Ep. 230: EdChoice Chats – A Conversation with Danielle Shockey About Education Infrastructure

December 17, 2020

Danielle Shockey, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, hops on the podcast to talk about the teacher talent pipeline and challenges we face in light of the pandemic. Shockey formally worked as the deputy superintendent of public instruction for the Indiana Department of Education and as a school principal.

Brian McGrath: Hello, everybody. This is Brian McGrath. Welcome to another edition of EdChoice Chats. Today we are happy to have Danielle Shockey on the show with us. She is currently the CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. Prior to that, she was the deputy superintendent of education for the state of Indiana. And prior to that, she spent 16 years as a principal in public schools in Indianapolis. And prior to that, she was a friend of mine. Danielle and I went to school together and we happily got to reconnect a few years ago, kind of on our professional paths, and it’s been great to have her in my orbit again. Danielle, welcome to the show. Great to chat with you today.

Danielle Shockey: Thanks for having me, Brian. Excited to just to kind of chit chat a little bit about what’s going on in education with you.

Brian McGrath: There is plenty going on in education and that’s why we want to talk with you today. I want to kind of take you back a few months in a pre-COVID world, which is hard for any of us to remember, I think. But back in February, we had an event that you attended and it was in Florida, it was fabulous. We were all together like real people want to be and we talked about the kind of infrastructure needs that education will need going forward assuming that there’ll be more and more educational options for people say over the next decade or two. And you were an attendee in that event and a great participant. And I just wondered if you could kind of harken back to that and tell me any recollections you have of that. What the event was like, who was there, what you learned, what you thought of it.

Danielle Shockey: As a takeaway and I still feel this very strongly as the participants and I have now connected in other places professionally, whether that’s following each other on LinkedIn or reading blog posts or other ways, I think what strikes me the most is there are so many bright spots. And so I think sometimes when you’re in your own space, your own city and you’re figuring out what to do next in terms of opportunities for children, for education, where we’re headed. And I think sometimes you get a little downtrodden. That was such an uplifting experience to talk to people who have had, like I said, successes. People who are fighting the good fight and they’re seeing variety of things going well. And so I left feeling so uplifted. I also left feeling not alone.
And so as personally, I’m engaged in some work in this space of potentially a school model here in Indianapolis with a partnership with Girl Scouts. We don’t need to talk a lot about that, but I now know that there’s this network of really brilliant people that I didn’t know existed. That was a real personal takeaway that I feel like if there was a need, I would who to go to. And that felt really good. And then also the other thing that strikes me and I think I said this to you early on, the themes that are still being discussed, the themes we discussed, the takeaways we had are not new. And so I think that’s what’s interesting. We feel like we’re trying to solve for some of the same perpetual issues and maybe that feel a little frustrating, that we haven’t yet got further down the path of solving for, this case, young teacher pipeline, teacher talent, teacher retention, facilities and looking at it differently. And how do you just shift that whole paradigm for families, for cities, for states, for policymakers. And so I guess those are my big takeaways.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, it was great. And I remember that event, it struck me as really interesting because we host a lot of different events at EdChoice and love to bring people together. That’s one of our kind of core missions, I believe, and the ones I’ve done like this one we did, which we partner with the Walton Family Foundation on, they’re the ones who help us make it possible. What I try to do is bring in a lot of new people together who maybe haven’t had those conversations before in that kind of group or who may be like you, are looking for others to kind of be fellow travelers with, as they embark on some of this stuff. And what I loved about that event was that I knew almost nobody there and I was the one who was inviting people. And I think everybody else kind of knew nobody either, but within minutes you could tell people were sort of so excited about just meeting other people in that space where it’s very comfortable.

You can talk about almost anything. There’s no combativeness about who’s right and wrong. It’s all just sharing. I think we try to purposely make it that way. I remember thinking that event was a lot of fun because I made 20 new friends and who doesn’t want to make new friends? Anyway, that was one of my big takeaways from it in addition to learning a ton, because I didn’t know a lot about some of the topics we were discussing.

Let’s dig into those topics just a little bit. And we covered purposely the idea was we would talk about transportation facilities going forward and teacher talent pipeline. Let’s focus on the ladder to their teacher talent and facilities because I think those are things that, especially now that we’re all living in a different world than we were just those six months ago, those things were critical. What can you tell me through all your experience both before, the kind of the COVID world and now after about sort of the teacher talent pipeline and the challenges there within? Is there really a teacher shortage? What do we do to address it? If there is, what are the biggest challenges to getting people to become teachers in the first place?

