In the midst of the teacher shortage, West Contra Costa Unified is getting creative about how and where to find teachers who will have success working in our district. Through our data analysis work with Substantial, we learned that one of our most important teacher pipelines is right under our noses—our substitute teacher pool. Last year 20% of new hires came from the sub pool and have since entered or completed credential programs. This year we decided to start actively pursuing this pipeline and finding ways to proactively engage with them. To start, we designed a workshop series to support substitute teachers who were interested in becoming teachers.  

What we did: With help from our friends at Substantial, we developed a three part workshop series for subs. Advertised as a part seminar, part job coaching, the series was designed to educate subs on the options for pursuing a credential, help them understand the district hiring process, and inspire them to take immediate actions to advance their goals. The workshop was held after school from 3:30-5 on three consecutive Thursdays. We posted a workshop description and link to a google sign-up form on the sub system and subs self-registered for the workshop.

What we learned: There were so many unexpected benefits to our first attempt of the Aspiring Teacher Workshop. Here are the most important learnings for me and my team:

  1. It’s a Compelling Pool: The diversity of the group was amazing. We connected to parents, trained chemists, and career transitioning non-traditional candidates who live in our community and already work in our schools. Over half of the workshop participants were parents who had started substitute teaching in their child’s school and realized that they like teaching. A big benefit of doing the workshop (and allowing people to sign up for future workshops if they couldn’t make this one) is that we now have a list of aspiring teachers in our substitute pool.
  2. Subs are Hungry for Professional Community: We made the workshop a three part series, but I think participants would have willingly come back for three more sessions. They developed their own professional learning community right before our eyes, and the connections that were made during that session are lasting. Participants set and accomplished small but meaningful goals connected to advancing on their paths to become teachers—one participant asked a principal at a school where she had been a long-term sub for a letter of recommendation for a credential program, another got her parents to track down her twenty year old overseas high school transcripts to be evaluated. At the end we gave participants the option to find an accountability buddy and were heartened to see participants exchanging email addresses and goals for the next month.
  3. Human Connection Matters: Subs were able to work directly with me and my credential analyst to define their individual path to getting a teaching credential. It was great for my team to connect with candidates outside of our normal office setting and to build meaningful, professional relationships. We usually only interact with substitute teachers when there is a problem, it was so meaningful for us to get to know these substitutes and to think about how to help them along their paths. Not all of them will end up pursuing credentials or be successful in our hiring process, but we are rooting for each one to find their professional success.

I will end by sharing that this was also a meaningful experience for me personally. The workshop helped me to reconnect with why I work in HR in the first place—to develop future teachers and leaders so that our students get the best possible educational experience from each adult they encounter. I was so inspired by the people I met in this workshop and can’t wait to build on it next year.

Cheryl Cotton

Cheryl Cotton

Director of Certificated Human Resources


Cheryl is the Director of Certificated Human Resources at West Contra Costa Unified School District. She has been a teacher, principal, and leadership coach focused on equity. She is passionate about building leadership capacity in principals and helping people along their professional journeys. Cheryl holds a BA in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley, a Masters in Education from Mills College, and is currently pursuing a EdD in Educational Leadership from UC Berkeley.