This is part of a series on recruiting and retaining teachers of color, presented in collaboration with leader Sharif El-Mekki. The first post, on focusing on the prerequisites for recruitment, can be found here. The second post, on six steps for more inclusive hiring, can be found here.
When I first became a principal, I was more or less what we called a “school rat.” I spent all my time at school – I didn’t even come up for air. As I became more experienced, I realized that leaving the school and connecting with the larger community – the outside of my school’s immediate neighborhood – is a big part of the work. It’s part of knowing and supporting my students and their families, it’s part of recruiting staff year-round and it’s key to building a pipeline of amazing educators who might join my staff as teachers down the road, especially educators of color.
I want to share three ways school leaders like you can play a powerful role in bringing more educators of color into our schools. When it comes to diversifying our field, we need to have a short-, mid- and long-term view. Short-term might mean we’re sitting down on a Monday morning, figuring out which roles we need to hire for to support immediate or looming vacancies. The middle view is looking around and asking: Who is in college, who is in my community, which alumni can I draw into our school? And, then, there’s that long-term view: Who is in front of me now? Whose life can I influence? How can I make sure students experience school in a way that makes them want to be a part of this work?
What we, as principals, do this school year can influence who decides to enter the teaching profession one year or three years or seven years from now. What we do now can change what the field looks like in the future.
These three strategies aren’t quick fixes. Each one demands time, thought and care – but each one is absolutely worth your investment.
1. Personally invite people to join the teaching profession.
When I think about the number of teachers, particularly Black men, who have told me, “Oh yeah, somebody invited me into the profession” – that’s powerful. As a principal, you’re an influential community member, and the power of extending that simple invitation is too often underestimated.
Take the time to examine the landscape in your community and identify who is proximal to classrooms and schools. Students have coaches, mentors, employers and behavioral health specialists. These are often folks who have college degrees, and who might be adjacent to the classroom and doing some kind of “social work,” and they might be doing some “education-facing” profession, but they haven’t formally become social workers or educators – yet. It’s important to take a broad view of possible pathways to the classroom.
I know several people who have become teachers because the principal saw them working in an after-school program, saw how they loved and supported kids and invited them into the profession directly. It can be as simple as saying, “Hey, you know what? I think you’d be a great teacher. Let me connect with you about certificate programs. Come visit us during school hours, meet staff and parents. Come see these same students learning in a classroom.”
2. Build relationships with deans and professors, and personally go speak with college students.
I know principals who make a habit of building relationships with educators at colleges and universities – and speaking with their students directly. When you build those relationships and share what makes your school special, young people remember you when they’re considering what they want to do after college.
These relationships can also be a two-way street. Some professors need volunteer positions, student teacher placements or internship opportunities for their students. If you have a relationship, they will send talented people your way.
3. Focus on the students sitting in front of you right now.
Dr. Chris Emdin talks about how, for some Black and brown students, inviting them to teach is like inviting them to come to the scene of a crime that was committed against them. The most important thing we can do as leaders is make sure that’s not true for the students sitting in front of us right now.
It goes back to the long-term mindset: How are we cultivating a positive culture for Black and brown students? What are the experiences of teachers of color like in our school – what are students witnessing? Students of color are learning, and teachers of color are teaching, while experiencing racial stress. I think that’s something too few principals are deeply aware of. But if you do the work of learning about the experiences of people of color in your community, then what students experience at school is going to be very different, and students will possibly see what teaching could mean for them as a career.
It’s important, also, to talk explicitly with students about teaching as a career, which is different from just expecting them to absorb it as students. Being a student isn’t the same as exploring teaching as a career. That would be like saying, “You explored being a chef because you ate today.”
Work with your staff to plan ways to talk with students about the career of teaching, and make sure to draw on a Black pedagogical framework, centering Black educators like Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Lucy Craft Laney, Mary McLeod Bethune and Mary Church Terrell. By making sure students of color know about the profound contributions communities of color have made to the field of education, we deepen our recruitment efforts. We shape the story about what it means for a young person of color to become an educator and join a powerful tradition.