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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Advancing equity in the classroom
Equipping the best possible teachers for every classroom
By George S. Perry | September | October 2022
Coming out of the pandemic district leaders, including school boards, superintendents, and other senior leaders who are committed to advancing equity can serve students and families best by taking stock of the current situation.
Educators alone cannot rid America of racism, classism and the other isms, or poverty, abuse and the other systemic challenges facing our society and affecting our children. Yet, educators hold the most strategic lever for advancing equity: working together to know and educate students so that over years they have the tools that enable them to think, learn and act independently, and to apply their skills to situations they face now and in an uncertain future.
We know that effective teaching and learning primarily happens in classrooms and comprises three dynamic elements: the teacher’s instructional and content knowledge, the student’s knowledge and engagement, and the content and instructional materials students and teachers have at their disposal. It all begins with the teachers!
Our country desperately needs the best and brightest to become teachers. Yet, the teacher shortage is real. Exacerbated by two years of COVID-related stress, teacher shortages and long-term vacancies are occurring even in communities that have not been hard to staff traditionally. A survey of teachers in 2021 predicted 1 in 4 teachers nationally, and nearly half of Black teachers, would leave their jobs at the end of the school year (Steiner & Woo, 2021). District leaders can do little to address the economic, social and political factors that affect the teaching profession nationally. District leaders continue to commit substantial resources to recruiting and hiring teachers, particularly teachers of color and men, who are underrepresented in a profession that is 76 percent female and 79 percent white (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020). Yet, their efforts are often undermined by specific practices and by not fully using the tools available to them.

For 25 years, my colleagues and I assisted California districts, including Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland and San Diego, in building instructional leadership capacity at the district and school levels. Our work in these districts and with more than 30 others across the country committed to advancing equity supported school boards, superintendents, and district and school leaders to transform central offices to support schools; strengthen instructional leadership capacity by fostering vertical coherence from the classroom to the boardroom; redesign district-wide systems of support for students with disabilities and family engagement; strengthen principal instructional leadership; accelerate middle and high school level academic achievement; and develop prototype curricula. We learned a lot from our partnerships with district leaders, as well as the implications of their decisions and systems through coaching over 100 schools wrestling to meet the needs of underserved students.
We believe district leaders own responsibility for providing a pool of qualified candidates for school leaders to consider. We have found that district leaders can take steps to advance equity in attracting candidates to work in the district. The steps include: recruit effectively, attract and mentor student teachers, develop and monitor human capital placement practices, and induct new teachers. While savvy school leaders are proactive and often take on these steps, they tell us they do so because district leaders have not been reliable.
District leaders know that in a competitive market, particularly in parts of California that have been traditionally hard to staff, aggressive recruitment is critical. Across the country, recruiting men and women of color has been an unattainable goal, especially but not exclusively for schools that serve students of color.
In response, district leaders with contracts to offer have recruited at colleges and job fairs across the country and sometimes internationally. They have established alternative pathway programs with colleges and universities to attract and support candidates. Nevertheless, one of the most successful approaches has been to look locally. Many school districts offer grow-your-own programs, even beginning in high school. Recognizing the need, district leaders create career paths for aspiring teachers with certification, for those without certification, for men of color, for school-based staff without certification, and for paraprofessionals. These efforts are costly and come without a guarantee of success. Districts spend $20,000 per recruit and much more for participants in alternative pathway programs.
Student teachers
Some school leaders use student teaching as a recruiting strategy for traditional teacher candidates. Districts rarely do so. Student teaching assignments, in which an undergraduate or master’s candidate completes a semester or longer classroom-based internship, are typically negotiated between a school and the candidate’s higher education supervisor. Typically, universities are not preparing teachers for individual districts and are likely to be unresponsive to superintendents and district leaders who seek to shape the college of education’s program to align with their equity agenda. However, district leaders have been able to increase their leverage if they are willing to ensure that they are placing student teachers with strong teachers, are willing to supplement the student teachers’ learning, and can commit to offering positions upon successful completion of the student teaching experience. To do so, district leaders would need to be willing to wrestle from schools the primary responsibility for relationships with colleges of education.
District leaders know their own house must be in order if they want to recruit effectively. Human resource/capital officers influence placement decisions by the candidates they send to the school and in their interactions with candidates. Some human resource officers have strong relationships with school leaders and refer candidates who they feel are the best fit for the leader or school. Others “help” candidates decide which schools would be the best fit for them. Unfortunately, sometimes district leaders advise the strongest candidates against accepting a position in high-need schools. At the same time, school leaders can make it difficult for human resource officers to place candidates. Principals withhold posting vacant positions so that teachers considered problematic or without assignment are not transferred to or placed in their schools. Principals wait until the last opportunity to post a vacancy that can be filled by someone to whom they have promised the position or a new teacher still available weeks before the school year begins.
There are many reasons behind these maneuvers, and the reasons vary by district. The result is that schools with the greatest needs are not guaranteed the best candidates, districts that spend time recruiting may not be able to offer contracts to the best candidates before other districts do so, the newest principals scramble to fill positions at the start of school, and schools may not be fully staffed until weeks after students have begun their school year. Chaos in hiring contributes to principals “settling” for candidates or granting tenure to teachers who they feel are not strong teachers.
Placement doesn’t need to generate chaos. District leaders who recognize system failures institute policies and practices to change behaviors. Superintendents and district leaders in our partner districts have used their relationships with principals and union leaders to repair the problems that create workarounds. When there is trust and a shared commitment to advance equity and address teacher shortages with the best candidates, temporary fixes can become permanent over time. For example, a district repeatedly lost candidates because vacancies were not posted until late summer. The superintendent exercised a clause in the contract that allowed for flexibility under certain conditions, and convinced principals that if they did not wait to post vacancies, they would have more control over the selection of candidates. Making the shift required a leap of faith by the superintendent, principals and union leaders. It worked!
