Diversifying the Teacher Workforce
BY CHRISTINA K. BROWN AND JULIA B. PIERSON/School Administrator, March 2021

 Christina Brown
Every school system should make diversifying its teacher workforce a priority. Research indicates all students benefit from having teachers of color, in the form of greater engagement, higher achievement and cross-cultural interactions that can work against harmful stereotypes and reduce unconscious biases, according to the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

Students of color reap even more benefits. For Black students, having just one Black teacher in elementary school can improve their lives far into adulthood, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Four Measures

So how can school systems make progress on this front? Last fall, TNTP (formerly known as the New Teacher Project) developed a guidebook in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education titled “Promising Recruitment, Selection and Retention Strategies for a Diverse Massachusetts Teacher Workforce.” The guidebook conveys four key steps to build a talent diversification strategy:

»Understand why teacher racial and ethnic diversity matters to your students and district. Naming your “why” and aligning commitments, communications, practices and policies to reflect that why is key to building a more diverse workforce.

»Audit your current talent management processes, understand the experience of your stakeholders and set goals. Investing in a data-driven review of the current practices across the talent cycle will support both the understanding of gaps and barriers in current practices and inform strategic short- and long-term efforts.

»Adjust your talent practices. Armed with a clear understanding of the gaps in current practices, changes can begin immediately across areas of recruitment, selection and retention.

»Create a long-term diversification strategy. Building on learnings from the first three steps, create a long-term strategy of continuous improvement that elevates the role of diversification in the district’s commitment to equity, integrating ongoing work toward a more inclusive, culturally sustaining culture across all talent practices.
 Julia Pierson

Holyoke’s Quest

In our recent work with Holyoke School District in western Massachusetts, we’ve been able to apply these strategies. Holyoke’s district leadership knew it had work to do. While 84 percent of students in Holyoke identify as Hispanic or Black, 82 percent of teachers are white. Through our partnership, Holyoke district leaders have worked to:

»Audit and improve their current recruitment materials so teachers of color are drawn to the school district and feel welcomed and included during the recruitment process;

»Audit and improve their selection practices, looking for blind spots, indicators of bias and ways to be more inclusive; and

»Create pathways to the teaching profession for current staff of color.

Tiffani Curtis, chief of schools at Holyoke, says this work matters. “Students deserve to have an intellectual experience in the district that speaks to their style of learning and being,” she says. “They should see themselves and their culture reflected in their intellectual spaces and be able to learn in ways that resonate with their spirit and speak to their funds of knowledge. [Students] can’t show up as learners without bringing their racial identity and cultural experience into the space.”

CHRISTINA BROWN was formerly a partner at TNTP in Boston, Mass. Twitter: @tntp. JULIA PIERSON is a senior manager at TNTP.