An Interview with Jake Frankel
Date published: 24 November 2022
Antrina Leeth, Senior Outreach & Development Manager,
Celebrate success beyond a grade. Success in school is often anchored to a letter grade or a GPA at the end of the year, quantitative measures of academic success. Parents should also celebrate social experiences, connections with peers and teachers, club involvement, and special interests or hobbies. Even something as small as winning a game of kickball in PE could be enough to spark students’ engagement during the school day. The confidence from that celebration usually translates back to more academic success as well.
School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?
To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview Antrina Leeth.
Antrina is an educator with more than 20 years of experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, school leader, and school district manager. She currently serves as a Senior Outreach & Development Manager for the International Baccalaureate (IB) where she supports public, private, and charter school communities to explore and implement more holistic systems of education. Antrina, proud parent of three children at different points in their education, avidly supports the social-emotional and academic growth of all students by being an active member of her local school districts. She holds a degree from the University of Florida in Elementary Education with a specialization in English Language Learners and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Business Administration.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?
My two most important roles, which I most enjoy, are being an educator and a mom. Early in my career, I started as an elementary school teacher and while I loved the opportunity to connect directly with parents and teach the minds of our next generation, part of me felt like I could be doing more — applying what I had learned about students, curriculum, and the education system itself to better connect the dots between those actors. The next steps in my career helped me do just that. In working with school districts as a teacher evaluator and now as the Senior Outreach & Development Manager for the International Baccalaureate (IB), I get to teach schools what they can do to bring out the best in students, both academically and as holistic members of our communities.
I am also a mom to three amazing kids, who themselves are a testament to the diverse needs of students across the U.S. The first is in Germany studying biochemistry in college, the second is a senior in high school with a passion for humanities, and the third is a middle school student with a love of art. As a parent who has witnessed her own kids thrive in such diverse passions, with what many would consider different mindsets, I want nothing more than to create school systems that encourage each student to become their authentic selves and push them to succeed in whatever path they choose. Because as a parent, I know we all want the best for our kids, and as an educator, I know the solutions are out there and ready to be implemented for valuable learning experiences.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After teaching elementary school for years, I made an unconventional career jump to work directly with a new urban public school district as a teacher evaluator. Much like we see in today’s market, this was during a tumultuous time for teaching talent, with weekly headlines about a new U.S. school experiencing mass hiring or firing as parents and administrators alike struggled to define what “good teaching” looked like for each student. Suddenly, schools were doubling down on evaluation tools as a marker of teacher success, and I found myself at a critical point of influence for the educators in my community. I quickly went from my biggest problem of the day, being fourth graders forgetting their homework, to making a direct impact on the future of classroom talent for the region in a matter of weeks.
While the days were long and the pressure felt overwhelming at times, the transition to this new role taught me that change is possible but rarely easy — even with good intent and leadership at the helm. In the following years, the teacher evaluation tactics we piloted it were also picked up by districts across the country, showing that sometimes we need to see others withstand a change to endure it ourselves.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Early in my career, my grandmother told me, “Antrina, people don’t change, except wet babies.” It took me a few years and a few kids for that message to really sink in, but her words taught me a valuable lesson; that change will always make us feel vulnerable. Watching my own kids grow up and adapt to changes in their own lives over the years — attending new schools, making friends, surviving the pandemic — I’ve come to realize that my job as their parent isn’t to minimize the changes in their life, but rather show up and help them acclimate to new environments without sacrificing themselves in that state of vulnerability and fear of the unknown. I find myself reflecting on my grandmother’s words now more than ever as both a parent and educator, a constant reminder that change is tough on everyone, but always worth it in the end.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
There is no roadmap to successful leadership or list of traits that will guarantee you loyalty from your teams or even your own kids. But in my career and as a parent, there are three character traits that have been most instrumental to my success:
- Be a good listener. In every role I’ve served, from classroom teacher to administrator to parent, listening has been a crucial component of success. It helps you form stronger bonds with those around you by displaying your respect for others and showing that you are open to new ideas. For example, if my kid comes to me asking if they can break curfew by a few hours to hang out with friends, I could say no right away — leading to my daughter feeling isolated with her ideas and us both feeling frustrated. Instead, I listen to her rationale, and we chat through the pros and cons together. While the answer may still be no, having an open dialogue and listening to her side of the story shows that I respect her opinion, and builds better communication between parent and child.
