The glaring racial disconnect in our nation’s K-12 schools can no longer be ignored as the larger reckoning over systemic racism in policing, health, and education continues to play out.
While the majority of K-12 teachers are white, they preside over classrooms that contain an increasing number of students of color and, simultaneously, a declining number of white students, research shows. This racial divide is harmful on several fronts.
Having too few teachers of color places both students and teachers at a disadvantage. Data reveal that racially diverse role models in the classroom benefit all children, regardless of race. Having few teachers of color (or only one, which can often be the case) in a school building can spur feelings of isolation and, subsequently, contribute to teachers of color leaving the profession at a disproportionately higher rate than white teachers. The solution seems obvious enough: Hire and retain more teachers of color.
The reality isn’t quite so simple. To attract a diverse pool of strong teaching candidates, it helps to show that your school or district already has established itself as a welcoming place of employment for teachers of color. But if you don’t have the numbers to prove it, don’t despair. There are several ways to grow a diverse and equitable teaching workforce, say education experts. Here are some actionable steps.
Build a pipeline of educators of color.
Sometimes, solutions can be found right in front of us. That’s the idea behind Grow Your Own Educator Programs (GYO), which recruit individuals within local school communities. These programs focus on developing future teachers, from students of color in middle and high school to racially and ethnically diverse paraprofessionals and college graduates with non-teaching degrees already working in the K-12 school system.
Other times, it pays to stretch recruiting efforts beyond your own backyard. Stacey MacAdoo, a veteran teacher at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., says she’s heard recruiters say, in defense of few teachers of color on their staff: There weren’t any minority candidates out there.
MacAdoo’s response? “Where did you look and who did you ask?” Often, recruiters look for staff recommendations only within their existing networks, says MacAdoo, 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. She suggests that recruiters who aren’t successful in attracting teachers of color within their own district or network expand their search in a targeted manner—for instance, partnering with and recruiting from colleges of education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.
Create and share public examples of your district’s support for diversity and equity.
Job candidates who value diversity and equity will want to see tangible evidence that a prospective employer does, too. This evidence can take many forms, starting with explicit public statements regarding a district’s stand on equity. Examples include official policies, comprehensive statements, and reports, notes Daman Harris, a principal at Wheaton Woods Elementary School in Montgomery County, Md.
The presence of an employee or department dedicated to equity and inclusion also sends a signal that the district is making a commitment, says Harris, co-founder of the BOND Project (Building Our Network of Diversity), an initiative of Montgomery County Public Schools that aims to recruit, develop, empower, and retain male educators of color.
Including in a district’s strategic plan an initiative to increase diversity and equity—with stated goals to measure progress against—demonstrates a serious commitment, both to prospective job candidates and the current workforce. “A public document positions us to make progress,” said Tim Wagner, the principal of Upper St. Clair High School in Upper St. Clair, Penn.
Partner with external organizations that promote diversity and equity.
Not every school district has the resources internally to develop meaningful strides toward a more equitable workplace for all teachers and students. In these instances, it can help to obtain external support. That’s what the Upper St. Clair High School, along with the five other schools in their Upper St. Clair school district, did.
They aligned themselves with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), participating in its No Place for Hate program. The program provided a pathway for the school district to establish norms around how to address the topics of equity and inclusion, explains Wagner. He says it also helped establish a framework for strategic and active involvement that extended to the student body—from a panel discussion led by a rabbi to small-group, peer-facilitated student programming around the teaching of Black history.
Encourage and support initiatives led by current teachers of color.
Peer networks specifically for teachers of color can combat feelings of isolation. Before Desmond Mackall became active in the BOND Project, the assistant principal of Glen Haven Elementary School in Montgomery County strongly considered finding a job elsewhere. Now he is thriving in that same district, where male teachers of color actively support one another through this formal initiative.
Mackall credits the initiative’s success in large part to the fact that it’s run by the employees it targets; not by administrators. “A lot of times, when initiatives are started with good intentions for specific groups, we don’t always create the space for the voices for whom the group is formed,” he said.
Demonstrate equitable practices in the treatment of students.
How a school’s administration treats its students can provide a window into its stance on equity, explains Little Rock Central High School teacher MacAdoo. She points to discipline policies as one area where inequities can easily be spotted. For example, banning a style of dress popular only among a particular group of students, such as do-rags, can throw up a red flag. “Black males are pretty much the only group of students who wear them,” MacAdoo said.
As this example indicates, job candidates seeking an equitable workplace are likely to notice a school leadership’s personal biases, even when the administrators themselves may not.