The single most important change we made to hire more educators of color

This post is the first in a two-part series on recruiting and retaining educators of color. Find the second post on retention here.

I recently spent a few years as an assistant principal at a high-performing, high-poverty middle school in South Seattle. This school is in a vibrantly diverse community, with over 90 languages spoken, a large African American population and large populations of students coming from East Africa, Mexico, Central America, Vietnam and the Philippines. Only about 10% of our students at that time were white – while by contrast, our staff was predominantly white. Knowing the importance of a diverse education staff, our leadership team made it a top priority to hire a staff that better reflected our school community. 

Over a three-year period, we made meaningful strides toward building a teaching staff that better reflected our students. More than 50% of the certificated staff that we hired were non-white, and we made significant progress in retaining the educators of color we hired. We became the middle school with the second highest percentage of educators of color in the district.

In a separate blog post, I’ll detail our most meaningful efforts toward retention. In this post, I want to share the single most important shift made in hiring: approaching teacher recruitment as a year-round job.

If we want to bring more educators of color into our schools, we can’t think of hiring as something that happens in March, April and May. We can’t wait until our budgets are in place and our teaching vacancies are visible and we see what our FTE is going to look like. Rather, we have to commit to recruitment as part of our ongoing, year-round work, making steps to recruit next year’s new hires as soon as a school year begins. We should be cultivating candidates of color, inviting prospects to visit the school and investing in relationships all year, with an eye toward the shifts we want to see.

5 ways we can make diverse teacher recruitment a year-round priority:

1. Ask our networks to help us recruit educators of color, and be ready to share our school’s story.

Most of us have worked in a number of schools or districts along our journey to leadership – and all of us have former colleagues who have moved on to other schools and districts. Maintaining those connections gives us visibility into broader networks of great educators. 

For example, I have a friend who is a literacy coach in a neighboring school district, and I always remind her: “If you know good people who are looking for a new opportunity, let me know.” When she calls me and says, “I know a Spanish immersion teacher. She’s bilingual, she’s a native Spanish speaker and she’s looking for a new school community. She’s incredible” – I’m ready. I immediately call that person and say, “Hey, I heard about you from your colleague, and I hear you might be looking for a new school. I’d love for you to come sit in on some of our professional development.” 

Part of our role as school leaders is to be the lead storytellers for our schools. We need to be ready to share the narrative with prospective candidates: What makes our school special? Where can new hires find opportunities for leadership and fulfillment? And, as any storyteller will say, compelling narrative is about showing, not just telling. I share our mission and highlights about our school, and I follow through with an invitation for that prospective candidate to visit.

2. Reserve time in our calendar to invite people into our school.

When we connect with a prospective candidate, our first step is to share what makes our school special – and our second is to invite them in to see it. No matter how full our calendar might feel, it’s always worthwhile to carve out 30 minutes to invite strong candidates of color into our school communities. By investing year-round in tours and conversations, we already have a strong foundation once it’s time to hire in the spring.

3. Invest in university partnerships.

As an AP, I worked to cultivate a relationship with the Master in Teaching program at Seattle University by consistently offering to take on their teacher candidates. They began to see that if they sent us strong candidates, we would hire and meaningfully support them, which not all schools are organized to do. In many schools, the principal doesn’t necessarily know the student teachers in their building, much less whether they are strong candidates, but our leadership made it a point to ensure that we did know. This partnership supported the university’s work by enabling them to  demonstrate that their graduates had strong hiring numbers, and it introduced us to a number of amazing teacher candidates of color. 

4. Take a long view with recruitment, supporting the certification of non-teaching staff.

In Seattle, our pool of paraprofessionals and instructional assistants is significantly more representative of our student population than our certificated staff. When we have a great non-certificated staff member who would be an amazing teacher, we have power as school leaders to influence the way that person sees their trajectory.

By learning about alternative certification options accessible locally, we can recruit team members into the teaching profession who might not otherwise have seen a pathway for themselves. In my school, that meant partnering with a program called the Seattle Teaching Residency, which supports instructional assistants toward student teaching placements, and which resulted in a number of successful hires for our school.

5. Acknowledge progress and keep moving forward.

I mentioned above that our school was among the schools with the highest percentage of teachers of color in our district – but that was still only about 35% of our certificated staff, compared with a student body that was 90% students of color. The work is ongoing – and while we need to make time to recognize success along the way, we also need to accept that transformation won’t happen overnight. We need to be in this work for the long haul.

I recently spoke with a Black student who attended our middle school, and she shared that she was having a really hard time in high school. I asked her, “What were some of the things that worked for you here?” She listed a number of things that were really powerful, but one of the things she said was, “I felt seen. There were actually Black teachers.” Every adult she listed who made an impact for her was a teacher of color. Moments like this confirm what we know: Recruiting and retaining a diverse staff matters.