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Moving Toward Action: Cultivating a Diverse Teacher Workforce
Time after time, study after study, research has shown that a more diverse teacher workforce positively impacts student outcomes. But students of color aren’t the only ones who benefit — diverse teachers and leaders can serve as positive role models and challenge stereotypes for all students.
But the teacher pool and new educator pipeline don’t accurately reflect the demographics of our society, and many school districts find it challenging to increase the diversity of their teacher workforce. In a recent Field Trip podcast, Dr. Searetha Smith-Collins, book author and former Chief Education Officer, spoke about why workforce diversity in education is so important and how schools can move from talking about inclusive hiring practices toward putting them into action.
The full podcast is well worth a listen. But if you’re short on time, here are our top three takeaways.
3. A systemic approach is key.
Throughout the conversation, one thing is crystal clear: tackling systemic problems requires systemic thinking. Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets, and this is true of school systems as well. Equity has been an issue in education for decades; the disparities in student outcomes are not new. Making change, fighting systemic racism, and creating the kind of environment that attracts a diverse workforce requires a district-wide commitment to inclusivity and equity throughout the district.
Dr. Smith-Collins notes that, when seeking to recruit educators from communities of color, “You’re really looking at ways that you could entice people to become a member of your district that would meet their needs as well as yours.” It’s not just about recruiting from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – though that is a worthwhile tactic – but also making sure that your district fulfills the needs of potential applicants and makes sure that they are supported, heard, and valued.
Some districts approach enhancing inclusivity and equity through Grow Your Own programs, which elevate gifted paraprofessionals of color and enable them to become certified teachers.
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2. Empathy and understanding are the underpinnings of success.
If your goal is to have a more diverse teacher workforce, it’s not enough to focus on tactics for recruiting more teachers of color. Your organization also needs to be a place where educators of all ethnicities and backgrounds feel that their needs are fully met. It’s crucial to take a deeper look into how the district could be structured to more effectively support and retain a diverse teacher workforce. Doing so requires putting yourself in teachers’ shoes and having empathy for what educators of color may experience.
Dr. Smith-Collins relates that, as an educator, she was sometimes the only person of color teaching in a school – which was “a very lonely place to be. . . . When teachers are isolated, that’s very difficult. And I know that it’s very difficult for districts to recruit people of color when they are going to be isolated. So that has to be a consideration, that it’s not okay just to hire a few and place them here and there so that they’re the only one.”
“When teachers are isolated, that’s very difficult. And I know that it’s very difficult for districts to recruit people of color when they are going to feel isolated.”
One way to counteract feelings of isolation is to identify strategies for educators of color to network and share their experiences. Dr. Smith-Collins suggests that districts with little diversity should be sure to give those educators opportunities to go to conferences where they can meet with other educators of color, for example, or try what one district did:
“They have a group where they allow once a month for all the black males in the district to get together to talk and share their experiences and really to bond with one another and find comfort. And one administrator talked about, he was called to the meeting and thought, “Oh no, another meeting.” But he walked into the meeting and saw 25 other black males there. And that they were having that opportunity to get together to support one another. So just sharing an example like that would be kind of comforting, I think, to a person of color, and you think, ‘Wow, this district is really sensitive and understanding of my potential needs. I like that. I might want to work for them.’”
However, it’s also important to focus on overall school culture and climate as well. A positive environment for every teacher is one where all of the people are welcoming, inclusive, and culturally competent.
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1. It’s not a numbers game.
Our #1 takeaway from the podcast is that a truly diverse teaching workforce isn’t about hitting a certain metric. It’s about having the school setting reflect the beautiful diversity in our country and society. Dr. Smith-Collins says, “It’s not a numbers game. It’s a matter of understanding that everyone should be present. Everyone should have voices in what we are trying to teach and what we’re trying to learn.”
She says that what she hopes to see in school systems is that workforce diversity is no longer seen as “such a challenge” but as a natural state of being: that inclusivity is “something that we do naturally when we go about our hiring and our practices and our school districts, it’s just a natural thing that we do to make certain that we’re trying to find any and every opportunity to hire people of color, people who are different in any way that will enrich our environment and enrich our experience for teaching and learning. If we can get to that point, this won’t be such a challenge. We won’t miss the boat. It’s just a part of doing business. And that’s what my hope is, that we finally can dispel the idea that it’s such a challenge and such an issue to find these people. We’re here, people are here. They’re available if we know how to support them, how to work with them, how to elevate them, how to empower them.”