you to working at Bellwether?

By the end of grad school, I was looking for work in diversity consulting and found it a really hard thing to break into. I stumbled upon Bellwether, and what started out as an informational interview turned into the first of multiple interviews. I knew education consulting would give me that different-altitude look at the field and the opportunity to see what it is like to enact systems-level change.

I was drawn to Bellwether because it is mission-driven, and I had not seen that in a lot of other firms. I also thought it was incredibly impressive that the organization spanned across talent, strategy, and policy. This organization embodied the mantra I shared earlier by getting its feet wet in three different views of the same field.

My eyes have been opened in ways I didn’t think they would be, particularly about the impact that talent services work has on perceptions of DEI on the ground. For example, I never realized that how you are compensated, how you move along a compensation schedule, and perceptions of the two are all very much issues of equity. It has been great to learn that by implementing certain strategies along the talent life cycle, you can affect the experience of DEI that individuals have at an organization.

Is there anything that stands out for you about the work environment at Bellwether?

I have been lucky in that I’ve always worked at organizations that are extremely passionate about the work they are doing. That’s no different at Bellwether: People care very much about what they are working on and about impacting education. And they do it with a smile and love to laugh with one another. They bring that joy both to the seriousness with which they do the work and also to the clients to whom they’re delivering the work.

I am fortunate to be at Bellwether as we are fleshing out our DEI offerings and services for clients. I’m excited to see how we are going to codify the practices we are establishing and how the solutions we are coming up with evolve.

 

What’s Really Driving Leadership Turnover in Education?

Image by Alachua County via Flickr

Image by Alachua County via Flickr

When DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced she was nominating Oakland, CA Superintendent Antwan Wilson to succeed Kaya Henderson as DC Public Schools’ Chancellor (after an anxious public search), the San Francisco Chronicle responded with a scathing op-ed accusing Wilson of disloyalty and self-serving ambition. The Chronicle also took a few shots at San Francisco’s former superintendent Richard Carranza, now working in Houston, and generally railed against urban superintendents who “come in, do enough to raise hopes, then move on to a higher paying job.”

High turnover in educational leadership is alarming, but to paraphrase the advice columnist Dan Savage, if you have a long string of dramatic, failed relationships, the common denominator is you. I’m not just picking on the Bay Area — the average urban superintendent stays in his or her role just 3.2 years, and state education chiefs turn over at an even faster rate. These dismal numbers are likely not the sole product of individual ambition, but it remains unclear what actually drives this churn. When experienced, qualified school system leaders across the country leave their posts much earlier than expected, should we blame the individuals, or take a closer look at the jobs?

What is clear is that state and district executive leadership roles have become more challenging in recent years. Federal education policies put myriad new responsibilities and choices in the hands of state and district central offices to measure teacher and school performance, increase student achievement, and close achievement gaps for disadvantaged  groups of students. For example, a new publication on teacher evaluation by my colleagues Kaitlin Pennington and Sara Mead uncovers a minefield of choices facing state and district leaders — and that is just one policy area out of many. Leaders are figuring out these new responsibilities in an increasingly polarized and politicized educational environment.

Holding our school systems and their leaders accountable for providing an excellent education to every student is absolutely the right thing to do, but we also should recognize that educational bureaucracies were not designed to be agile performance managers orchestrating school turnarounds. They were mostly built to disburse various funding streams down to schools, and collect documentation that the conditions of that funding and other legislative mandates have been met. Those compliance responsibilities remain in place even as new performance goals are added, and on top of that, many agency budgets are being slashed by their state legislatures. Untangling the messes of red tape, budgetary crises, and misaligned priorities takes time and support that most superintendents are not afforded by their school boards or by their communities.

Even the best leaders can be hamstrung by the political, legal, and bureaucratic contexts in which they operate. Instead of looking for more selfless miracle workers to lead dysfunctional systems, envision a school system where great leaders (or maybe good-enough leaders!) could do their best work. How would it be organized? How would it be accountable to the community and work in the best interests of students? What are the conditions that enable that kind of school system to exist and succeed? I don’t have all the answers, but legislators, governors, mayors, and school boards will need to think bigger to disrupt the current cycle of leadership churn, and these big questions are one place to start.

Veterans in Education Organizations May be Overlooked, Isolated

Photo by Ian Koski.

Photo by Ian Koski.

Today is Veterans Day and an opportunity to express our gratitude for those who have served in a military conflict. More importantly, it’s a time to consider if education leaders and their organizations are doing enough to hire and support veterans.

