Christie Olsen: “I don’t think we’re going to have the teacher turnover we had last year.” If a Fortune 500 company saw 23 percent employee turnover in a year, there would be mass chaos and turmoil among the corporation's leadership. Therefore, why is this acceptable in a rural school district, wheNov 20, 2017
Christie Olsen: “I don’t think we’re going to have the teacher turnover we had last year.”
If a Fortune 500 company saw 23 percent employee turnover in a year, there would be mass chaos and turmoil among the corporation's leadership. Therefore, why is this acceptable in a rural school district, where teachers work to foster student learning to better Arizona’s future? As shocking as it may seem, one year ago, this employment tragedy was a reality in the Lake Havasu Unified School District.
With threats of teacher and student walk outs due to the unfortunate circumstances of benefits and pay, National Board Certified Teacher Christie Olsen knew she had to take a stand for her profession.
Although she first tried to solve the problem through the lens of human resources, the longtime educator knew her passions were elsewhere.
“I started to get involved in the financial, insurance realm of the teaching world. I realized that wasn’t where my heart was, but it was driving teachers to leave. The conversation moved away from learning and teaching and into survival mode. It became fight or flight and I wasn’t comfortable with that,” she admits.
Olsen says she felt called to bring the conversation back to teaching and learning. The desire to shift the focus to the purpose of the profession revealed the need to create professional learning communities.
“I started to think about what my impact could be in this district. I had zero influence over district finances, but I could influence culture. I could ignite a change,” she recalls. Olsen knew that with intense effort and great attention to the teachers’ voices she could change the way they felt about their career.
Feeling recallibrated in her personal mission as a teacher leader, the instructional coach set out to create professional learning communities. While the goal was to improve teacher practice, she first wanted to tend to the immediate needs of those willing to stay in Lake Havasu.
“When I started, I didn’t have any funding to back me. All I had was the opportunity to meet with these teachers. I turned that opportunity into a chance for teachers to have conversations with each other. It transformed into teachers coming together to talk about their own strengths, potentials, and barriers, rather than me standing up and distributing my 25 years of teaching knowledge,” she says.
As she actively listened to their concerns, she understood a major worry was mentor teachers’ inability to observe and work with mentees. As a solutions-based thinker, Olsen rallied the support of the school board and district personnel so she could apply for the Arizona K12 Center’s Master Teacher Program. After receiving the grant, the district could afford to pay for substitutes so mentors could step out of their classrooms to work with first- and second-year teachers.
More than financial assistance, Olsen says through the professional learning communities she’s seen a huge improvement in district morale and energy.
“We’ve gone from 11 teachers who are Board-certified, to eight candidates this year, and I have 28 teachers who have committed to the process for next year. Some of these teachers are finishing up their third year of teaching. These are teachers who can already see their own potential to achieve National Board Certification,” she reports. “I don’t think we’re going to have the teacher turnover we had last year.”
Olsen is just one of the teachers featured at this year's Teacher Leadership Institute. Discover other ways Arizona educators are transforming their passion into action here.