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How to Create Equitable School Environments for Teachers of Color

How to Create Equitable School Environments for Teachers of Color

Equity  |  Teacher Retention  |  School Leadership

We’ve talked a lot about the need to improve teacher retention. During the pandemic, teachers are feeling burned out, unsupported, and dissatisfied with their jobs and lack of recognition. A survey this summer showed that nearly 30% of teachers are more likely to leave the profession now due to the pandemic. To add to the problem, there’s been a 35% decrease in the number of college students preparing to be a teacher over the past decade. So the supply of potential teachers is going down at the same time that the demand for teachers is potentially going to skyrocket. This happens for a variety of reasons that we could spend a whole week writing about.

While that problem is enough to raise some eyebrows, we want to dig in beneath the surface a bit to talk about an even more pressing problem: equity, or the lack thereof, and its impact on teacher attrition.

Teachers of color are more likely to move schools or leave the classroom altogether. And this isn’t for lack of interest: while enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down overall, minority enrollment in teacher preparation programs is actually up. However, teachers of color are currently leaving at a higher rate than they’re joining the workforce. This means that educators of color are often one of the only people of color in their school. Their unique experiences in schools are often riddled with frustration, fatigue, persistent negative interactions, and feelings of isolation. If they aren’t isolated, then minority teachers are far more likely to be placed in a high poverty school. Data show that all teachers in these schools face higher levels of stress and burnout, and teachers who are burned out, are likely to leave.

In 2015, Minnesota surveyed teachers of color to understand the obstacles that existed for them. They found the main reasons teachers of color left were:

  • Dissatisfaction with school administration;
  • Dissatisfaction with test-based accountability systems;
  • Lack of mentoring and support;
  • Racial isolation; and
  • Lack of autonomy and influence.

Interviews with educators of color also show that they face persistent racial discrimination and feel that their expertise as an educator is not valued except for in the case of discipline. As a result, they often get classrooms filled with students who have many academic and disciplinary needs and are often the resource for disciplinary needs school-wide. 

Teacher attrition among educators of color impacts teachers and students. Students in high poverty or mostly minority schools are more likely to experience high turnover among teachers in their schools. Schools with higher teacher turnover rates have lower student achievement. The lack of consistency is hard on everyone. 

So how can you address this need? At Education Elements we’ve created a framework for redesigning systems to be more equitable (read more about it in our white paper, Capture the Opportunity). Below we apply it to the teacher retention context to help provide a process you can use moving forward.

Step 0: Reflect on your own power, privilege, and biases. 

Before we jump into design, it’s important to reflect on your own power, privilege, and bias. Take a minute to think about how your own experience shapes how you understand the problem and how you view those with a different experience. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • How did I experience teacher support? What assumptions do I make about those who leave the profession?
  • What was my experience as an educator like? What was my experience with other teachers of color? 
  • To what extent do I make assumptions about teachers of color, particularly in the context of teacher attrition?

Step 1: Connect. 

In the connect phase you first define the problem. Take a look at your teacher attrition data and do a few analyses: 

  1. Is there a difference in teacher attrition by racial group?
  2. Is teacher turnover higher in certain schools than others?
  3. When you hire teachers, are teachers of color isolated or clustered in certain schools?

Use this primary data to identify the problem you want to solve more clearly. Then, conduct teacher interviews and focus groups. Ask teachers, particularly teachers of color, what they’re experiencing, whether and why they might leave, and what they would need tostay. If you have access to teacher satisfaction surveys, you might also deploy one of those (see, for example, the school climate survey from our partners at Panorama). These questions will help you gain insight into what teachers are thinking and feeling at scale.

Often the people designing systems of support for teachers are educators for whom the current systems of support worked successfully. 

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Step 2: Include.

Using the comprehensive data and input you collected in step 1, consider enlisting multiple teachers, administrators, students, and community members in a design process to solve for the challenge. Often the people designing systems of support for teachers are educators for whom the current systems of support worked successfully. Bring in different perspectives from new teachers to veteran teachers, teachers of color who are thriving in your eyes and some who need more support. Ask them to help you design a system of support that considers the needs of educators from the time they apply for a job to the time they retire.  You might consider narrowing the focus by selecting a specific stage or aspect of a teacher’s experience--such as initial onboarding, ongoing professional development, or redesigning grade level and department meetings to be more inclusive.

Step 3: Create.

In step two, you gathered lots of ideas with very few parameters. In step three, you get to put pen to paper and test some of these ideas out. For example, a number of school districts have been piloting “Grow Your Own” initiatives in response to soliciting input from diverse groups of stakeholders. These programs recruit current high school students, paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and other community members to commit to teaching in the school district (providing financial incentive where possible). This has the dual purpose of 1) expanding the teaching workforce in the community and 2) creating a teacher workforce that is more representative of the community it serves because the teachers come from the community itself. Then, the district creates teacher mentorship programs specifically for the new teachers from the grow your own program. This provides support for the new teachers and an opportunity for advancement for veteran teachers.

Following this Connect, Include, Create framework can help you understand the equity impacts of teacher attrition in your school district and redesign systems of support that will bring a more diverse and higher quality teaching force to your students. Join our upcoming webinar to be a part of the conversation about better understanding – and meeting – the needs of our teachers.


Free Webinar – Equity and Teacher Attrition: Strategies to Better Understand Teacher Needs - access the webinar on-demand

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