So we decided to dig into data generated by Bellwether’s Talent Ready Diagnostic (TRD), a proprietary framework that we use collaboratively with organizations to assess their “talent readiness” along 16 key talent dimensions including core values, leadership, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, competencies, talent acquisition, on-boarding, performance development, career development, total rewards, decision making, communications, and work/life mix. The results provide us with a window into how “talent ready” an organization is — that is that degree to which they are innovative, effectively managed, great places to work that generate sustainable results and have durable, authentic relationships with the communities they serve. Importantly, it provides us and our clients with valuable data on the diversity of their employees and whether their employees feel that the work culture is inclusive. Thousands of employees from 36 education organizations across the sector, including 14 nonprofits, 13 CMOs, and 9 districts, have submitted responses.

We wanted to see if we could get a picture of the sentiments expressed by education organization employees who identify as military veterans. Our data set is small, so all the requisite interpretation caveats apply, but clear themes emerged.

What we found is discouraging.

Overall, there are incredibly few areas where the veteran group reports more positive perceptions of talent dimensions than the non-veteran group, suggesting that the identities and experiences of veterans may be isolated or overlooked.

Here are some concrete findings: Continue reading

A Day in the Life: Q&A with Kat Black, Bellwether Talent Services Intern

Kat Black

Kat Black, Bellwether Intern

Bellwether was thrilled to have Kat Black join our Chicago office as a summer intern on the Talent Services team from June to August 2016. She came to us in between graduating from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and beginning a full-time role in human capital consulting at Deloitte Consulting in New York City.

We spoke to her about her career goals, highlights from her time with us, and what makes Bellwether unique.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you get inspired to work with underserved kids?

My love for helping students started in undergrad at Amherst College, where I worked as an intern in the admissions office helping with diversity initiatives. Following graduation, I accepted a fellowship role as an admissions officer at Amherst. One visit to a particular school, the High School of Leadership and Public Service in New York City, had a great impact on me. I’ve never forgotten the kids there. It was a predominantly black and Hispanic school, and for those students to see someone who looked like them coming from a school like Amherst meant a lot. It also reinforced my awareness of the lack of resources so many students face. Since then I’ve done a substantial amount of college preparatory tutoring for students at different under-resourced high schools in NYC and Chicago, but want to do more in the future.

My dream is to open up my own organization that works directly with kids doing college prep work. Starting an organization requires resources and knowledge in terms of how to actually run things. I have the passion from my experience at Amherst, and now I’m working to put the skills behind it.

How did you hear about Bellwether?

I came to Bellwether through Education Pioneers. I was studying abroad in South America and said look, I’ll have four months off between graduation and my next full-time role, how can I keep growing? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but from the moment I spoke to the Talent Services team, I have never looked back.

I don’t think I’ll ever work in another organization where one of the cofounders invites me out to brunch before my start. Coming into an organization and already feeling like I was part of it was a big deal. My first day didn’t feel like a first day because I’d already been welcomed so much in advance.

I went from wavering about how I wanted to spend my summer to meeting the people at Bellwether and saying this is literally a dream job. Continue reading

Diversity: Necessary (But Insufficient)

Our country has a long history of social movements that fight inequity, injustice, and institutionalized oppression and which are led by marginalized or oppressed groups. But the educational equity “movement” is unique in that it has, from the beginning, been led largely by white, economically privileged leaders and funders, while the communities most impacted by educational injustice are largely brown, black, and poor.

The outcomes of this disconnect are approaches, practices, and structures that are not deeply and authentically informed by the communities being served. They often lack sociological and cultural context and relevance. This reinforces power dynamics between school leaders and families, educators and students, and organizational leaders and their key constituencies. And these dynamics perpetuate dominant white culture, practices, and beliefs and maintain the systemic oppression living comfortably and largely untouched at the root of educational inequity.

In recent years, the consciousness about this disconnect has risen in our field, and with that increased awareness has come a desire to change. School leaders have started to shift away from zero-tolerance discipline policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline and towards restorative justice approaches. Educators have started to examine pedagogy for cultural relevance. Organizational leaders have started to prioritize diversifying their organizations. Funders have started to see the dramatic lack of ways to track data and metrics related to diversifying school staff, organizational leaders, and volunteer bases and boards.

As more nonprofits, charter schools and networks, and district leaders have come to our Bellwether Talent Advising practice frustrated by lack of progress on their diversity, equity, and inclusion aspirations, we have articulated an approach called the Funnel of Impact. This approach helps organizational leaders to build and run educational equity organizations that are what we call “talent-ready,” organizations that live and act in deep alignment with beliefs around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Continue reading