11/06/2018 by Liam Gluck |

Hiring with Intention

Ideas for Strategic Action to Cultivate Faculty and Leadership of Color

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In their 2016-17 Annual Trendbook, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) reported that, largely due to immigration and culturally high rates of child birth, half of all school children in the United States will be non-Anglo American by 2025. There will be an unprecedented diversity of races, languages, cultures, and viewpoints in our nation’s classrooms and, thankfully, schools recognize this. They have built offices, drafted mission statements, put up web pages, and hired administrators to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities. The intention and the efforts are clear, but are schools getting the best results? How can schools more effectively attract and retain faculty of color? What individual and institutional changes can be made? How does a school justify and solidify its diversity efforts beyond good public relations or moral obligation?

I joined 80 or so teachers and administrators this past month at the John Thomas Dye School in Los Angeles hoping to dig into these tough questions. Rose Helm, Head of School, partnered with Rob Evans, former Upper School history teacher at Chadwick School and Executive Director of the Independent School Alliance, to host the first Hiring with Intention conference, a panel presentation and discussion that examined the intentions (usually good) and practices (usually not) of hiring and retaining faculty of color. Their fantastic panel (Nick Papageorge, Orpheus S. L. Crutchfield, Robert Greene, and Dr. Cris Clifford Cullinan) offered insightful research and great ideas for us all.

First to speak was Nick Papageorge, an alumnus of Harvard Westlake and a PhD in Economics who teaches a Johns Hopkins University. A researcher of socioeconomic inequality, Nick contributed to a paper that looked at the long-term impacts of black teachers, especially on college graduation. The college graduation rate gap between white and black is stark, and dropping out of college correlates with other bleak outcomes—less likely to vote, more likely to have chronic illness—that are super costly to society. Nick’s study found that black students with black teachers graduate high school 7% more frequently and graduate college 13% more frequently.

This study was conducted across all third- through fifth-graders in public schools in the state of North Carolina. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of students, so 13% is not a small number of college graduates. Why this might be? Nick’s team surmised that black teachers typically better understand the life experiences and cultural viewpoints of their black students, so they can more effectively deliver content in a relevant way and establish higher expectations. Teachers tend to push these students further, while simultaneously mirroring an example of a successful, educated black professional person. The rest of their study was not so optimistic; salary data proves that telling a marginalized group to fix their graduation rate is practically impossible. Nationally, only 8% of college graduates are black, and black teachers tend to make less than white teachers, putting an undue burden on black college graduates who go into teaching. Their study proposes a few ideas: paying black teachers more, paying all teachers more, and increasing exposure to black thinkers and leaders through half-time, co-teaching, or required experiential learning events.

Next to speak was Orpheus Crutchfield, President of Strategenius, a placement firm that advocates for teachers of color and advises schools on diversity leadership. Orpheus pointed out the “familiarity” problem of independent school networks: board members’ professional and social networks tend to be homogeneous, so boards stay pretty much the same color, which limits the top-down, institutional change an independent school can make. On the hiring end, on-boarding a single person of color to start every conversation regarding diversity and inclusion rarely works; stress, burnout, lack of professional development in other capacities (“You were hired to be the black teacher, not the best teacher you can be.”), and cultural disconnect tend to keep attrition rates high. There must be a critical mass of faculty or administration of color to create affinity spaces, mentorship, and leadership opportunities, as well as professional and social connections that keep people feeling effective, valued, and comfortable. He compared the isolation and challenges of African-American students at largely white universities with the growth, academic success, and professional networks born out of historically black colleges, as well as black fraternities and sororities on campus.

Robert Greene, CEO and principal of Cedar & Burwell, a strategic consulting firm that counsels business and non-profits on cultural competency, opened with this mic-drop: “If you don’t know where you’re going and why, then you’ll never get anywhere.” To help schools figure out where they are going, Robert proposed VPS2 – Vision, Purposefulness, Skills, and Systems. Vision is the institutional framework through which schools will “see” results from their efforts: what do we want our board to look like? What do we want our faculty to look like and to know? He encouraged schools to consider people different from themselves, as Orpheus did; administrators must ask the question, “Is this hire a cultural fit or a cultural push?” Purposefulness addresses the best reason for diversifying faculty: diversity of thought, which makes the organization more excellent. The identity of a black male is not a skills-set, but the mix and the tension, even, between different viewpoints and ideas helps all come to a more sound solution or method – in terms of curriculum development, discipline policy, experiential learning opportunity, etc. Skills identifies the cultural competency that is needed across all faculty and administration: hiring contacts, department chairs, and administrators must be able to lead with an awareness that faculty are arriving at decisions and actions (salary or benefits negotiation, professional development request, discipline cases) from different points of view. Finally, systems: affinity groups, organizational hiring policies and practices, mentorship structure, and reporting structures can all be built in a way that values and empowers faculty of color.

Last to speak was Dr. Cris Clifford Cullinan, a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant to federal and state governments, universities, and independent schools on removing roadblocks to institutional equity. Cris took everyone to the floor on the seriousness of our country’s underprivileged– diversity in schools, she declared, is not about celebration and joy, it is about challenge, push, and justice. Cultural competence must be a requirement for all teachers, or else no progress will be made on the ground. If you hire for cultural competency, Cris explained, diversity in faculty will follow. She encouraged schools to look at community college instructors, who work with a hugely diverse population of students.

Congratulations and a huge thank you to Rose Helm, Rob Evans, and all the panelists for an enlightening and important conversation. At Carney, Sandoe & Associates, we are committed to the importance of increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion – both within our own organization and among the educational communities with whom we partner. We are ever cognizant of our ability to reach a wide variety of schools, teachers, and leaders, and I am grateful that I was able to learn what I did in order to advance our mission. I sincerely hope you learned something useful here—onward!

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