The Character Movement

The Teachers’ Lounge Podcast – Nathan Eklund

Last year, Youth Frontiers launched a podcast for educators called The Teachers’ Lounge. The podcast is a space for educators to speak about their experience in education and the importance of character development for our youth. Our latest podcast guest was Nathan Eklund.

Nathan Eklund, M.Ed., is a speaker and trainer who collaborates with individuals and organizations to mobilize efforts toward improvement in the field of education. He has given particular attention to the challenges of teacher retention and work climate, a topic he explores in his book, “How Was Your Day at School? Improving Dialogue about Teacher Job Satisfaction.”

Nathan grew up in Minnesota, attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and was a high school teacher for 13 years before deciding he wanted a new challenge. During this transition, he worked with a life coach who asked him, “Who and what do you care about?” His answer was, and always is, education. We had the chance to chat with Nathan a few weeks back and talk about what it takes to turn our attention to creating schools that are a great place for our teachers, as well as our students.

The following are some highlights from our conversation. Youth Frontiers’ moderator’s questions are in bold. Nathan Eklund’s responses are paraphrased and direct quotations are in italics.

Why do you do this work? What’s at stake?

The data is clear regarding teacher retention: 50 percent of educators leave the profession in the first five years of teaching.

“We have a storm brewing on the horizon. We have a huge influx of new [teacher] retirees, and we simply do not have the work force to replace them.”

But we know why teachers are leaving. Aside from wanting higher salaries – it comes down to the experience they have at school every day. Job satisfaction just hasn’t been enough of a focus for teachers and schools.

What are the things that you see that make school a great place to work?

The key genetic trait, at its core, is a recognition and a diligence that you have to work toward job satisfaction.

Nathan’s Mantra:
“Things left to accident skew negative.”

As an educator, what can you do [among the things that you can control]?

Try this exercise: Go home, talk to your family/spouse/roommate/best friend (whoever knows you best outside of work) and ask them two questions.

When I come home from school and I am excited about my work – who or what am I talking about? When I come home exhausted and negative, what am I talking about?

As an individual educator – be honest and brave. Look at the components that you do control and be mature enough to do something about it.

Tell us about a school who is doing it right…

It’s a school where they take staff culture seriously.

“People are hurt, really tired and have one foot out the door. But that’s not an immutable experience. You can change that. You can transform state A into state B. There’s always a way out. It won’t be easy, and might not feel good, but there’s always a way out.”

Who was your educational hero?

I went into education – always loved school – because I’ve had wonderful teachers. My own father, Kent Eklund, had a direct impact on my work. He was a college professor, grew up around academia. I watched how he put relationships first and his own wisdom and guidance second. I watched him establish trust, humor, self-deprecation – and THEN go into the hard work. We have to know each other, like each other, trust each other and then we’ll do the hard work.

To hear the full podcast episode, you can listen here.

To find out more about Nathan, visit his website. You can also find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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