- Be reflective. While listening can tell us most of what we need to know about a person, a leader’s job is to see past that and leverage other sources to paint the full narrative. In my days as a school leader, that could look like asking for perspective from parents, students and educators. For example, students may come to class with various challenges because of unknown circumstances occurring outside of the classroom. These incidents can lead to moments of reflection, and we, as parents, can be an active part of their development. However, without reflecting on the why and adjusting our actions, we risk falling into the same behavior patterns.
- Be consistent. To support children’s education in any sense (as a parent, teacher, or administrator) being consistent is key. Keeping up with young minds, it is easy to let your agenda spiral, but that sense of consistency is critical for those depending on you for answers. Whether it was promising parents an email response within 48 hours or sticking to your children’s bedtime reading routine after a long night, standing by your commitments helps you build your credibility as a leader.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At the IB, we have so many exciting and innovative projects right now—from our newly launched educator platform, IB Exchange, to pilots for online learning and assessment.
However, as school principals, teachers and coordinators have enjoyed a school year with a bit more normalcy and consistency this year, they are continuing to think about important societal topics and how that translates to the classroom—or example, thinking about diversity in the sense of everyone having—and finding—a voice. Students are overwhelmed from living through a global pandemic, which means that it is our job as educators to give them the space to be engaged through learning. How do we foster and support student agency to speak up and have conversations around crucial topics such as mental health and global tragedies?
Prioritizing students’ mental health and well-being is another top priority for many educators as they return to the classroom this year, and one that we are laser-focused on in the IB. For example, we have published a foundational framework on well-being in childhood and adolescence to support the entire school community. I’ve seen schools get creative with this by bringing in an animal farm to help students destress, offering mental health days, bringing in ice cream trucks for a day of fun, or even building their schedule with non-instructional days where students can take a walk or watch a movie instead of attending class. There is an intentionality around how we can proactively and reactively monitor students’ mental well-being and create safe spaces for them to take a deep breath, which is especially important as many kids are relearning to connect with others and plug into their creativity. However, this approach should be coupled with social-emotional learning strategies using instructional resources to help students tap into a deeper level of understanding. Training administrators to support students in gauging their emotional well-being is effective for the development of the whole child.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about why you are an authority on how to help children succeed in school?
At its core, my job is to help students, families, and schools discover ways of learning that work for everyone. That means addressing the whole needs of every student, from learning loss caused by the pandemic to differences in technological education. Having served as both an educator and administrator myself in previous roles, I know what it takes to keep students engaged in school and to prepare them for the next steps of life — whether that is college or entering the workforce as a productive member of society. Children need effective educational practices with flexibility and understanding behind it, a curriculum that can be molded to their interests, and opportunities to use their own voice both in and outside of the classroom. Helping students reach that next level of learning is what I do — my passion.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Can you help articulate the main challenges that students face today that make it difficult to succeed in school?
The main challenge students face in school today is entirely out of their control, and that would be the way information is delivered. While many of us were in school, the teacher and our local library were our primary sources of information. Nowadays, students have the answer to everything at the tip of their fingers. Even when my daughter asks me a question, I will hear her verify my response with Alexa to ‘double-check’ my answer — a much different process than many of us used when we were in school.
This requires a shift to learning in the classroom as well. Instead of just teaching them the value of information, we need to nurture critical thinking in students by teaching students to ask; Is this a reliable source? Does this person have an agenda? What other perspectives can I look into? How does this apply to the other information I know? Without that additional application, students are just regurgitating facts in the form of multiple-choice responses. I’m already seeing teachers start to break out of that mold with non-traditional assignments like having students create a TikTok, digital art, or develop YouTube videos as part of their learning and teaching. These assignments resonate better with students, and also help to infuse creativity into the curriculum, by creating assignments that engage kids more with their interests. It can be hard for parents and teachers alike to break away from traditional assessment forms especially as they continue to look for quantitative results to get them into institutes of higher education, but students will actually yield a more critical thinker capable of succeeding well beyond college.
Can you suggest a few reforms that you think schools should make to help students to thrive and excel?
Schools need to focus more on critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills that will prepare kids for the real world than memorization skills that only get them past the next exam. That is why the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs focus so heavily on student-led community projects, where kids can apply their knowledge and passions to solve real-world issues like the climate crisis or hunger. For example, through the Middle Years Programme (MYP) community projects or Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS)-one of the Diploma Program core components- students have developed projects about innovative solutions to waste disposal, water treatment, sustainable gardens and much more.
