Talia Milgrom-Elcott

Leading The Challenge To Bring More STEM Teachers To Schools

Q&A With Talia Milgrom-Ellcott

What attracted you to the BIF Summit?

I had the privilege of going to a recent BIF Summit, and I thought it was a wonderful venue for storytelling. BIF is a partner with 100Kin10, doing interesting and powerful work around education. I’ve had a chance to work on projects with Sam Seidel (Director of BIF’s Student Experience Lab) and Whitney Johnson (former BIF Summit storyteller) and think the world of them both. I thought the BIF Summit would be a wonderful place to tell a story.

Tell us just a bit about the subject of your BIF Summit story.

100Kin10 is a national network responding to the need for 100,000 excellent science, tech, engineering, and math teachers. As of last year, we are on track to reach the 100,000 goal on time, by 2021.

There’s a unique opportunity in working toward a goal over the course of a decade. Our strategy gets to evolve as we learn more and build the network’s capacity to act. We also get a clearer view of the hardest challenges and the existing solution set. We’ve realized that if we get to 2021 having only placed 100,000 STEM teachers into classrooms, it’d be a very short celebration. Having not fixed the cracks in the foundation of getting and keeping great STEM teachers, we’d need to start all over again recruiting, preparing, and supporting the next 100,000.

So we set out to strategically map the long way forward. With that map, we believed we could chart our course to addressing the root causes head on.

After 2+ years of extensive research with input from thousands of teachers and hundreds of other experts, we developed a comprehensive map of the grand challenges. I’ll tell the story of how we developed this map and how it will unleash the next generation of problem-solvers and innovators.

What, to you, is the value of sharing stories?

I love stories — stories are one of only a few deep ways that human beings have held onto memory. Sometimes we tell stories in song, like ancient Greek ballads and the cantillations that put the Bible to song. Stories are an ancient vehicle for memory transmission.

I grew up on stories. My grandmother used to lay next to me, tickle my back, and tell me her stories. She was a great storyteller, and her stories, from mundane stories of childhood misadventures to profound stories of escaping Nazi Germany, shaped my sense of the universe. When I was 10 or so, I remember thinking that I knew all her stories. She passed away earlier this year. Even when she stopped making total sense, she would tell stories and you could hear the arc, the trajectory, of the story. Now I tell her stories to my kids.

Do you have a motto, or “words to live by”? If so, what is it?

No, I don’t. I’ve never had favorite things, favorite books, or favorite colors (although, as a kid, purple was by default my “favorite” color, because my cousin’s favorite color was pink, and somehow those were the only two choices!). Now I try to have norms and guiding principles, but they’re a far cry from a motto.

What one thing (or more, if you like) would you like Summit attendees to know about you before they hear your story?

I’m a mother of three girls, and that’s one of the core parts of my identity. Being a mother pushes the limits of my heart, my expansiveness, in the best way. They love stories, and I love sharing stories with them. When I get home one will ask, “Tell me something about your day.” Or at night, when we’re lying with them at bedtime, they’ll ask us to tell them a story: about our bodies, about how the world works, about when we were young.

I also take very seriously that I’m a wife and a partner. I do my best learning about how to be the best me in the world through my husband. He is my center, which I never would have guessed I would say, or I would feel, when I was a 20-something. When we were engaged my husband described me as his “level,” and he got me an old brass level that I have on my desk right now.

One more thought, about how I work: I love what I think of as “tippy-toe” work: hard work, the work that stretches you, and that you can reach if you’re willing to take a leap. It requires creative leaps of imagination, synthesis, adaptation, and creative problem-solving with other people, where the ideas get better the more you give to them.

Joi