Diversity in Classroom Leadership and Literature

Introduction

The shortage of teachers of color is a nation-wide issue that has profound effects on all students. When black and brown students have teachers that look like them, they are more likely to feel connected to their schools, be recommended to honor programs and attend college. Diverse teachers are equally important to white students as school is a child’s first experience of community leadership and the omission of teachers of color can propagate stereotypes and misinformation. Over 70% of white people only associate with other white people. This segregation is harmful to communities and is, in part, perpetuated by the lack of diversity and racial competence within school systems and town governance. Raising Multicultural Kids (RMK) advances inclusion through its overall mission to cultivate racially and culturally competent communities.

Creating a more diverse and inclusive learning environment is challenging for a district when over 90% of teachers in the state are white, so the Diversity in Classroom Leadership and Literature (DCLL) program was designed to do just that. RMK recruits, trains, pays, and supports black and brown college student teachers (Diversity Leaders) to spend time in K-5th grade classrooms where they read multicultural books and create conversations around social justice and the United States’ fight to fashion an equal and just democracy. Since our founder’s youngest child experienced three racial incidents in kindergarten, we recognize the importance of facilitating these conversations early and work with districts to create curriculum to address this unmet need. RMK’s diverse team developed social justice standards and located the best resources available to assist teaching children the necessary language and skills to productively discuss these issues as well as empower them with ways to act if they witness or experience harm.

Prior to RMK’s work with Easton Public Schools, it’s teaching staff and administration were 99% white. In 2020/2021 the lower elementary grades had 39 classrooms (55%) with diverse student teachers visiting once a week. Student teachers not only serve as role models and create essential lesson plans, but time in the classroom provides them the opportunity to explore teaching as a career. All student teachers are mentored and if one decides to major in education, RMK works with local universities to assist their journey and procure any supports needed to ensure their success.  In the long-term this program has the potential to diversify curriculum and teaching demographics across Massachusetts. In 2021/2022, we have expanded our work to include multiple school districts in Massachusetts. 

Program Goals and Expected Impact

1.     Increase diversity in classroom leadership roles

Studies show that representation impacts a child’s educational trajectory.  Data indicates that having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent (Gershenson et al, 2017).  Black students are 7% more likely to graduate high school and) more likely ((19% (female)/29% (male)) to enroll in college if they’ve had one black teacher by third grade (Gershenson et al, 2017).  Teachers of color have a positive impact on students of all races and provide the opportunity for white students to form critical relationships that could disrupt common stereotypes, misinformation and racism that is less likely to be questioned or challenged in an all-white environment (Quiocho, A. & Rios, F. 2000). 

2.   Provide K-5th grade children with a multicultural education 

Studies indicate that there are many benefits to providing students with a multicultural education including helping students become more open-minded and flexible thinkers. Students learn perspective taking skills and increase emotional intelligence and empathy, while also enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills.  Additionally, the ability to work with and understand different cultures is more necessary for employment as the workforce grows further diverse and the marketplace more global. 

3. Within 5 years, build up a district’s internal capacity for social justice and multicultural curriculum work

Meaningful change is more likely to occur when it is developed within rather than a continued outsourced program, so RMK efforts include weekly professional development for classroom teachers.  This professional development is designed to increase a teacher’s knowledge and comfort in creating and managing classroom conversations around race, culture, language, socioeconomic status, ability, and family structure. As one of the program goals is to help each district diversify its staff, we must also consider what would help retain teachers of color.   Cultivating the entire staff’s knowledge and skills around issues many of our Diversity Leaders have faced will help improve teacher retention rates.

4.   Increase the number of students of color pursuing a degree in education in Massachusetts

There have been many efforts across the state to increase the number of students of color pursuing a degree in education, but there has been very little impact on improving teacher demographics.  The progress is greatly hindered by the fact that students see very few to no teachers of color in their classrooms and that we must find creative ways to address this issue for students of color to begin considering a career in education.  It has been our experience that exposing college students to teaching in the classroom setting opens up a career possibility to them that they had never considered.  

5.  Help education majors from underrepresented and marginalized groups receive support and funding 

There are numerous barriers to students of color completing a degree in education and one we commonly encounter is that black mental health is often under-addressed on college campuses.  Therefore, we worked with Bridgewater State University (BSU) to hire a social worker to support the mental and emotional needs of our students as well as assist our student teachers in gaining the resources necessary to be successful.

6. Assist our Diversity Leaders in finding a job upon graduation and the districts we serve in hiring more teachers of color

We support our Diversity Leaders through their education and beyond. We offer all our students’ reference and resume assistance.  We help non-education majors find connections in their field of study as best we can.  For our education majors, we first connect them to the districts we serve, as it is our goal to have them hire a few Diverse Leaders within 5 years.  However, we are also regularly contacted by other districts looking for candidates of color and share that information as well.

Program Timeline

Aug -Sept:  Advertise, recruit and interview Diverse Student Teachers.  We work with key individuals and departments at Bridgewater State University, Stonehill College, Massasoit Community College, Bristol Community College and Dean College to find students interested in the program.

October: RMK Employee Orientation, Diversity Leader training in mentorship, multicultural curriculum, Social Emotional Learning curriculum, trauma informed care, and strategies for providing teachers with professional development.

Nov 1- May 27:  Diversity Leaders spend 1 hour a week in each classroom reading a multicultural book and doing an activity.  They then spend 10 minutes with the classroom teacher on the lesson they provided and how to continue the conversation throughout the week, to give each teacher short but consistent doses of professional development.  It is our goal to build up the district’s internal capacity to continue this work beyond their 5-year commitment with our program.  Multicultural books consist of books about race, culture, socioeconomic status, language, ability, and family structure.  Diversity Leaders also work weekly with RMK’s Executive Director to review lessons and practice. The Executive Director continues relationship building with districts and universities/community colleges and meets with other interested districts.

June:  Survey student and classroom teachers, paper and in person interviews, on the program and ways to continually improve it.

July:  Wrap up work; Planning for next year

References

  1. Gershenson, S. Hart, C. M.D. et al. (2018) The Long-Run Impact of Same-Race Teachers. National Institute of Economics Research. Online: https://www.nber.org/papers/w25254

Check out this clip of RMK in the classroom!

See an example lesson plan here

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