The other thing schools need to change to help students thrive and excel is removing the preconceived notion that students know how to learn. One of the Diploma Program (DP) core components theory of knowledge and one of the Career-Related Program (CP) core personal professional skills shows that there is a big difference between sitting at a desk and absorbing the information being shared with you versus engaging with the materials by asking challenging questions, thinking critically, learning across disciplines to develop the research skills needed for students to solve their own problems and get ready for both higher education and the workforce. In fact, the World Economic Forum has listed these types of skills — analytical thinking, complex problem-solving, and evaluation — as the top skills employers are looking for in 2022. These reforms won’t be easy to implement and will require schools to flip traditional thoughts of success on their head, but that is a necessary change if we want to build better learning systems.
Here is our primary question. Can you please share your “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Celebrate success beyond a grade. Success in school is often anchored to a letter grade or a GPA at the end of the year, quantitative measures of academic success. Parents should also celebrate social experiences, connections with peers and teachers, club involvement, and special interests or hobbies. Even something as small as winning a game of kickball in PE could be enough to spark students’ engagement during the school day. The confidence from that celebration usually translates back to more academic success as well.
- Help your kids understand that you are a partner in their learning. It is easy for students to understand the role teachers play in their day-to-day learning, but it can be harder for them to see where parents get authority over their education. Make that connection explicit so students understand your relationship with their teachers, and how you are both working together to create a better learning experience for them. Set expectations for the three of you — parents, teachers, and students — to follow throughout the year and keep them accountable for their promises, in addition to holding up yours. Not only does this create more continuity between school and home but it shows your kids that you are invested in building their future and not just celebrating academic outcomes.
- Encourage students to take ownership of their education. As parents, our initial reaction is to step in with solutions when our kids have a problem, but that does nothing to teach them ways of advocating for themselves. By giving students a voice in their own education, you are encouraging them to solve problems with the tools around them, and to speak up when things aren’t working. I believe in kids taking ownership of their learning so much, that as a teacher, I used to organize student-led conferences every year. Even our Kindergarteners would present a binder of their best work, walking their families through their strengths and weaknesses as learners and celebrating their achievements in the classroom. They would leave proud of themselves, and more engaged with the next steps in their educational journey.
- Build a sustainable routine. Most of us had our daily routines upended by the pandemic, but as we get back to what feels like normal life, it is important for parents to reset and prioritize daily habits that will ultimately help their kids thrive in school. These routines are most effective when they are personable, and easily achievable. Instead of asking your child how their day was, ask them to tell you about three things they learned at school that day. Rather than reading a story before bed, use that time to help your kid brainstorm three things they can do to be better friends, neighbors or community members. Practice math questions while waiting for the bus. While these moments can often turn into another item on what feels like our never-ending to-do list, you are creating reliable patterns that your kid can depend on and are showing them that you are fully invested in their development.
- Be more internationally-minded. Working with students around the world at the International Baccalaureate (IB), I can tell you that we all have something to learn from one another. The world is small — even more so for kids who were learning from home during the pandemic — but it is our job as parents and teachers to expose them to new ideas and diverse ways of thinking. A project as simple as calling or writing to a fellow student internationally, fundraising for a community around the world, learning a second language, or even something as simple as watching a video can help kids see the world from a different perspective with more inquiry. Whether it’s learning about new places, cultures, or even picking up new skills from online tutorials, we have much to learn from the people outside of our usual spheres of influence, and students are already leveraging that with full force.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
We are currently facing teacher shortages across the U.S., but that is not due to a lack of passionate educators out in the world, but rather a misalignment between teachers’ needs and schools’ priorities. To attract that top talent, schools need to look outside of their traditional staffing pipelines, though. Gone are the days when a traditional education degree was the only way to get into the classroom — schools should be looking for successful teachers coming in from other industries like business, engineering or art, even parents who rocked at-home learning and are looking to go into the classroom full-time, as they can not only provide a fresh perspective on the materials, but also diversify the background and experiences of our teams. We must really analyze what it means to be a highly qualified teacher and reassess what it takes to bring out the best in students if we truly want to bring in talent that will elevate our children to the next level academically.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I’d love to have breakfast with Oprah Winfrey. As a woman of color coming from a low-income family, she didn’t check the traditional boxes for success on the screen but didn’t let that slow her down on the path to greatness. Watching Oprah’s shows growing up, always filled me with a sense of inspiration that any career was possible. As an adult, I read the Oprah Winfrey Book: The Biography of Oprah Winfrey, which left me with a list of questions that remain unanswered—so it would be an honor to dig into those stories with her and ask those burning questions myself.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on Twitter at @IB_Antrina to learn more about the current state of schools and our U.S. education system in real-time. You can also follow the International Baccalaureate at @IBOrganization on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for more on our global programs and updates on the global learning front.