Despite a diversifying U.S. population, our teachers are still not racially representative of the students in our classrooms. The online Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership program from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) has strategies built into its curriculum that prepare future administrators to intentionally address this diversity and inclusion gap.

EMU equips graduates of this program to commit to equity in all areas of educational opportunities with culturally appropriate aims. The program sends new administrators to campuses with the goal of connecting to students’ families and community members at large. These inclusive communication goals are encouraged because of the lasting benefits that inclusion efforts bring to students, parents, guardians and stakeholders in the district.

Racial Representation

Racial representation — including teachers and leaders who reflect the demographics of their students — is critical to academic success. In 2019, The Washington Post found that having a teacher of the same cultural background, even a teacher with a similar socioeconomic experience, guarantees students are more likely to succeed during high school, graduate with a diploma and earn their degree. However, the same report provided statistics from 46 states and the District of Columbia that “only one-tenth of 1 percent of Latino students attend a school system where the portion of Latino teachers equals or exceeds the percentage of Latino students.”

Given the disparity of representation in America’s schools, students with limited representation from their educators might not exhibit high performance or succeed in academics. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), a research institute within the U.S. Department of Education, establishes best practices in the field and maintains similar findings. As a result, this government body is especially effective at influencing policymakers and agency directives nationwide. In 2019, IES reported on the importance and impact of representation and actively encouraged human resources departments in the field to precipitate this institutional change.

One strategy that IES suggests is that human resources departments start their hiring seasons earlier than usual. This allows candidates to visit local colleges, including institutions like historically Black colleges as well as universities that serve a majority Hispanic population. School administration can recruit better candidates, including teachers of color, if hiring protocols include a longer window of time. Another strategy this agency encourages is improving working conditions; IES has found that poor working conditions can contribute to high turnover rates of teachers of color. Finally, school leadership must foster a positive workplace climate with “well-defined high expectations for both teachers and students,” as well as the respective support for said expectations, to improve teacher retention rates.

A Culture of Diversity

The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) is a non-profit organization representing more than 250 communities, reaching 100 million residents. USDN’s goal is to establish best practices in education across the United States and Canada. In its 2018 report, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Recruitment, Hiring and Retention, USDN emphasized the importance of evaluating a teacher’s “job description for socioeconomic bias.” Any expectation of the level of education, such as advanced degrees, could be prejudiced against educators who have real-world experience and have shown prior success in the classroom. Many candidates might not have been able to attend graduate school for any number of reasons, from family emergencies to financial hardship. One could make the argument that a teacher may establish best practices in their classroom without a graduate degree, and that even those with advanced degrees could lack knowledge of applicable pedagogy vis-à-vis their school’s unique demographics. This returns to the demand for a more culturally diverse approach to hiring practices.

With a staff that is required to speak both English and Spanish, The Intercultural Development Research Association’s mission is inherently more culturally diverse than its counterparts. They provide professional development, policy analysis and programs that explicitly build on the “strengths of the students and parents in their schools.” In other words, they strive to create more productive routes to retain teachers who serve their local communities — even if those routes seem inaccessible. The idea is to use financial subsidies to move paraprofessionals and staff, who already know their community’s strengths, into the position to become faculty members. If part of the challenge of building a culture of diversity is finding talent that reflects the student body, it makes sense to promote from within, and these subsidies are a strategy to that end.

Administrators who finish the online master’s with EMU will be prepared to train their own faculty and staff in the same mission of inclusivity. Teachers who know the demographics of their students can be more effective in the classroom, ranging from the ability to show sincere empathy through social and emotional learning or calling home to ask about academic promotion, encouragement and support. It is up to campus administrators to use intentional strategies to correct ethnic disparities within campus culture.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s online Master of Education in Educational Leadership program.