Danielle Shockey: Is there really a teacher shortage is a great question. Obviously living in the Department of Ed world for four years, there was indications, but I don’t think the indications were as big as some would have us believe. Frankly, we submitted a report every year to the U.S. Department of Education regarding the hard to fill positions. How many emergency licenses were we issuing in any given subject in any given year across the state of Indiana? And that, that really didn’t grow. Now granted, this has been five years ago, but that was certainly at the end of that time, 2015, 2016. In my last year there, we were working on how do you get more people interested in the teaching profession? And so that’s absolutely important, getting more people, more talented people. But I think really for me, it’s not the traditional person.

We were so focused it seemed on that undergrad. How do you get more young people interested in education as a pathway for them? And I think we have to broaden that conversation to how do we get more people engaged in educating our youth? And so who are those folks? And I don’t think they only have to come from, like I said, a traditional career college pipeline. And I think, what I enjoyed hearing about when we were together, back in February, was the different technology, potentially functions that could exist to bring, and I’m using the word educator very broadly, how can we bring experts? How can we bring the best thinkers in their space into our classroom to be teachers? And how could that would be different? Because every classroom has to have one adult to 25 children or is it really more of a facilitator approach and we bring in content experts to help educate our youth?
I think now because of COVID, that’s something that I think my feeling is, and again I have four children and they’re all doing a variety of virtual and hybrid. And even in my role at Girl Scouts, we’ve figured out, it used to be such a place specific thing, meaning that if I couldn’t get girls to come to let’s say, Roche Diagnostic or Cook Medical, and actually learn from the experts that, how can you do it? Well now we have girls learning from people at NASA. We’ve had girls in Central Indiana participating in STEM content across the country. And so I think potentially with COVID it helped us all see is that space is less of a barrier and how can that potentially impact educator pipeline? And I know it’s maybe a way longer answer than you’re looking for Brian, but I have a lot of thoughts there. I just think there’s a lot of potential that now people might be more interested in innovative education solutions.

Brian McGrath: No, it’s a great answer. And I think it’s one that, this is the topic that can go on and on and on forever. Because one of the things that came out of that meeting and that event was the idea that we should find a way to. And you alluded to this, but take our rock star teacher, take the best teachers and leverage their skills better than we do now. Sometimes, I have three kids and you get your teacher assignment at the end of the year and you’re like, great. I got a great teacher, Mr. Vincent, what a great teacher. Wouldn’t it be great if Mr. Vincent could teach more than just my kid and his 20 classmates? How do we do that?
And that’s one of the things that came out of this meeting was people were throwing around ideas about how the technology would allow us to do that. Some of that comes down to sort of a regulatory and licensing procedure though. And I know you have some experience in that. And so do you think if we made it easier for people to be engaged in education in that way, and maybe it’s not even a full-time gig, maybe it’s a, hey, I’m a teacher a couple of hours a day and then I also go do my other job as an accountant. Is that possible? Is that manageable from a kind of a policy standpoint?

Danielle Shockey: And again, this is just a lot of my own opinion, but I also sat in a lot of state board of education meetings where we, this is a topic often, teacher licensure. And in that time again, that I was in that role in those four years, there was continued legislative change being made that was allowing for what I would say would be a broadening of opportunity. And oftentimes the barrier came up, particularly like I said, in that state board of education meeting, was people weren’t so concerned about the accountants teaching math or the researcher at Lilly teaching chemistry. It was how you help them connect with children? And so it wasn’t the content. It was more of how do to teach them that pedagogy of developmentally connecting with youth? How do you make sure that they’re matching the content with the differentiation, if you will, of all the students in the classroom?

