Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

Creating a Collaborative Community for Students, Teachers, and Families

September 27, 2021 Nilofer Ali, Westchester Education Services Season 2 Episode 2
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Creating a Collaborative Community for Students, Teachers, and Families
Show Notes Transcript

Nilofer Ali, Resources Manager and DEI Committee Lead,  Westchester Education Services and Beau McCoy, Founder and CEO, SOLCademy have a conversation around how education is evolving. They also explore why support and collaboration between all stakeholders—including teachers, administrators, students, and families—is needed more than ever.

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester Words, Education Ed-Tech and Publishing. This episode features a conversation between Nilofer Ali Resources Manager and DEI committee lead for Westchester Education Services and Beau McCoy, Founder, and CEO of SOLAcademy. Some of you may remember that, but Beau was a panelist for our webinar about considerations for developing a culturally responsive curriculum in September of 2020. Here, Beau and Nilofer will be talking about how teachers and parents can work together to support their mutual goal of providing children with an enriching education experience, whether in the classroom or in the home environment, how various stakeholders in the community, including education publishers and edtech companies can work together to help students overcome some of the challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic and how federal funding should be best utilized to improve equity, access, and outcomes for students all across the country.

Nilofer Ali:

Hi Beau, thanks for joining me on Westchester Words today. Uh, we've had a lot of conversations over the past year since we met, it was like at least a year ago, right?

Beau McCoy:

Yeah. Something about, about a year ago, I'd say, but what a year it's been. So it feels like it's five years.

Nilofer Ali:

It really, it really does. Right. And so much has happened in so many different areas, particularly with education and communities. Um, so, so I have a question for you , um, in this past like year and a half or so, who have you been talking to and what are you hearing?

Beau McCoy:

So I'm Beau McCoy, I'm the CEO and founder of SOLAcademy. SOLAcademy is an educational content ecosystem where you can easily share videos and classroom resources with other educators and parents. And over the last year, it's really been my esteemed privilege to speak with probably several hundred teachers. And I've noticed such a dramatic shift , uh, in, you know, just obviously the requirements placed upon them and what the job of teaching means , uh , from a year ago to what it is today. Um, and it's become very apparent that we really need to focus on the needs of the teacher , uh , if we're gonna accomplish the needs of the students. And so that is really where I'm hoping that school leaders are going to spend time focusing as I have very high confidence in teacher's ability to figure out how to proceed. Uh , they have shown kind of great resilience in throughout this pandemic and figuring out how to teach online and doing that , uh , but where if we're not meeting their needs , uh , those teachers' needs, it's going to be very hard for them. And unfortunately, a lot of them won't be back in the classroom. Already, you know, the , the data is shocking about how many teachers are thinking about leaving the profession, and we've really got to meet their needs as , as human beings first, so they can go out and do their job.

Nilofer Ali:

Boom. I think you hit the nail on the head is I think that a lot of, a lot of people throughout education and education industries , um, and some of the conversations that we're having within Westchester as well are about really keeping humanity and being human centered, you know, keeping humanity at the center of our focus. So what are the needs that you're hearing from teachers?

Beau McCoy:

Well, we'll just be quite honest. I mean, we've all been through a very traumatic situation these past 15 or so months. I think a lot of people have been exposed to things , uh , substantially more than they otherwise wouldn't have.

Nilofer Ali:

It sounds like there were a lot of things. We have the pandemic, we have all of the racial tensions and uprisings that have been happening also at the same time as the pandemic and within , uh, within schools and education teachers really got handed the burden of managing all of that at the same time. And , uh , it sounds like from what you're saying, they just really didn't have the support or the tools that they needed in order to, you know, carry on in a way that served their students as well as, you know, allow them to take care of themselves.

Beau McCoy:

And if you think about a traditional school and I just saw this on my LinkedIn, you know, they'll have maybe one school counselor for 500 students , uh , what about the 500 teachers, right? Where do they go for help? You know , uh , they are facing new challenges that they've never encountered before. And so that's really where, where I see a huge need in professional development. Yes. But also let's call it personal development, right. The human being and how are they doing?

Nilofer Ali:

Yeah. I saw , um, a meme recently or some infographic recently that differentiated between self care and community care. And are you seeing anything around the need for, so of course, people need to be able to take care of themselves, but are you seeing anything around the need for community care places where people can come together and collaborate or help take care of one another, that kind of thing? Yeah.

Beau McCoy:

I think that's really the path forward is that concept of collaboration, right? Uh , you can, you can do so much on your own, but when you combine forces, the output can be much, much greater. So fortunately, you're starting to see this, you're starting to see community groups , uh, educators getting together. You're starting to see a lot more collaboration between parents and educators and more communication there. And I think that's an important thing. And then there's gotta be the parent support groups too .

Nilofer Ali:

Yeah. Yeah. Um, you mentioned that you are interested in connecting educated educators with parents who need their help. And then you talked about needing the whole village to address the learning loss of the past year and a half, you know, during our email conversation. So can you talk a little bit about how you envision that connection happening or what that could look like?

