Equity & Diversity Opinion

8 Promising Practices for Recruiting Diverse Educator Talent

By Emily Douglas-McNab — September 23, 2014 6 min read
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A growing body of evidence suggests that workplace diversity can serve as a key driver of organizational success. For instance, through an examination of various data points from the National Organizations Survey of more than 500 for-profit companies, Herring found that a workforce consisting of both genders and a variety of racial backgrounds was correlated with a number of positive business outcomes, including increased sales revenues, more customers, and higher profits relative to other firms in the industry. One possible explanation for these results comes from MIT research suggesting that working in homogeneous environments may lead employees to assume their surroundings are more predictable and controllable than they actually are, which may compel them to forego careful planning in favor of risky or adverse decision-making.

Benefits of diversity are apparent in education research as well, such as a study from Clewell, Puma, and McKay suggesting that black and Latino students may benefit academically from having teachers who are of the same racial background. Similarly, an analysis of data from Tennessee’s Project STAR experiment found a correlation between random assignment to racially similar teachers and improved test scores for both black and white students. This is not to suggest that students should, as a rule, be placed with teachers who share their racial or ethnic background--but rather that diversity among educators in a building could potentially increase the ability of that school as a whole to connect with various types of students. In fact, diversity at all organizational levels could also promote more strategic decision making, an increased ability to build relationships with parents or other stakeholders, and a number of other positive outcomes.

Organizations looking to attract employees from diverse backgrounds have a number of options for enhancing their recruiting and hiring processes. Following are a few examples from school districts and education-focused organizations around the country.

1. Growing Teachers and Leaders
“Grow your own” strategies may take many forms, based on the premise that outstanding educators and highly invested community members should have opportunities to grow professionally and increase their impact on their school. These programs may involve support and tuition assistance to help paraprofessionals or parent volunteers earn teaching licenses, or help existing teachers earn certifications for hard-to-staff areas (e.g., mathematics, science, special education) or leadership roles. One program supporting this approach is the Idaho State Board of Education’s Grow Your Own Teacher Scholarship Program, designed to place Bilingual Education, English as a Second Language, and Native American teachers in classrooms serving historically underserved populations. Another is the Grow Your Own Teacher Education Initiative in Illinois which develops locally-based teacher pipelines through partnerships between schools, institutions of higher education, and community organizations.

2. Expanded Online Recruiting Efforts
New technologies offer several ways to connect with prospective employees. For instance, Education Week hosts virtual job fairs that allow educators to chat with recruiters, receive career advice, and apply for jobs. Many employers are also posting career opportunities on social media sites, such as LinkedIn. In fact, a 2013 survey by Jobvite found that 94 percent of respondents were already using, or planned to use, social media for recruiting that year. Respondents also indicated that social recruiting has contributed to significant improvements around candidate quality and quantity, employee referral quality and quantity, and time to hire.

3. Partnerships with Alternative Certification Programs
Alternative certification programs--which recruit and/or train nontraditional candidates to become teachers, principals, and central office administrators--are helping districts around the country tap into new talent pools. Many of these programs, such as Teach for America and New Leaders, actively recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds. Others, such as Troops to Teachers, are more niched, but help districts increase diversity by hiring veterans and other nontraditional educators. A major draw of alternative certification programs for many districts is that they often work closely with district leaders to address local staffing needs (e.g., STEM or special education teachers).

4. Employee Referrals
Well-designed employee referral programs can help organizations reach individuals who otherwise may not have applied, while adding the peace of mind that comes from selecting employees from a pool of staff acquaintances rather than complete strangers. Additionally, according to CareerBuilder, effective employee referral programs are among the most cost-effective recruitment methods, often generate a plethora of high-quality résumés, and can help boost employee morale and brand recognition. While a referral program may not be the most effective strategy for increasing diversity in every organization--especially if the existing staff is a relatively homogeneous group--it offers a cost-effective option for expanding the talent pool overall, which could support diversity initiatives in some cases.

5. Recruitment Stipends
Some districts have begun offering recruitment stipends to teachers and building leaders willing to work in identified hard-to-staff schools and positions. Among these is Houston Independent School District, which is using a federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant to support the program.

6. Leadership Training
When building and district leaders foster a safe and inclusive workplace culture, they pave the way for increased diversity. On a survey conducted by Cornell University and the Society for Human Resource Management, 58 percent of responding organizations noted that they train HR staff and supervisors on effective interviewing of people with disabilities. Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents believed this training to be very effective in recruiting or hiring people with disabilities, and another 37 percent found it to be somewhat effective.

7. Building and Communicating a Brand
Establishing a brand can be highly effective in increasing an organization’s visibility, boosting recruitment efforts, and in turn, strengthening the odds of attracting a diverse and qualified pool of applicants. The brand should communicate to potential employees about the organization’s culture and values. Finding internal champions--such as high-performing employees who can represent the district at job fairs or be available to answer applicants’ questions--can help reinforce the district’s brand and key messages.

8. Leveraging Partnerships
A handful of districts around the country have collaborated with local, state, or federal partners to offer housing assistance for new teachers in an effort to boost recruitment efforts. For instance, communities such as Fairfax County, VA and San Francisco, CA participate in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Good Neighbor Next Door program that provides financial assistance to help teachers purchase their first home.

Diversity should be a key focus of the recruiting and hiring process in schools. As the research has shown, attracting teachers, leaders, and other staff with a variety of backgrounds can lead to better organizational decisions, stronger relationships with internal and external stakeholders, and most importantly, improve the learning environment for students.

This article was written by Emily Douglas and Naima Khandaker and first appeared in the May/June/July 2014 American Association of School Personnel Administrators Best Practices Magazine on Diversity. Republished with permission of the authors.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.