And so I would like to think Brian, that you could somehow almost take any person who was in any profession who has a passion and wants to keep teaching about the thing that they are really, drives them, how could we have a little type of I’m going to call it a certification of sorts, where you just help them understand there’s obviously safety things and there’s some things I’m sure the states would want, but why couldn’t there be? Why couldn’t there be a little training module of, yeah, we would love for you to come talk about your research in biochemistry, but we also want to help you understand what today’s classroom is like. A little bit maybe about management and so forth and maybe a module isn’t long enough, but that seems like that would be so easy to solve for. And I don’t know why policy couldn’t create that space.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, I would think so. I do a lot of youth coaching. My kids are, they’re getting older as it is now, but like I still coach one of my kid’s football teams this Fall and before then they actually give you, you take a little class that says, “Hey, here’s how you actually might want to teach the techniques. But also remember you’re coaching sixth graders and here’s some ways to deal with them.” And so I think it’s probably possible to do. It’s just a matter of, I guess, pulling it together.

Danielle Shockey: And the person who’s going to say, “Hey, I want to do this is going to raise their hand.” It’s going to take a special person. They are coming to the table with the desire to do so. Which to me, I think would be half, that already speaks volumes if you want to coach, if you want to teach, you’re a special kind of person to begin with.

Brian McGrath: And I would I think too, the technology available today. It wouldn’t be hard to throw together a bunch of different teaching mechanisms, any number of platforms that would say, “Hey, here’s how you actually want to do the pedagogy.” Let’s talk for briefly about, so I think you’re right, teaching could change going forward, but what about the need? And you alluded to this a little bit, facilities being the need for different kinds of facilities, perhaps. One of the things that came up on our media and the report that came out was that we may not need to build these enormous buildings that are supposed to last a 100 years anymore. Maybe we need to build smaller buildings that have different kind of uses. And they’re not set on the traditional classroom model, but rather big gathering spaces. What do you think about that? What should schools look like in 10 years physically?

Danielle Shockey: I can’t, this one is like, I’m a 110% yes. I think partnering with schools with a focus and a choice focused that is attractive to families and to use in the communities. That was the other theme I think that I liked that came out of February was what does the community need? What is this community saying they’re looking for for their youth? And so if they have a need, how can we look to the community resources, which oftentimes might be industry or a space? And how can we share that space? And I actually said, I can’t imagine you don’t agree, COVID has also taught us that. How many people now and again, in my role right now, I just released 35,000 square physical feet where we used to have offices and we walked away from all of them.

Brian McGrath: Wow.

Danielle Shockey: And we walked into actually doing something completely different, partnering with 24 co-working spaces in Indiana. For my field staff now, again, we’re saving $312,000, field staff is closer to the people they serve. We’re working smarter in that way. Again, I’m just one little teeny tiny example, but so many people I’m talking to are like I don’t need this big building anymore. And so I think education is the same. I think, there’s microschools, there’s learning pods. I think again, I think if the choice movement doesn’t take this moment in time of COVID and families, how many families also just following in my own neighborhood have opened up their eyes because they’re not happy. They’re not happy with the hybrid or they’re not happy with the virtual and they’re starting to look around. And I think in that looking around, they’re recognizing that gosh, education looks a lot of different ways and I don’t know that they knew it before. And so I just think there’s a lot of opportunity there. And I think facilities, I’m sorry I kind of went around the barn on this one.

Brian McGrath: That’s okay.

Danielle Shockey: But no, I do think there’s a whole lot of potential in colocation, partnering with, and I think it’s similar to like I said, with the teacher thing. Let’s say we do co-locate in tech park, a microschool of sorts or a couple of microschools in a larger space. How can you also then utilize the experts in those spaces to be partners in the school and real partners, education partners, teaching partners. I think there’s mutual benefit there.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, I think you’re right. One of the things I’d be curious, your thoughts on this. One of the things that I’ve noticed in my years of being in school choice is that one of the places we’ve had not really cracked the code is in suburban communities. And I don’t know if it’s because they think they have it so good and now maybe they’re realizing that it’s not as good as they thought. Or if it’s this sort of physical thing because my kids all play school sports and the facility or the football field, the basketball arena, the whatever, the baseball stuff is a big part of the community. And I guess, do you think you could decouple those things? Could you see a world where you’re attending ABC High School, but you play sports somewhere else and that’s just the way it is. There’s no longer kind of the hyper-intensity around high school sports because that’s a big part of the facility, the physical structure of I go to this school and I think there’s a psychological part of that, although I’m just making that up, but I don’t know. What do you think about that?