Beau McCoy:

You identify two key shifts. Uh , number one, teachers are incredibly increasingly becoming burned out because their workload is dramatically increasing and the number of hours is not. And then two , you see parents dramatically more involved in their child's education, both with their time and treasure and education doesn't stop when the bell rings, right? It is not an eight o'clock to three o'clock thing. Uh , it continues all day every day. And so that time that a student is with the parent is incredibly valuable and parents have stepped up and said, yes, we want to help. Uh, we don't know how we're not trained in education, right? We've never been teachers, but we see our son or our daughter struggling in math or reading, and we want to help, but we don't have the tools. And so therein, I see a solution in bridging these two groups together. And this is where SolAcademy steps in. And we are that ecosystem for sharing educational content and resources between the teachers who create them and the parents who want to help apply them with their child. So if your child is struggling with a math lesson, you can go onto SolAcademy and you can find a video where a teacher is explaining that math lesson, but that's not enough. You need help in applying it. And so the teacher can also provide a parent's lesson plan or study guide, or other resources that go along with the video instruction so that the parent can understand it as well and help their child through that process. This is a new market that we're really pioneering, but this is how we view the future. It's creating a space for these incredibly talented educators to make resources and then make them available to parents all over the world who want to help their children. And so you're going to be doing your learning in the classroom, and then you'll be doing your learning when you get home as well. And that's really my vision is this, that you're always on this continuous journey. It doesn't stop and start at specific times. Right?

Nilofer Ali:

So, so question so like Westchester is a , we work with clients who are in educational publishing and ed tech, some similar to SOLAcademy in some different , um, so what, you know, what are the ways that our clients may be can help support , um , this vision where you know, where , uh, teachers and parents can connect more closely?

Beau McCoy:

Absolutely. So there's, there's two kind of new consumers in this market. They're not new, but they're just greatly expanded from where they were a year ago. The first is the very experienced teacher who knows how to teach, but they're being asked to cover in a shortage. So maybe they've been teaching one subject like science for a very long time, but due to the teacher shortage, they're asked to step up and cover an English class or a math class. And so the , the content is going to be slightly different for that teacher, right? Uh, maybe it's a little more fundamental or rudimentary, but the teacher can get through it. They just need the content for someone who's not familiar teaching that subject. Right . And the second thing is, like I said, is those parents who are coming in from a novice standpoint in terms of being a teacher, but also need content,

Nilofer Ali:

Something else that we've talked a lot about, which is culturally responsive education, where whatever people bring to the learning environment, whether they're a students , whether they're a parent, whether they're a teacher, whether it's a community or , uh , uh , cultural heritage , um, or through a cultural heritage that these are assets. And so what I'm hearing you say is that even people who are not experienced in teaching a particular content area, or may not have formal training as teachers, they can bring something , uh, something really valuable or some things that are really valuable and what they need from the industry is supports, you know, some of those use to sort of like to support , uh, some of the , uh , pedagogy that they may not be familiar with.

Beau McCoy:

Yeah, absolutely. That's a great way of saying it. And that's the thing. I think this has become a welcoming in education. Now we welcome different ideas and different backgrounds and different ways of doing things because the challenge in front of us is substantially greater than it was. And there's also value in diversity and in engaging students through a voice that sounds familiar to them, or have a view of something that looks familiar to them , uh, if you can really unlock that child's engagement, it makes so much more, you know, efficient the rest of their learning journey. If they're motivated, you know, if they believe that they have a model of success for themselves, they can visualize success. Uh, they're much more likely to achieve it. And so that's where having that cultural responsive piece can be so incredibly valuable.

Nilofer Ali:

There's so much money coming into districts right now , um, to sort of help us , uh, figure out how do we, you know, help students and families, you know, navigate sort of what's happened in the past year and a half. So, you know, what are your thoughts on, how do we make sure that those funds are utilized to support students who, you know, in the ways that they need ,

Beau McCoy:

Uh, more money is not always the answer. It's how do you utilize that? And what I think I'd like to see and what a number of school leaders have told me and recommended is that there have been budget cuts to key areas, right? Uh, to the amount of school counselors that are available to enrichment programs, to kind of all the things that treat the human of the student , uh, music and recreational activities. These are the things that are most vital to addressing the mental health crisis and allowing our students to re-engage. So it would be great to see if we could start there addressing the needs of the mental health of all of our students. And then from there identifying where the learning losses are and attacking them head on if it's tutoring, if it's additional teachers, whatever it is a one way identify some problem that we can actually solve, that we come up with a solution for it. And we solve that problem first, rather than trying to do everything at once, just spoke with , uh, a school superintendent of a school district a couple of days ago. And he said, you know, we have so many problems on our hands, but I want to make sure that we address this reading problem that we have first, because the data is shown on our assessments that, you know, most students are behind on where they , where they should be in comprehension. It's like, I want to address that first. And then we can move on to other things. And I know that might not be the most popular choice if there's other areas that your parents care about, but isn't it better to get a win first and have something to stand on rather than just exacerbate so many problems. Uh , you can only do so much , uh , in, in so much time, right? Even if you have unlimited money, we still only have one school year, right there there's only 180 school days coming up , uh , that you have. So the time is still fixed this learning thing. It's not a us problem, right? It is an international problem. I've spoken with people in Singapore, in Zambia and Bangladesh , uh , in Albania, it's the same issue everywhere, right? In terms of the learning loss. And it's a really a global problem , uh, and the globe , the solutions are also global, right? We need to look outside of just the, you know, the confines of the country that we're in and realize that really almost everyone on the planet has been through the same thing. And there might be a great answer, you know, in Melbourne Australia , uh, for the problem that I'm having , uh , in New York city,

