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What's the Plus?

Taking Inspiration From Tinker Hatfield

By Kevin Cormier

Dr. Cardona, congratulations on your nomination to the post of Secretary of Education in the Biden-Harris administration. I know I speak for many teachers when I say that your mere presence brings us comfort. I also know we are counting on you to bring innovation and leadership to the department that has been starved of either. Might I suggest that you can take some inspiration from Tinker Hatfield?

Tinker Hatfield is a designer for Nike who is responsible for some of the most iconic products in the company’s history. In the mid-80s, Hatfield noticed that many of his gym’s patrons were bringing two pairs of sneakers with them ― one for running, and one for working out. Hatfield set out to design what would become 1987’s Nike Air Trainer ― a shoe that would define an entire new field of “cross-training” by allowing athletes to do multiple activities in the same sneaker. Since then, the Air Trainer has been improved upon in dozens of iterations and has influenced countless other technological advances in athletic footwear. It was a watershed moment in sneaker history that emphasized innovation and efficiency in a highly desirable shoe.

So how do we do the same for education?

Innovation ― During these times of hybrid and remote learning, a significantly greater amount of teaching and learning is happening in the digital space. Even when the pandemic subsides and students are back in classrooms, it stands to reason that educators will continue to use digital tools with much greater frequency than they did previously. As the next Secretary of Education, you must embrace that challenge and find ways to help support this transition when it is no longer crisis teaching, but normal classroom practice. Ensuring proper training for teachers and equity in access to technology and WiFi for students and families must be a top priority.

Efficiency ― Coupled with innovation, perhaps the most important thing in maintaining the sanity of teachers is streamlining the educational journey. Teachers have long advocated for fewer standards that they could teach more deeply. Many are doing this now, through necessity, because we are given less instructional time in front of our students. Students should have opportunities to pursue what they are interested in and they should not have to sacrifice these pursuits in order to take a cookie-cutter course load. Middle and high schools should be empowered to create multiple pathways for students that maintain rigor and enhance engagement, allowing teachers to get the most out of their time with students, and students to get the most out of their time in the classroom.

Desirability ― It is cool to be a teacher and more people need to know teaching is awesome. We are looking at shortages of teacher candidates and plummeting retention rates, particularly among teachers of color. Tinker Hatfield has created products that consumers have chased for decades. Perhaps one of the most critical missions you could undertake as Secretary is to reinvigorate young people to want to pursue teaching. It’s no secret that other countries have greater success by enticing their best and brightest to teach the next generation, and it’s time for the United States to actively join those ranks.

Dr. Cardona, as the next Secretary, you will be immediately charged with lessening the massive inequities in public education, protecting and uplifting all of our marginalized student populations, and providing a vision for education that aligns the experience and preparation of our students with the needs of society at large. That’s a given and non-negotiable. But educators have largely felt adrift over the past four years, so your work with President Biden and Vice President Harris should loudly and proudly state your intentions to meet the needs of our students and families by centering what the state of education should and could look like.

Kevin Cormier teaches math at Nissitissit MIddle School in Pepperell, Massachusetts. He is a 2020–21 Teach Plus Commonwealth Senior Policy Fellow.

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