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 our 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, but true to our mission we designed a program to do just that. We recruit, train, pay and support black and brown college student teachers to spend time in K-5th grade classrooms where they read multicultural books and create conversations about race, racism, and social justice. 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 change curriculum and 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. Now the lower elementary grades have 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 when one decides to major in education, we work with local universities to put into place any supports needed to ensure their success. In the long-term this program has the potential to diversify curriculum and teaching demographics across Massachusetts. We have expanded our work to include 4 school districts and eventually we hope to secure additional funding to grow throughout the state.

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 19% (female)/29% (male) more likely 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). 

We expect our program to benefit students by offering the missing representation needed in the classroom to achieve the academic benefits noted above as well as help all our students become better global citizens.

  • Provide K-5th grade children with a multicultural education 

Studies indicate that there are many benefits to providing children with a multicultural education including helping students become more open-minded and flexible thinkers. Students learns 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. 

As our program focuses on providing a multicultural curriculum, we expect our program to help students build the skills noted above.

  • Within 5 years, build up a districts’ internal capacity to do 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 our 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, and family structure. As one of our 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 skills around issues our many of our Diverse Leaders face will also help improve teacher retention rates.

  • 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.  We believe that it 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.  We also believe giving college students experience in the classroom setting may open ta career possibility to them that they had never considered.

  • Help education majors of color receive support and funding for their education

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 have a designated social worker support the mental and emotional needs of our students as well as assist our student teachers in gaining the resources necessary to be successful.

  • Assist our Diverse Leaders in finding a job upon graduation and the districts we serve in hiring more teachers of color

We work to support our Diverse 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 have them hire a few Diverse Leaders within the 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 20-Sept 20:  Advertise, recruit and interview Diverse Student Teachers.  We work with key individuals and departments at Bridgewater State University, Stonehill, Massasoit, Bristol Community College and Dean College to find students interested in the program.

Sept 24:  RMK Employee Orientation

Sept 27-Oct 29:  Student Teacher training in mentorship, multicultural curriculum, Social Emotional Learning curriculum, trauma informed care, and strategies for providing teachers with professional development.

Nov 1- May 27:  Students 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 districts 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, and family structure.  Students also work weekly with our Executive Director and Curriculum Director to review lessons and practice. Executive Director continues relationship building with districts and universities/community colleges and meets with other interested districts.

June 1-June 30:  Survey student and classroom teachers, paper and in person interviews, on the program and ways to continually improve it.

July 1-Aug 19:  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
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