data, the research, the demographics are all staggering and compelling. But nothing is more compelling than the actual experiences of teachers of color, who are sought after and fought over in every district in America. Increasing diversity to reflect the population of students in the classroom is a key goal in almost every strategic diversity recruitment plan I’ve reviewed in my 25-plus years in education. And they’re not there yet. Are school districts ready to rethink how they recruit teachers of color? We are “woke” enough to want all the Black and Brown teachers we can get, but we’re not willing to wake up and do the work to change the institutional practices and traditions that have implicitly and sometimes explicitly marginalized teachers of color. Are we ready to do the work of culturally responsive recruiting? Let’s talk about the concept of being ‘woke.’ According to Merriam Webster, “Woke is increasingly used as a byword for social awareness.” To be ‘woke’ also means to have a clear, intuitive understanding of society from a racialized perspective. It’s recognizing that people of color are treated differently, marginalized and are often viewed from a deficit perspective. How does this awareness affect recruiting teachers of color? WAKE UP!! (In my Dap from “School Daze” voice.)
Getting Woke Means Reflecting on Culture—Yours and Others’
It means that HR professionals need to recognize how they engage candidates of color through social awareness, language, examples, strategies and stories to attract them to a district. It’s not just the teachers asking for the wokeness, it’s students, too. Last June,
Tennessee students advised new teachers they want to learn from human beings who expect excellence and demonstrate cultural responsiveness. As high school valedictorian Detario Yancey put it, “Be creative, be intuitive, be socially intelligent—and be woke.”
Culturally responsive recruiting recognizes that “good” is a relative term derived from and defined using a dominant (European American) cultural standard. This means that what may be a good recruitment strategy for the 82 percent of U.S. teachers who are White does not work for the much smaller share of teachers of color, especially when their cultures and heritages are not prioritized. Notice I did not say race, but culture. This includes cultural orientations that account for collectivism, the importance of relationships, spirituality, family, views of the world and society. It means being prepared to discuss your district’s positions on immigration, racial equity, racial justice, structural racism, institutional racism, racial profiling, bullying and White privilege. It means being able to explain how it addresses hate crimes, how families are defined (i.e. multigenerational, same sex, non-related) and even how one’s locs, braids or TWA (not the airlines) might be perceived.
Once You’re Woke, It’s Time to Do the Work
Getting woke is important, but it’s only the first step on the journey. Next, it’s time to do the work. That involves developing a host of skills and attitudes: Willingness, Opportunity, Relationships/Responsiveness and Knowledge. Let’s break these down in more detail.
Willingness Culturally responsive recruiting demands a willingness to create a district, school and classroom climate that moves beyond tolerance and welcoming teachers of color. Such a climate recognizes and interrupts with intentionality the structures that have traditionally led teachers of color right out the door. That being said, a school district, like Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland, with the resolve to have an Equity Initiatives Unit committed to advancing racial justice and interrupting systems of oppression should be championed.
Opportunity Just like students of color, teachers of color want to know that they truly have a fair shot. The opportunities presented to both groups must be authentic and capitalize on the strengths of individuals of color. In Montgomery County, we often bring in bilingualism, biculturalism, multiple worldviews and perspectives that benefit all students and staff. When advertising for diverse candidates be ready to engage and share in diverse racial and cultural experiences.
Relationships/Responsiveness With relationships, it’s simple. Be responsive—quick and positive—from the get-go. Culturally responsive recruiting builds relationships not just with the candidates but with the community or institution from which you are recruiting the candidates. If you’re participating in a recruitment fair at a minority serving institution (MSI), know the history of the institution. Most graduates of MSI’s take great pride in their schools. Study the alumni and student newsletters, and follow the school and education departments on social media. To engage with these grads, you’ll need to be comfortable and confident enough to show how your district intentionally creates, nurtures, prioritizes and sustains community for candidates of color.
Knowledge To put a spin on a famous Jesse Jackson quote, let me say, “You can’t recruit those you don’t know and you can’t recruit them from where you won’t go.” First, set your assumptions and biases aside and get to know educators of color up close, from a racial, cultural and personal perspective. Current and aspiring educators of color are ready for conversations that interrupt systems of bias, oppression and inequities. As you engage and sustain those conversations, be smart enough and sincere enough to use verbal and non-verbal language that speaks to the value of the educators you are recruiting. When prospective educators follow your Twitter feed, Facebook page and other social media platforms, is there clear evidence that your district is welcoming? Are there affinity groups that provide support, professional learning, camaraderie and leadership development, like the BOND Project in Montgomery County Public Schools and The Fellowship in Philadelphia? Does your district have a board policy that focuses on racial equity, like the one in Saint Paul Public Schools? Finally, never forget that people of color are relational. The professionals that you are trying to recruit want to be seen, respected and treated as smart, committed, innovative, caring, cultural and racial individuals.
Teachers of color are out there ready to connect and make a difference in districts that are ready to know and go. To find them, you have to know how to connect and be willing to meet them where they are. As I said before, “You can’t recruit whom you don’t know and you can’t recruit them from where you won’t go.” So if you’re ready, and I mean really ready, stay woke and get to WORK!
Inger H. Swimpson is an equity specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools (Maryland) and has served in several capacities and offices within the district. She served as a director in the Office of Human Resources and Development and Organizational Development for a number of years overseeing our higher education partnerships, certification, staffing and induction.