District leaders have created and monitored protocols for placing the strongest candidates in the neediest schools. School supervisors have worked with principals to ensure that they share the wealth so that schools with new principals are fully staffed. The extent to which these policies and practices are successful and sustainable depends largely on having support structures for teacher recruitment and induction. Induction
The policies and practices for successfully attracting and retaining teachers depend on more than just recruitment. Induction, which we define as starting on the day teachers sign a con-tract and continuing until they’ve earned tenure, may be the most important time for shaping a teacher’s career. Teachers new to the profession want to make a difference and give students the opportunities to learn and grow that their teachers gave to them. Unfortunately, they are often stunned and feel as if they were dropped into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. They do not have and are not provided with the tools tied to their passion for advancing equity. Yet, the novice teacher is expected to have the same result on her first day in a classroom as veteran teachers for their students. What other profession has that expectation? Studies have shown that one-half to two-thirds of new teachers work in isolation, with little support from other teachers (Kardos & Johnson, 2007).
Across the country, recruiting men and women of color has been an unattainable goal, especially but not exclusively for schools that serve students of color.
Even in the days before the pandemic, one in five teachers left teaching in the first five years (Gray & Taie, 2015). In our most recent conversations with teachers and union leaders, we hear them being overwhelmed trying to support students of all backgrounds with social-emotional needs and trauma. Additionally, teachers and staff have been similarly affected and are drained emotionally and physically. If district leaders expect teachers to survive, social-emotional systems of support for teachers and the administrators who support them are required to be in place from the beginning.
In our experience, few districts have robust induction programs for new teachers. In many districts, new teachers simply show up at their assigned school on the first day of school and are shown to their classrooms. The most robust teacher induction programs have some universal elements:
  • New teacher summer orientation for at least two weeks to learn about district policies and procedures, curriculum, and preparatory and transition activities for the first days of school;
  • Buddies, mentorship or coaching from school-based teachers tailored to the teacher’s needs such as observations, problem solving, classroom management and instructional practices;
  • Participation in learning communities with school-based colleagues in grade-level or content areas;
  • A professional learning in curriculum, instruction and assessment series presented by district leaders or university partners, which may assist new teachers in fulfilling state continuing education or certification requirements; and
  • Principal support that includes goal setting, feedback and guided reflection in a school-based growth and development model.
Some programs provide differentiated support for teachers over two or three years based on their preparation/certification program, experience or success teaching. For example, there may be different levels of support for new teacher graduates from a teacher preparation program, new teachers without an education background, and experienced teachers who are new to a district.
District leaders understand that teachers require continued professional learning in their content and instructional practices, as well as in district initiatives. Their approach details expectations for principals, mentors and teachers, and has systems in place to monitor progress. To reduce isolation, they ensure principals have new teachers learn from and with experienced teachers and with other teachers in site-based experiences. The learning and supports are differentiated based on experience and assessments of teachers’ needs. Mentors participate in district professional learning and support to improve their coaching. The learning is also developmental, embedded into the school, and continuous over two or three years.
Not everyone who enters the teaching profession is meant to be a teacher. Even in the best situations where systems and supports are in place, some beginning teachers are unable to continue to learn and improve their practice starting with classroom management. District leaders have an obligation to focus attention on first- and second-year teachers and to hold principals accountable for using the evaluation process to motivate teachers to improve or reassess whether teaching is a good match for them. While growth and development of individuals is the responsibility of school leaders, we have witnessed their reluctance to confront teachers without the encouragement from district leaders.
Knowing teachers as we expect them to know their students
Effective teaching takes years of learning subject matter content, constant reflection on teaching and instructional strategies, and deep knowledge of students as learners. District and school leaders owe it to teachers to know them as learners.
Effective recruitment and retention strategies recognize the importance of beginning to develop teachers from the moment a contract is signed. To ensure that teachers know and understand their students, district leaders design and monitor human resource systems aligned with their equity agenda. They strive for win-win strategies that limit school competition for teachers by building a culture where school leaders are concerned about the success of all schools, not just their own. District leaders take responsibility for creating a pool of qualified candidates, particularly teachers of color, and ensuring that they land in schools with the greatest needs. They ensure that new teachers have the supports needed to be successful teachers. They monitor progress and ensure that new teachers are held to high standards for continuous improvement before earning tenure.
More than ever, attracting and retaining the best possible teachers is an unending challenge for district leaders. Yet, the starting point is taking a hard look at the current systems for recruitment, placement and induction, and ensuring the systems in place are yielding the results you seek. If not, it is time for a change.
Gray, L., & Taie, S. (2015). Public school teacher attrition and mobility in the first five years: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007-08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (NCES 2015-337). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015337.pdf
Kardos, S.M. & Johnson, S.M. (2007). On their own and presumed expert: New teachers’ experiences with their colleagues. Teachers College Record, 109 (12). https://projectngt.gse.harvard.edu/publications/their-own-and-presumed-expert-new-teachers-experiences-their-colleagues
National Center for Education Statistics. (2020, May). The condition of education: Characteristics of public school teachers. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_clr.asp
Steiner, E.D. & Wood, A. (2021). Job-related stress threatens the teacher supply: Key findings from the 2021 state of the U.S. teacher survey. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1108-1.html
George Perry is the Principal of George S. Perry Jr. LLC
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