Strategies to Recruit and Retain Educators of Color

Key Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Educators of Color edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Due to an increase in teacher shortages around the country, the need to hire highly qualified teachers, especially teachers of color, is challenging school district leaders to rethink and revamp their recruitment and retainment efforts.

In the edLeader Panel “Key Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Educators of Color,” two district leaders and two educational experts shared key strategies and helpful insights about recruiting and retaining a diverse range of educators and how this diversity impacts student learning and achievement.

Active, Purposeful, and Intentional Recruiting

Even though every school district has its unique set of circumstances, many share the same challenges. Prior to his role as Partnership Manager with Insight Education Group, Dr. Peter Leida served as Deputy Superintendent in Colonial School District in Delaware. One of the common answers given in Colonial and other districts about the lack of diversity in hiring was that school districts could only hire from the pool of people who applied.

This passive mindset requires very little effort from district leadership and yields meager results. Leida said that instead of waiting for candidates to apply, “You have to be an active recruiter. You have to help build the pipeline. You have an obligation to create the conditions where educators, regardless of race, will thrive in your district and [you have] to support educators authentically.”

Jeannie Aversa, a 34-year educator and the Executive Director of Recruitment, Selection and Retention for Syracuse City School District (NY), echoed Leida’s sentiments sharing that she is “always recruiting,” always looking for that person who may be an excellent fit for the teacher pipeline. Whether she is dining at a restaurant, at church, or at a community event, she shares the opportunities available within the district and works to get qualified people into the district’s pipeline.

In addition to personal efforts, Aversa explained that districts must include the goal of recruiting educators of color into their strategic plans—this puts both intentionality and dollars behind the effort.

Redefine the Pipeline 

For LaCreasha Stille, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for the Gainesville Independent School District (TX), re-evaluating the teacher recruitment pipeline in her district, home to a tight-knit community in north Texas, began by starting at home. Stille said they started “looking at our alumni, talking with them, and asking, how can we get people to come back to where it all began with them?” Reminding them of the sense of pride they have in their alma mater and community is a powerful message that is a great recruiting device for any district.

The district has also developed key partnerships with groups like the Texas Workforce Commission, which allows them to recruit individuals who may have a bachelor’s degree but are seeking entry into education from a nontraditional route. One of the biggest messages the district tries to communicate to candidates is that teaching is a rewarding vocation and that Gainesville ISD is the place to be for that profession. Additionally, working through the district’s own Career and Technical Education (CTE) program to identify students of color who want to transition into teaching is a great way to build a homegrown pipeline.

Leverage the Paraprofessional Network

In addition to outreach in the community, Stille, Aversa, and Leida advised tapping into a district’s paraprofessional network to recruit educators of color. Leida said that Colonial, and other districts, have developed residency programs that provide paraeducators with opportunities to continue to work in the classroom and receive a paycheck and benefits while also obtaining their certification and receiving the necessary support they need to transition into a full-time educator.

Reinforcing that point, Stille also shared that many paraprofessionals have already spent years in the district. They know the school district and school community that they’ve served and are committed to the district’s mission and goals.

Special Programs Attached to Funding

Syracuse City School District is intentional about identifying funds through its special programs and grants department to help provide the resources needed for their teachers to get advanced degrees or for their long-term subs or paraprofessionals to get the degrees needed to become full-time educators. One example is a grant Syracuse recently received from the U.S. Department of Education for $1 million. Using that grant money, individuals who have their bachelor’s degree can go back to school to get their master’s degree and become certified to teach.

Strategies to Retain Educators of Color

Recruiting new talent to the district is just step one in the process of ensuring that students have high-quality teachers. Once recruited, it is incumbent upon the district to retain those individuals. Educator retainment is a top goal for many districts but retaining educators of color may require additional strategies because these educators are often in the minority. A few strategies discussed by the panelists include:

  • Affinity Groups: These groups allow individuals to join a group, or groups, where they have a commonality. For example, in Syracuse, the district has eight different affinity groups (including groups for African Americans, Native Americans, LGBTQ allies, and women in leadership, to name a few).  These groups allow individuals to ask questions and share concerns within a group that is understanding of their experiences.
  • Leadership Communication Opportunities: Create events or opportunities for educators of color to share their perspectives, ask questions, and suggest improvements based on their experiences with students, and other educators and administrators.
  • Create a Sense of Belonging and Significance: District- and school-level leadership need to uplift all staff, but it is important for educators of color to feel a sense of belonging and have their unique contributions acknowledged.

Barriers to Recruitment

One of the biggest barriers in teacher recruitment, which extends to recruiting educators of color is the inability to change direction. Stille shared that one of the biggest challenges for Gainesville was to change their processes, which began with a change of mindset. There is a level of comfort in staying the course because that is the way “it has always been done.” However, when those processes no longer yield results, it is time to step outside the comfort zone, think outside of the box, and be willing to implement new tactics and strategies to recruit and retain qualified candidates.

In addition to internal district processes, Aversa shared that state certification requirements, which vary from state to state, can pose a significant barrier. For example, she said, “You can’t go from New York to Connecticut without all of the different state requirements such as teacher tests…and then, there’s monetary barriers that affect that as well. In New York state, I think for someone to get certified, it’s at least $1,100, and that’s if they pass all of the certification tests the first time.” Finding ways to eliminate those barriers altogether or supporting candidates through grants or scholarships are ways to overcome them.

Misconceptions About Diversity in the Workforce

A common misconception about recruiting educators of color is that they will only impact students of color. Stille said that studies have shown that with any student, “if there’s a teacher of color [in the classroom], it makes a great difference in how they see the rest of the world.” She added that only 2% of educators nationwide are Black males, and research shows that having them in the classroom makes a huge impact, especially on Black male students.

Another misconception is that diversity in the workforce is not needed to impact student achievement.  Again, Stille pointed to the real-world impact diversity is having on Gainesville ISD. They have Black, Hispanic, and White teachers in Gainesville, but they are enrolling students from a diverse cross-section of the world, so they use a program to hire international teachers too. They now have teachers from Colombia, Vietnam, Belize, and other countries who share their cultures and traditions, which allows students to hear real-world perspectives from different cultures that they would not have been exposed to otherwise.

Ultimately, the recruitment of educators of color is the same as the recruitment of all educators in that districts must identify and hire high-quality educators who can help students excel in the classroom and in life.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Educators of Color, sponsored by Insight Education Group.

Watch the RecordingListen to the Podcast

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Article by Ginny Kirkland, based on this edLeader Panel