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.
By now, most school leaders are familiar with the research that all students benefit when they learn from Black educators and other educators of color. Most of us also know that there are far too few educators of color in our nation’s schools. In a previous blog post for Principal Project, I shared some of the statistics, all pointing toward one urgent truth: School leaders need to do more to recruit and hire a diverse teaching force.
I’m often asked by fellow leaders: “How can I recruit more educators of color?” I believe strongly that the best recruitment strategy is a good retention strategy, and that the main focus of school leaders should be prerequisites to recruitment: building trust, fostering an environment of collective accountability and creating or finding affinity spaces in which educators of color can connect and support each other.
That said, there are some concrete steps you can take during hiring season to identify and recruit educators of color that I want to share. A commonality threading these approaches is an emphasis on recruitment and hiring as a community effort. When you, your staff, your students and other stakeholders are involved in your process, you send a strong message to prospective teachers of color: This really is a community, and if you join us, everyone here will be invested in your success.
Here are 6 ways you can move toward more inclusive hiring:
1. Be willing to learn publicly, and speak about areas that need growth, even with the teachers you’re interviewing.
As a principal, you have to do a lot of your learning publicly. When it comes to issues of equity and anti-racism, there can be a temptation to shy away from that visibility – to learn in secret and project confidence to your team. But, when you do that, no one can see how you’re growing. It’s so much more powerful, for your community and for prospective teachers, if you’re willing to share your goals as you work toward building an anti-racist school community – and invite feedback.
I’ve never met a teacher who expects a school or a principal to be perfect. What they are looking for is some kind of cultural fluency, cultural humility and responsiveness. They want to hear leaders acknowledging problems and sharing a plan for addressing those problems. They want to hear leaders say things like, “I recognize that I live in a society that exists within the smog of racism, and I want to offer something better to students. I’m asking you to call me out. I’m asking you to hold me accountable and I’m going to hold myself accountable.” Say those things to the teachers sitting across the table during interviews, and you’ll communicate that your commitment is serious.
2. Broaden your idea of who is included in your “network,” and proactively recruit throughout your community.
Educating students is a collective effort. Take a moment to consider all the community touchpoints with your school. Who are the mentors, the coaches, the leaders in churches, temples and mosques? If you reach out to your connections throughout the community, and let them know that you see them as integral partners in education, you never know when they might send an amazing teacher candidate your way. I’ve had reverends and coaches reach out and say, “Oh, so-and-so is back from college visiting – you want to set up a meeting? You want to talk with them, right?”
3. Invite candidates to visit the school and interview your staff and students.
On the day of the candidate’s interview, or beforehand, ask if they want to come spend some time visiting the cafeteria, shadowing students or sitting in classrooms. Tell candidates, “Interview whoever you’d like, before we interview you.” When folks take you up on the invitation, it demonstrates their commitment to understanding the community they are joining, and candidates will walk into your interview carrying a real sense for the school culture and community strengths.
4. Involve students in hiring and recruitment.
Include students on interview committees. When you ask a teacher candidate to share a demo lesson, make sure you’re soliciting feedback from students. Even after a short, 30-minute lesson, students will surprise you with what they notice about a teacher’s strengths and their potential abilities to build relationships with kids. Your students might recognize something you don’t.
Also, remember that students can recruit educators, too. Let them know when you’re looking for new teachers – you never know who has a cousin about to graduate with a teaching degree.
5. Solicit feedback and advice from students’ families.
When partnering with members of your school community around hiring, don’t forget to reach out to families. Ask families about their experiences with the educators at your school. Invite their feedback and suggestions about interview questions. Consider including family members on interview panels. If teacher candidates reflect the mindsets and skills that parents and caretakers want to see in their child’s educators, then your school will effectively serve your broader community.
6. Empower your teachers to be ambassadors.
Sometimes, principals feel like you need to carry the full burden of hiring, but it’s so much more valuable to take a team approach. Your team members are going to work more closely with the teachers you hire than you are, and more faces in recruiting and hiring means more diversity and more viewpoints. If you’re trying to recruit educators of color, at least some of the people doing recruiting should look like the people you want to recruit.
Remind your team members that it’s always recruiting season. Your district HR department might support you in a big way, but to find top talent, you also need to be looking around constantly. Empower your staff to be ambassadors, too. Your teachers are often living in your community, getting invited to attend students’ sports games and seeing them out and about with mentors. Make sure your team knows that you can all communicate about your school to the community.
Empowering teachers to be ambassadors is a year-round project, and it’s connected to the way your teachers experience your school. If you’ve had people of color on your staff in the past, they are sharing their experiences with others. If teachers had positive experiences – if they felt they could be their whole selves and that their voices were heard – then they will be some of your best ambassadors to recruit new teachers of color.