Diversifying Educational Leaders for Optimal Student Outcomes According to Dr. Shawn Joseph

Mar 3, 2021 by

Dr. Shawn Joseph outlines plan for new school year
Dr. Shawn Joseph

Today, students and educators come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. In many parts of the country, underserved communities and communities of color are growing at rapid rates. In order to receive the best educational outcomes, students need to be taught by a diverse school staff that reflects the makeup of their communities as a whole.

Shawn Joseph, an experienced educational consultant and school administrator, explains why diversity in education is so important and how it can help students achieve great things.

The Diverse Student and Teacher Population

Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of White public school students dipped from 61 to 48 percent. The percentage of Black students also decreased from 17 to 15 percent, while the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 16 to 27 percent. These figures reflect the increasing diversity of the American public school population.

While diversity has increased among the student body, it has also risen among teachers and administrators. A large majority of teachers in the United States are White, but the number of Black and Hispanic teachers has also slowly risen. Teachers and administrators of color, while slowly growing in number, are still under-represented in our schools, and now is the time to do more to enact policies and practices that encourage teachers and leaders of color to serve in our public schools.

The Impact of Teachers of Color on Student Achievement

Government research has shown that having a teacher from the same racial or ethnic group can positively impact students’ achievement, motivation, and attitude. Minority teachers may have higher expectations for their minority students than non-minority teachers.

Students of color gain specific advantages from having teachers of similar ethnic backgrounds. A study by the Learning Policy Institute found that students’ overall academic performance was boosted. They had improved math and reading scores. Graduation rates were improved, and students had greater aspirations to attend college. Also, the number of absences was lower.

Teachers of color were also more likely to refer students of color to gifted programs. They were better equipped to help students face and confront racism. Students of color face many difficulties in the classroom but having an advocate and champion at school is associated with greater achievement.

Diversity Benefits Everyone

One of the principles that many educators forget is that diversity benefits every student, not just students of color and other minorities. Having a varied perspective on history, culture, and current events can help all students better understand their world.

White students also have measurable benefits when they are taught by teachers of color. More students reported that they felt academically challenged by their teachers, and also that they felt their teachers cared about them.

In addition, exposing White students to teachers of color makes it more likely that they will address and confront issues of race and bias. They gain a better appreciation of diverse races, ethnicities, and backgrounds in their communities. We do children a disservice when we do not expose them to the diversity of the world within our classrooms and schools.

Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color

In order to address the low representation of teachers of color in the community, Dr. Shawn Joseph believes that institutional barriers need to be examined. Many students of color find that it is difficult to achieve admission to a college or to be able to afford to finish all four years. College students of color face an uphill battle when it comes to visibility in the classroom, and many prospective teachers could be discouraged from following through with their goals. Policy-makers should consider teacher scholarships/fellowships for students of color to serve as educators. Expecting students to incur excessive student loans to enter our workforce as teachers in the current climate where teachers, in general, are not paid their true value in take home income, is unrealistic if we want to dramatically improve the rates of teachers of color in our workforce.

In addition, when teachers of color begin their careers, they may be discouraged when they work for administrators from non-minority backgrounds. Many teachers of color experience racism and bias in the workplace that stems from the relatively low number of teachers of color in the system and bias against people of color.

While the percentages of administrators of color are slightly higher than the percentage of teachers of color in our schools, much more needs to be done to create pipelines to support their recruitment and success. Administrators of color are more likely to support their employees and afford them opportunities for further training and education. Programs like the AASA/Howard University urban superintendent program and Guilford County Public School’s Guilford Aspiring Leadership Academy are models which can support the recruitment, retention, and success of leaders of color in our nation’s schools. Both programs focus on identifying exemplary leaders, helping them network with other successful leaders, and having them learn from proven leaders of color to truly be prepared to lead while minoritized in America.

The Importance of Teachers and Administrators of Color

Teachers of color often report that they are “called” to work in underserved districts where it is difficult to recruit teachers. Dr. Shawn Joseph believes that it is important to support teachers who want to work with underserved populations however possible.

The need for a diverse teacher population has never been more urgent. Dr. Ivory Toldson, Professor of Counseling Psychology at Howard University shares that school systems must move away from focusing on the achievement gap to focusing on absolute achievement for all. For too long, we have focused on the differences between student achievement without adequately resourcing based upon students’ needs when students are not making progress towards standards. All administrators, but particularly teachers and administrators of color, should be vocal about the resources needed to move absolute achievement for historically marginalized students.

Teachers from diverse backgrounds are needed to show these students pathways to success. Shawn Joseph understands the need for diversity in the classroom and encourages all prospective teachers of color to take a close look at the profession and how they could enhance it in the future.

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