Cultivating recruitment, retention and school climate to increase teacher diversity

Research demonstrates the cyclical relationship between school climate and teacher recruitment and retention. A positive climate can improve a school’s ability to recruit and retain qualified, diverse educators, while having these educators can improve school climate.

That’s why it’s so critical that local educational agencies address both challenges simultaneously — a tall but necessary order, according to Rosa De León, senior strategy director for Californians for Justice.

The organization — which works to build equity for communities of color, immigrants, low-income families and LGBTQ communities by empowering youth — recently finished a listening tour of several LEAs throughout the state and will be publishing their findings in an upcoming report in partnership with Public Advocates and The Education Trust—West.

Though not yet released, the findings may spotlight areas where there’s room for improvement as LEAs continue celebrating Black History Month.

In listening to students, incoming teachers and established educators, De León said there was a sense of commitment and strong ties that make students of color want to support their communities.

“A lot of times when we heard from folks about going into the profession, it was around, ‘How can I be that one teacher that I had a strong relationship with and that really impacted me as a person? How can I be that for other students?’” she said. “Black educators see themselves as wanting to be the teacher that made a difference in their life and stay in their community and teach.”

However, she noted, they need support to keep that drive from turning into burnout.

Throughout California, LEAs have been working to increase teacher pay, establish teacher and counselor pipelines that recruit directly from diverse communities, and improve or expand training and mentorship opportunities while increasing educator input in district decision-making in an effort to increase staff diversity.

Oakland Unified School District is even engaging students in the hiring of teachers, De León said. Student leaders explained during the recent listening tour that young people are often left out of decision-making processes despite being the ones that have the most contact with teachers.

“They felt that they need to have input on the teachers who will be in their classrooms because they have valuable insights to offer about what makes a teacher best qualified to lead and guide them through their education journey,” De León said.

The role of school climate

Studies have long shown that having diverse educators has been found to positively impact all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, but Black students who have at least one African American teacher growing up are more likely to graduate high school and enroll in college than those who don’t. Yet according to California Department of Education data, only 3.9 percent of public school teachers in the state in the 2018–19 school year — around 12,000 — were African American. Black male teachers in particular only make up 1 percent of the state’s teacher workforce.

“We keep hearing from our young folks the need to see themselves reflected in the educator workforce,” De León said. “Everyone benefits from having diverse educators, and it’s important that there’s investment toward it from recruitment to also keeping them on board.”

Benefits can also be gleaned from a positive school climate, which for students is associated with greater student achievement, attendance and graduation rates, and for teachers is linked to higher reported job satisfaction, sense of self-efficacy and retention rates.

This is especially true for teachers of color, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, which highlighted studies that found that Black teachers who reported experiencing microaggressions at work heavily factored these experiences into their intentions to stay in the classroom — moreso than even their salary. These negative effects for Black male teachers specifically were worse when they were the school’s only Black male faculty member.

“Improving the way teachers experience their school climate is just one piece of the puzzle in retaining teachers, but it is one that is deeply connected to other aspects of improvement that are likely self-reinforcing, helping to improve the quality of instruction, student achievement, and teacher well-being,” according to the NCTQ.