Nilofer Ali:

We've covered a lot of ground here in this conversation. You want to help me do a wrap up or a summary? Um, I think one of the things that I would say is we, you know, for all of our listeners, that each of us has our own capability and our own influence within our spheres. You know, what are some things that we can focus on within our individuals spheres, whether they are very tiny and local within our own classroom or household, or whether they are larger when it comes to policy and funding. Um, let's, let's see if we can pick like three things where people can , uh, people can take action or people can make an, make a difference.

Beau McCoy:

I would say, number one is collaboration. I think that's the most important thing. And the challenge ahead of us is so great that we can not do it individually. We absolutely must collaborate from teachers to parents, you know, schools with teachers, students, with teachers. We just need everyone to pull together to get through this, this challenge that we've been through. Um , the second is flexibility ,

Nilofer Ali:

Um, drawing in other stakeholders in communities, you know, as we're talking about funding and infrastructure, you know, there are government stakeholders, there are private business stakeholders, there are philanthropists. Um, and so I think we can pull everyone in there , and there are business stakeholders , uh, we can pull everyone in and I want to add a word to that, which is imagination. Um, we've been talking, I've been hearing a lot about re-imagining and being creative about how we approach things. So, yes. So that's one , I'm gonna add that to your collaboration piece. Go ahead. Number two.

Beau McCoy:

Yeah, I mean, right along those lines, and number two is flexibility. Um, time goes from now to the next moment. It doesn't go backwards. We can not go back to the way things were. We've got to redefine what the future is going to look like. And we've got to focus on that. We're going to have to let go of some things that worked for us before, because they're not optimal anymore. And we're going to have to adopt some things that maybe we didn't use before, because now they are optimal and we have to be flexible and amenable to different people's needs, right? To different cultures needs of different languages needs...

Nilofer Ali:

Well said, thank you. And do you have a third, a third area?

Beau McCoy:

My , my third is just optimism. You know, there's so much negativity and pessimism out there for obvious reasons. There's a lot of challenges, but I really truly believe that we are at a turning point that this was meant to happen to give us the catalyst for the change that we need to really fix the educational system, right. And to fix racial dynamics in the United States and to fix cultural dynamics around the world, without this happening. A lot of these things would not be possible. People weren't open to learning online before, right. They really weren't. But now they are so many doors have been open through this pandemic. And I just want people to look at the silver linings. I know there's a lot of pain now there's a lot of struggles, but there have been tremendous, tremendous opportunities presented to us because of the mind shift of a lot of people that were not open to ideas before. But today they are open to those ideas

Nilofer Ali:

With that Beau, we've talking about opportunity and optimism. That's hope. What is it that gives you hope? What's one thing that gives you hope moving forward.

Beau McCoy:

Yeah. You know, it's easy for me. It's talking to my three-year-old nephew and I know that he is gonna inherit a world that is better than the one we're in today because things are going to get a lot better. And the school system that he goes to is going to be greatly improved.

Nilofer Ali:

Yeah. I think that we stand on the shoulders of lots and lots of people who have done hard work before us. And it's our turn to do the hard work so that when you know your nephew and, you know, your , uh, your new little one when they come into their space and their adulthood, that they, they're not starting from where we should have started. So we've got, we've got our work to do .

Beau McCoy:

Yeah. I think my superpower is listening to great ideas and make distilling them into something that's simple and repeatable. And I really truly value educated. I think there are amazing people. And I learned something every time I speak with them and I can share kind of like repeat that message to other people who I come in contact with. So I'm very open and welcome anyone. And , uh, one, thank the listeners, everyone who hears this for their time. But if you're an educator out there, I truly would love to speak with you. Uh, I want to know about your experience because there's something to be gleaned from everyone's experience. And I would love to share that with other educators that Ispeak with.

Nilofer Ali:

Excellent. Excellent. Beau,thank you so much for coming on and speaking with us today

Nicole Tomassi:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Westchester Words. Follow us on your favorite streaming platform to be notified about new episodes when they become available and to listen to previous episodes, you can also find all of our episodes plus additional bonus content that's been shared by some of our guests at our website westchestereducationservices.com. In the meantime, you can send us an email at [email protected] to share your thoughts or comments about today's episode and to tell us what content you'd like to hear Westchester cover in future episodes. Join us for the next episode of Westchester Words when we'll be discussing another topic of interest for education. ed-tech and publishing Until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.

Speaker 4:

[inaudible] .