“To Be Who We Are,” Black Teachers Say to Schools

“To Be Who We Are,” Black Teachers Say to Schools

A new report from Teach Plus and the Center for Black Educator Development lays out five conditions for creating school cultures that affirm and support Black teachers 

Washington, D.C.—Teachers of color make up 21 percent of all public school teachers and Black teachers represent just seven percent. Research shows that all students, and especially students of color, thrive academically when educated by teachers of color. At a time when schools need more Black educators, the representation gap between teachers and students of color remains wide. To identify solutions, the Center for Black Educator Development and Teach Plus today jointly released a new report, To Be Who We Are: Black Teachers on Creating Affirming School Cultures, that examines the experiences of Black educators and lays out essential in-school conditions and recommendations for decision makers at every level of the system as they work to affirm, support, and retain Black faculty.

“There is broad agreement on the power and promise that Black teachers hold for not just students of color, but all students. At the same time, efforts to address low recruitment and high attrition rates of Black teachers and other teachers of color too often lack the depth and understanding required to build a culture that truly welcomes and supports these educators,” said Sharif El-Mekki, Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. “The challenges to doing so are deeply embedded and calcified in our public schools. Undoing them will require intentional and comprehensive effort by teachers, principals, district and state leaders. The To Be Who We Are: Black Teachers on Creating Affirming School Cultures report gives all of us in education the tools and insights to begin this vital work in earnest.”

“When teachers of color thrive, so do students. This paper offers important guidance from Black teachers that will help to sustain teachers of color in the classroom, retain them in the profession, and ensure that students have access to the diverse, brilliant educators they deserve,” said Lindsay Sobel, Teach Plus Interim CEO.

To Be Who We Are: Black Teachers on Creating Affirming School Cultures is rooted in the voices and lived experiences of Black teachers. For the report, Teach Plus and Teach Plus teacher leaders conducted focus groups with 105 Black teachers from across the country. Through these focus groups, the researchers pinpointed five conditions for creating school cultures that affirm Black teachers’ identities and enable them to be their authentic selves.

Five in-school conditions Black teachers say are critical:

  • Schools should recruit, support, and retain a diverse school faculty.
  • School leaders should take the lead in fostering an inclusive school culture.
  • Curriculum should be culturally responsive and, when it is not, schools should support teachers to make it more inclusive.
  • Professional learning for all teachers should be equity-focused and schools and districts should provide Black teachers access to mentoring and affinity groups to support their personal growth.
  • Schools should authentically implement their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Teachers expressed that for them, as for their students, representation matters greatly; a diverse faculty is a key reason why Black teachers feel their identities are affirmed. They also made it abundantly clear that principals need to be intentional in co-constructing a climate that allows their identities to be valued. Furthermore, a culturally responsive curriculum is a particularly important condition for affirming Black teachers because it validates their struggles, challenges, and celebrations and inspires growth mindsets that lead to systemic changes for them and their students. For example, one teacher in the study said, “Cultural, racial, and ethnic affirmation to me is giving me the freedom to use social justice/culturally relevant instruction to empower my students to be critical thinkers.”

“This consequential and collaborative effort between Teach Plus and the Center for Black Educator Development gets at the root of what Black teachers need to survive and thrive in schools. It addresses not only what an affirming school culture looks like but also provides clear and concise action steps teachers, educational leaders, and policymakers should take to transform school culture for Black teachers–in service of their students,” said Dr. Travis J. Bristol, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Teach Plus Board Member.

Based on the Black teachers’ perspectives, Teach Plus and the Center for Black Educator Development propose a series of recommendations to engage the school community and the educational ecosystem of stakeholders, partners, and policy makers as they work to support Black educators and create spaces for them to be their authentic selves. The recommendations also reference the resources from the Center for Black Educator Development’s Respecting Educator Activists of Color: The Anti-Racist Guide to Teacher Retention, with actionable steps educators, educational leaders, and policy makers can take to create more affirming school cultures.

Recommendations for teachers:

  • Authentically reflect on practices and perspectives.
  • Foster authentic relationships with students by building bridges between communities and classrooms.
  • Support and teach a culturally responsive curriculum.
  • Prepare for and address issues of race when they arise in schools.

Recommendations for school leaders:

  • Support curriculum and pedagogy that ensure educators are culturally responsive, anti-racist, and intentional about fostering equity in education.
  • Engage in self-reflective practices as a school leader and support other educators to do the same.
  • Continually gather disaggregated quantitative and qualitative data from both students and teachers, and use that data to inform changes in curriculum, school policies, and everyday practices.
  • Support community building through mentoring and affinity groups.

Recommendations for district leaders and state policy makers:

  • Prioritize teacher diversity.
  • Support culturally affirming curriculum and pedagogy.
  • Collect, organize, and report data to inform changes in policy and practice.
  • Support and organize coalitions of committed stakeholders.

“School leaders must listen to the Black teachers who work on their campuses and willingly make the changes that are being requested, if they are truly committed to developing and maintaining culturally affirming milieus,” said Teach Plus Texas Teacher Leader and co-author of the report Shareefah Mason.

About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success. In pursuing this mission, Teach Plus is guided by the Student Opportunity Mandate​: All students should have the opportunity to achieve their potential in an education system defined by its commitment to equity, its responsiveness to individual needs, and its ability to prepare students for postsecondary success. Teachplus.org

About Center for Black Educator Development
Launched in June 2019, the Center for Black Educator Development is revolutionizing education by dramatically increasing the number of Black educators so that low-income Black and other disenfranchised students can reap the full benefits of a quality public education. The Center seeks to reclaim power and honor the legacy we inherited from those who struggled to commit the deeply subversive, ultimately liberating, act of teaching. Learn more here: www.TheCenterBlackEDd.org