School & District Management Opinion

4 Ways to Make Your School Better for Black and Brown Teachers

Here’s what teachers of color need from their principals
By Sharif El-Mekki — January 03, 2023 4 min read
Illustration of a Black male teacher teaching
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

We need Black teachers. We need brown teachers. We need Indigenous teachers. We need more teachers of color across the board.

More than half of public school enrollees are students of color, but teachers of color comprise roughly 2 in 10 of our teaching force.

Diversifying our teaching force to match the demographics of our students is an imperative shared by many school leaders. Doing so has benefits for students that any school leader would love: higher graduation rates, reduced dropouts, fewer disciplinary incidents, and increased student achievement to name a few.

About This Series

In this biweekly column, principals and other authorities on school leadership—including researchers, education professors, district administrators, and assistant principals—offer timely and timeless advice for their peers.

The organization I lead recently gathered more than 800 Black male educators at our Black Men Educators Convening in Philadelphia. There, our attendees engaged in dialogue and learning that will not only help inform our work at the Center for Black Educator Development but can offer a number of lessons for leaders dedicated to diversifying their teaching force.

1. Focus on retaining the teachers of color you already have. Key to building a more diverse teaching force is creating a culture that keeps and values the teachers of color already on the job, ultimately making schools more attractive for more Black, brown and Indigenous teachers. Building that culture starts at the top and is no small task. But it can be done when leaders lead in a way that supports culturally competent teaching and learning.

2. Build trust and create community. It is essential that leaders establish an ethos of understanding and listening in a school building. Educators must feel safe, seen, listened to, and ultimately empowered in their diverse identities. Deliberate feedback loops are critical to shrink our blind spots—the space where bias is born, fed, and grows. All leaders have them, but the good ones are constantly aware of their own, working to make them smaller. This style should be embraced by the entire leadership team, not just the person at the very top.

Leaders should be asking their staff about their own leadership:

“What should I start and stop doing as a leader?”

“How do you experience my leadership?”

“I thought I did this well, did I? Did I miss something?”

“What can I do better from your perspective?”

Don’t wait until exit interviews to start asking colleagues what would make them want to leave. The approach should center the question, “How do I create an environment and experience that will encourage you to stay?” This kind of openness to improvement through self-awareness and reflection fosters dialogue, breaks down resentments, and develops a spirit of shared understanding.

When we asked participants at our recent convening a nearly identical form of questioning, we listened closely to what they felt made the environment safe and welcoming. A consistent theme in our survey results was the palpable feeling of love and acceptance in the gathering. Imagine what would be possible if this were the kind of environment our schools could be for Black male teachers.

3. Identify how teachers of color are singled out in your school. It’s one thing to be a minority in a school staff, it’s another thing entirely to be minoritized on a staff. Here’s what I mean: If all teachers except for the two Black teachers vote a certain way on a policy matter or issue before the staff, being blind to that dynamic further marginalizes those Black teachers. Yes, that’s democracy, but it’s also precipitously close to majoritarianism.

Leadership can minoritize teachers of color in a number of ways—even seemingly well-meaning actions can be detrimental to creating a culture that truly embraces minority teachers. For instance, Black and brown teachers are often assigned to be the managers of every child of color who faces additional challenges—even students they do not teach directly. Rather than levying an invisible tax on Black and brown teachers through these “extra” assignments, leaders can demonstrate how they value the very real expertise these teachers have by compensating them to provide culturally relevant professional development and coaching to other staff and leadership. This builds capacity in the staff and demonstrates a commitment to an anti-racist orientation. Black teachers often share that they are pushed toward taking on disciplinary roles and not invested in instructionally. A commitment to support their instructional and coaching expertise allows these teachers of color to develop and codify their skills to everyone’s benefit.

4. Move beyond the book club and “affinity groups” for teachers of color. Ordering pizza and soda for a monthly meeting of Black and brown teachers is not embracing educator diversity. Here again, our work with Black male educators has given us insights into useful perspectives for leaders to learn from. A theme we heard from many of our attendees was the power of working in a school where Black and brown teachers were supported in building real connections with their fellow educators of color.

But these connections must be supported by leadership to be meaningful. By allowing the insights and partnership that arise for collaboration between teachers of color to drive policy and change within the school, leaders can improve the experience not just for teachers of color but all adults and students in the building. These empowered networks can be transformative, both for making schools the kinds of places teachers of color want to work but also in ensuring that all learners have the support and care they need to succeed.

Leaders cannot expect to right their ship overnight. Many of these changes take months, even several years, but they’re all doable. The key is for a leader to take the first step in partnership with their educators of color—with equal parts commitment, honesty, and humility.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Principal Salaries: The Gap Between Expectation and Reality
Exclusive survey data indicate a gap between the expectations and the realities of principal pay.
4 min read
A Black woman is standing on a ladder and looking into the distance with binoculars, in the background is an ascending arrow.
School & District Management Schools Successfully Fighting Chronic Absenteeism Have This in Common
A White House summit homed in on chronic absenteeism and strategies to reduce it.
6 min read
An empty elementary school classroom is seen on Aug. 17, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York. Nationwide, students have been absent at record rates since schools reopened after COVID-forced closures. More than a quarter of students missed at least 10% of the 2021-22 school year.
An empty elementary school classroom is seen on Aug. 17, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York. A White House summit on May 15, 2024, brought attention to elevated chronic absenteeism and strategies districts have used to fight it.
Brittainy Newman/AP
School & District Management From Our Research Center Here's What Superintendents Think They Should Be Paid
A new survey asks school district leaders whether they're paid fairly.
3 min read
Illustration of a ladder on a blue background reaching the shape of a puzzle piece peeled back and revealing a Benjamin Franklin bank note behind it.