Danielle Shockey: I’m actually going to take a school example. I think I maybe mentioned it in February. In Chicago, there’s something called After School Matters and it’s geared towards middle school and high school students. And it’s actually a Chicago Public School System, independent nonprofit that happens every day from 4:00 to 7:00 and it’s spans sports, communication, leadership, STEM, and it’s all these amazing opportunities for every student in the Chicago public school system to participate. And so it doesn’t replace the school sports, but it’s actually also has arts and culture. And so students are now they’re in a symphony or they’re in a dance team or they’re on an equestrian team and they have all these choices and it’s very popular. It’s achieved great success, student retention for those students, the persistence, their grades are higher. Their grad rates are higher compared to their peers who are not in it.

I think it speaks to because it’s, like I said, it’s all the students across the district. Why couldn’t a community do that? Why couldn’t you build a structure for any student after school? And I’m just taking Indianapolis as our example, let’s go Indianapolis and all the donut counties. You have quadrants and you choose what you’re passionate about. Again, whether that’s fencing or football and you have location to go do that and now it’s not so school based as much as it is. This is our city’s sports or our city’s arts and culture for youth. I definitely think that’s possible. And again, I think families because of COVID are beginning to recognize that, okay, maybe what I thought my school was doing and providing, it’s kind of uncovering some things I think. Good and bad things.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s right. It’s interesting because going back to the sports thing one more time, just because there are so many different outlets for athletics and other arts and things like that, that aren’t school based. It doesn’t seem like it’d be a huge leap. And in fact, in some schools they’re large enough that, if you’re not one of the 12 best basketball players in your school, you’re not going to play basketball anyway at your school so you find some other outlet as it were. I wonder if that’ll accelerate under the new regime that we’re under. We talked about it, we didn’t mean to talk about it at the event, but technology came up a lot. It wasn’t a formal topic, but of course it’s intertwined all these things, but what do you think we’re learning about the role technology can play in education going forward, both kind of the promise and perhaps the perils of it that we’re all living through right now? How do you see that shaking itself out over the next couple years?

Danielle Shockey: I think we’ve uncovered the inequities in access and opportunity that I think we had to solve for, or we are still kind of probably in the throes of trying to solve for, for all of our students. But I think we’ll have found that we can figure it out. I think that’s a promising practice that’s come from this. I think we’ve probably uncovered, and maybe a little self-reflection from the educator space, that there’s probably a lot of educators who suddenly realized, “Oh my gosh. I don’t know half of what I thought I did.” I didn’t really fully understand how to create an asynchronous classroom for my students. And so I think hopefully this has accelerated the educators’ desire as well as awareness that they really probably need to step up because our students, our youth are so I think far more advanced than we are as adults in this tech space.

I hope that is a positive that comes from it. I think on the flip side, I worry, I think what I’ve recognized and again, some of my peers, my neighbors, my families, my community, relationships in education are going to continue to be really important and it’s hard to build a relationship behind a computer screen. I think that’s something that I think we start to solve for. You can be the best teacher in the tech world or behind a screen but children and I think even the adults are still craving that connection with people. I don’t think it’s going to be the only solution, but I think we’ve probably are learning a lot of lessons.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, I think that’s right. I’ve seen in my own children, how they’ve reacted to the virtual hybrid in person world and true to form, to my core belief about education, one of them has done really great with it, one of them has does done just fine and one of them is struggling mightily. They have the exact same technological resources available to them at home. They have a dad who does not know how to do any of it so it’s not like one of them is getting more help than the other, but it’s just been fun to watch. From a weird kind of scientific way, but now we have to, as a parent, get more engaged and try to figure out how to solve for the one that’s not doing well.

But anyway, so you’re now in the role of the CEO of the Girl Scouts. I know you’re still interested in education and there are no former educators. I think once you’re in that orbit, you never quite leave, but what do you see the role as a group of the Girl Scouts being in education, going forward? If you’re going to have an educational ecosystem that has many more players in it, it’s not just the traditional school down the street, it’s online, it’s all these different things. What do you think Girl Scouts or other groups like that, what can they do to make the educational experience in their communities better for everybody?

Danielle Shockey: I think it takes a collection of organizations like the Girl Scouts, like After School, you name it. Across the gamut of opportunities to really come together and put together a system where all students can access it equally. And I think because right now all of us, youth sports, youth activities, youth programs are vying for the same hours of time. And there’s a disadvantage of access that I think is hurting our youth. And I’ll just give you a real example, talking to Indianapolis Public Schools about a year ago, they said to me, “We have no mechanism to right now know which one of our schools have Girl Scouts in them.” And they were saying, “There’s a value to Girl Scouts,” but they didn’t have a mechanism to know where the pockets were, where there was no opportunities for youth.

