Teacher Diversity Matters: The Case For Leader Validation and Its Impact on Recruitment and Retention of Educators of Color

By: Mehreen

In my recent job search, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with many professional leaders in VC, startups, education, non-profits, and technology. Three that have stood out to me have been those where I have had a shared identity with the other person. In each conversation, there were brief moments where we held space for our common South Asian identity — high expectations, name pronunciations, and societal norms of brown culture to name a few.

There is something incredibly relieving about finding common ground with another person that shares your identity, culture, and/or experience. If as adults, we find comfort in communities that understand who we are, I know the same is true for kids. Representation matters. And in education, where less than 1 in 5 teachers identify as a person of color, we are doing our children a disservice if we don’t prioritize the recruitment and retention of diverse teachers and leaders.

Earlier this week, I received an email from NewSchools Venture Fundsharing the launch of their most recent funding opportunity for their Teacher Diversity portfolio. As a 4.0 SchoolsLEANLAB Education, and Teach For America alum, I often receive newsletters full of amazing opportunities to access grant funding, mentorship, and equity-free capital. Usually, I read through these lists thinking mostly about my own entrepreneurial goals, but this time, I decided to intentionally share the opportunity with a few people in my network who I know have game-changing ideas and the drive to build them.

The goal of this portfolio is to support innovative ideas focused on advancing teacher diversity. A key characteristic of the NSVF funding model — especially for this initiative — is investing in entrepreneurs and educators of color. Yes — that means if you identify as Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and/or Indigenous, they are especially looking for you to submit your idea. You can read more about the grant funding opportunity here.

Why This Matters. Research shows that students who have teachers that look like them have increased academic performance, lower suspension rates, and are more likely to pursue higher education. Read more extensive research here. So, the question is how do we increase the number of diverse teachers in the field and retain them year over year? My short answer is to give decision-making power — along with time, money, and support — to school leaders that have already proven themselves worthy of investment.

Mr. McClendon with graduating seniors in his Young And Elite program (YAE) at RePublic High School (2019).

I recently read an opinion piece by Frances Messano— President at NewSchools Venture Fund. She writes, “Validation really matters for rising leaders, and it matters even more for leaders of color. Because of systemic racism, the deck is stacked against us; the risk of failure is greater and the ability to bounce back is harder.” Read the whole op-ed here. The word validation is particularly striking to me — to know you are on the right path and doing impactful work. This week, I chose to intentionally reach out to education change-makers who are doing the heavy-lifting for our communities, and in particular, those who are ensuring their teaching staff is as diverse as the students in their school communities.

I identified 10 innovators in my network who I thought would be a great fit for this grant and shared the opportunity with them. Nine of them responded to express their interest. They are educators of color, school leaders, and advocates for racial equity. Their ideas transform student, teacher, and community thinking. They don’t just move people with their words, but rather with their actions. They are champions of change, and our school communities are better because of them.

Here are 10 powerhouses in education that you should know:

  • LaTrina Johnson-Brown (Nashville, TN): Principal of RePublic High School. Get to know her here, and read her op-eds here and here.
  • Monique Chiu (New Orleans, LA): Assistant Principal at KIPP New Orleans.
  • Emmett Denson (Nashville, TN): Director of Schools — Nashville, RePublic Charter Schools. Denson was the former principal of ReImagine Prep in Jackson, MS. Get to know him here.
  • Patrick Edmond (Jackson, MS): Principal at Smilow Prep, RePublic Charter Schools.
  • Kendrick Friendly, M.Ed. (Denver, CO): Assistant Principal of Postsecondary Success and Culture at Colorado High School Charter — Osage.
  • Halima Labi (Nashville, TN): English teacher at RePublic High School. Read her reflections here.
  • Treon McClendon, MSOL(Bloomington, IN): Associate Director for Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering and CEO and Founder of TrèTalks, LLC.
  • Mario McClunie (Nashville, TN): Co-founder of Bond+McClunie Consulting focused on youth leadership development.
  • James Sensabaugh (Nashville, TN): Dean of Students at KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School. Prior instructional coach and social justice teacher.
  • Janet Wallace (Jackson, MS): Manager, Teacher Recruitment & Retention for Jackson Public Schools.

Next Steps. If we are to racially diversify the teacher pipeline, we must invest in school leaders and innovators that are already laying the groundwork. After this week, here are some questions I am still wondering about:

  • How can we catalyze the work that is already being done in our communities to scale and grow impact?
  • How can we provide more grant writing support and other in-kind services along the way to ensure that the best candidates are submitting strong applications?
  • How can we foster innovation and creativity in schools so that we can continue to design with and not for communities?
  • How can we increase the visibility of this grant and other funding opportunities to increase participation across diverse networks?

The time that it took for me to reach out to my network was minimal, but I am hopeful that it will result in a few submitted applications. To these leaders — you are doing the work. You are charting a path for others to follow behind you, and the world needs to hear your voice and see your impact. To others — I encourage you to learn more about these leaders and reach out to them if you can offer services they may benefit from. And if you have an idea of your own, I encourage you to apply.

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