The data, the research, the demographics are all staggering and compelling. But none more so than the actual experiences of teachers of color as they are sought after (and sometimes fought over) to come to every district in America to increase the diversity to reflect the population of students in the classroom. Sound familiar? It’s in almost every strategic diversity recruitment plan that I’ve reviewed in my 25+ years in education. But are school districts ready to rethink how they recruit teachers of color? I really like this quote from Steve Robbins’ book, What If?…”Taking steps to create a diverse workforce is one thing. Doing away with old structures and traditional methods so that a diverse workforce can excel is quite another”. Therein lies the issue: we want all the black and brown teachers we can get but we’re not willing to wake up and do the WORK necessary to create the space and change the institutional practices and traditions that have implicitly and sometimes explicitly marginalized teachers of color. Given the heavy lift of being woke and doing the WORK of culturally responsive recruiting, superintendents, executive, HR, and talent management staff, and institutions of higher education have to ask, are we ready?
Let’s talk about the concept of being ‘woke’. It’s a term that has been urbanized to mean being aware, and “knowing what’s going on in the community.”(Urban Dictionary). According to Merriam Webster, “Woke is increasingly used as a byword for social awareness”. To be ‘woke’ also means to have a clear, intuitive understanding of society from a racialized perspective. It’s recognizing that people of color are treated differently, marginalized, and are often viewed from a deficit perspective. So how does this impact recruiting teachers of color? WAKE UP!! (In my Dap from School Daze voice). It means that HR professionals need to be very cognizant of how they engage candidates of color through social awareness, language, examples, strategies, and stories to attract them to a district. And it’s not just the teachers asking for the wokeness, it’s students too. When providing advice to educators in Tennessee a group of students from Freedom Prep cited being human, expecting excellence, and being woke as keys to success for new teachers (Chalkbeat June 15, 2018).
Culturally responsive recruiting is recognizing that good is a relative term derived from and defined using a dominant (European American) cultural standard so what may be a good recruitment strategy for the 82% of white teachers in America does not work for the dwindling number of teachers of color especially when culture and heritage are not prioritized. Notice I did not say race but culture. This includes cultural orientations that account for things such as collectivism, the importance of relationships, spirituality, family, views of the world and society and certainly how these views impact people of color now more than ever (Hammond, 2015). It means being able and prepared to discuss your district’s position on immigration, racial equity, racial justice, structural racism, institutional racism, racial profiling, bullying, and white privilege, as well as how it addresses hate crimes, how families are defined ( i.e. multigenerational, same sex, non-related) and even how one’s locs, braids, or TWA (not the airlines) might be perceived.
So next is the WORK – Willingness, Opportunity, Relationship/Responsiveness and Knowledge.
- Culturally responsive recruiting demands a willingness to create a district, school, and classroom climate that extends beyond tolerance and welcoming teachers of color but it recognizes and interrupts with intentionality the structures that have traditionally led teachers of color right out the door. That being said, a school district, like Montgomery County Public Schools, MD with the resolve to have an Equity Initiatives Unit committed to advancing racial justice and interrupting systems of oppression should be elevated, touted, shouted, promoted, championed, Tweeted, you name it!
- Teachers of color, as with students of color, want to know that they truly have a fair shot. The opportunities that are presented to both groups need to be authentic and they need to capitalize on the strengths of individuals of color. We often bring bilingualism, biculturalism, multiple worldviews and perspectives that benefit all students and staff. When advertising for diverse candidates be ready to engage, share and immersed in diverse racial and cultural experiences.
Relationship/Responsiveness (Both are essential so I’m doing a 2 for 1)
- With relationships it’s simple – be responsive (i.e. quick and positive), from the get go. With culturally responsive recruiting you build relationships not just with the candidates but with the community or institution from which you are recruiting the candidates. If you’re participating in a recruitment fair at a minority serving institution (MSI), know the history of the institution. Most graduates of MSI’s take great pride in their schools. Study the alumni and student newsletters, follow the school and education departments on social media, be comfortable enough and confident enough to share how your district creates, nurtures, prioritizes, and sustains community for candidates of color through strong relationships and how you are intentional in allowing this type of community to flourish.
- It’s said that “You can’t teach what you don’t know. And you can’t lead where you don’t go”. My spin on that Jesse Jackson quote is “You can’t recruit whom you don’t know and you can’t recruit them from where you won’t go”. There is much to be gained by learning more about the educators you are targeting in that strategic diversity recruitment plan. First, set those assumptions and biases aside and get to know from a racial, cultural, and personal perspective educators of color up close. With everything happening in our mixed up socio-political stuff, current and aspiring educators of color are ready for school districts, school leaders, human resource leaders, and other staff to have conversations that interrupt systems of bias, oppression, and inequities. Second, as you engage and sustain those conversations, be smart enough and sincere enough to use language that speaks to the value of the educators you are recruiting. I’m not talking about verbal language exclusively although that is critical. I’m also referring to the non-verbal language. When prospective educators follow your Twitter feed, FaceBook page, and other social media platforms is there clear evidence that the district is one that is welcoming? Are there affinity groups that provide support, professional learning, camaraderie, leadership development, and fellowship like the BOND Project in Montgomery County Public Schools and The Fellowship in Philadelphia? Does your district have a Board policy that focuses on racial equity as does Saint Paul Public Schools? Finally, as I mentioned, people of color are relational. The professionals that you are trying to recruit want to be seen, respected and treated as smart, committed, innovative, caring, cultural and racial individuals. Again, “You can’t recruit whom you don’t know and you can’t recruit them from where you won’t go”. Teachers of color are out there ready to connect and make a difference in districts that are ready to know and go.
So if you’re ready, and I mean really ready, stay woke and get to WORK!
Passionate about teaching and education, Dr. Inger Swimpson has been an educator for over 25 years with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). She has served in a number of capacities including middle school science teacher, team leader, and department chair. Her progressive leadership roles include: instructional specialist, equity specialist, Supervisor, Staff Development Programs, Director, Certification and Staffing, Director, Talent Acquisition. She currently serves as executive director in the Office of School Support and Improvement. One of Dr. Swimpson’s most gratifying professional accomplishment lies in the establishment of the BOND (Building Our Network of Diversity) Project, a networking, leadership, mentorship, and fellowship program created for African American and Latino male educators in MCPS.