I think what would be really important moving forward is for the youth serving organizations to partner with their communities and whether that’s through the school or the community in general, like I mentioned, the Chicago model, how can we all come together and put together this repository, catalog, whatever you want to call it of these are all the youth opportunities that happen after school and on weekends from free to low cost to whatever, so every family can access it. I think we’re great corollary. I always say this to my superintendent friends, “What I can provide in the Girl Scout experience. And I can’t help it talk selfishly, a school district would be challenged to put together as many opportunities for their youth, just because we have a whole staff of we’re going out and building internship program partners with leaders across the state. And so let us be that partner.”

Why do they have to solve alone for the college and career readiness pathways and the opportunities for internship and externship and networking for students? Why can’t we lean on each other? I think there’s a whole lot going on in the youth serving space that if we could come together, it would be really great for children.

Brian McGrath: You’re absolutely right. I’ve been involved in, I don’t know how many conversations recently, but it’s people from our community saying, “Hey, we want to do this cool thing.” And then you go, “Great. Hey you know what? They’re kind of working on a similar thing. Let’s kind of collaborate at least a little bit.” It doesn’t mean there has to be one big hole, one big effort, but it can be like, hey, you should at least know what Girl Scouts is doing because they may be able to teach you something and you can share resources or at least share ideas and whatnot. I think that’s great. It may be one of the best things that comes out of this whole experience is that a lot more people will engage more directly rather than just saying, “Hey, we support this conceptually, here’s some money.” They might actually jump in the game themselves. Let me kind of wrap up with two kind of questions for you. And what do you think ultimately the biggest change will be in K-12 education over the next decade?

Danielle Shockey: Wow. One of them is just very operationally speaking, I think transportation. And I know that was actually a theme from February that we had planned to talk about that we didn’t get too deep into. And I know I said, I know nothing about it, but I just think financially, I think it’s going to be something as well, financially as well as innovation. Innovation is going to continue to grow. Finances are going to continue to be challenged. I think it’s going to something that’s going to change a lot in the next decade is transportation and what’s expected of the system. The community around getting students to a space. And I really hope, it’s hard for me to answer this because I have a lot of hopes that would happen in the next decade.

Brian McGrath: Hope is a good thing. Let’s all get all the hope we need.

Danielle Shockey: Brian, I know it’s not a strategy. I would like to think people’s eyes are going to be more opened to school. Doesn’t have to look like four walls and a brick building that’s going to stand for a 100 years. Just the paradigm about what education can look like I would hope is going to look different 10 years, but history has taught us that probably isn’t going to be the case.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. Actually let me ask this to wrap up. I prefer to end on hope, but what do you think should change, but probably won’t in the next 10 years?

Danielle Shockey: The same thing I just said.

Brian McGrath: You think it’ll still look, I kind of wondered the same thing. As much as I get inundated daily with, hey, this is the brand new world. Something tells me it’s not going to be quite that easy. That we’re going to have to keep working really hard if we want something different, which that’s the history of the world. We all think that the iPhone, we all carry came about with one day and it was all perfect, but it took years and years and years for those guys to get that technology right. Anyway, well, that’s very helpful. Do you have any closing thoughts you want to share with our EdChoice Chats universe?

Danielle Shockey: I guess I really just think that this moment in time, there’s a lot to capitalize on that I think potentially could help the choice conversation. And I think making it more normalized is something that might come from it. But innovation and personalized learning is something that’s really important, I think. And I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. I don’t think you have any family who would say, “No, I don’t want my kid to have the same thing as every other kid.” How can we take what they’re experiencing right now and help expand their minds to having future innovation in the education space?

Brian McGrath: That is a wonderful sentiment to end up on so we’ll do that. Danielle Shockey, thank you so much for spending time with EdChoice Chats today and we’ll hopefully talk to you again soon.

Danielle Shockey: Thanks for having me.

Brian McGrath: Thanks again, everybody for joining us for another episode of EdChoice Chats. Be sure to subscribe to the EdChoice Chats podcast, wherever you choose to listen to them.