Cultural proficiency as an advocacy tool to build a diverse workforce

Students must see themselves in their teachers and administrators, not exclusively in support staff

By Tamika Casey and Jaime Welborn | March | April 2020
Who has the most impact on student achievement and overall student success? Clearly, classroom teachers are well-positioned to impact students’ overall success in school. However, not all students perform at the same level, which indicates that not all teachers approach student relations, assessments and instruction in the same way (Hattie, 2009; Jankowski, 2017; Kuh, 2008). Some educators are still asking the question, “Do we believe all students can learn?”, even while the data are clear that all students are learning irrespective of their circumstances (Comer, Joyner, & Ben-Avie, 2004; Edmonds & Fredericksen, 1978; Lezotte & Synder, 2011). Perhaps the more appropriate question for teachers and administrators is, “Do we believe we can educate all students?”  The purpose of this article is to examine the current teacher workforce and ask what can be done to reach and teach more students than ever before. Using a case study format, the authors present a model for close examination of increasing diversity of the workforce in our schools.  Since the publication of the Coleman Report in 1966, educational leadership has served as a catalyst for educational reform efforts across the United States with a focus on continuous school improvement and student achievement. With findings that continue to identify access, opportunity and other educational gaps between and among students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as social classes, we must refocus our attention on educators in the workforce who have the most contact with our students. A report from the Learning Policy Institute claims teacher diversity in California public K-12 schools has increased since the turn of the 21st century (Carver-Thomas, 2018). Therefore, districts are moving in the right direction. However, more effort must be made to increase our diverse workforce in classrooms. A model for systemic change is needed to move forward.  Students must see themselves in their teachers and administrators, not exclusively in support staff. But how do we go about this advocacy or change? The gaps relate to inequities in society with strong implications in our school organizations. Advocacy for equitable recruitment, hiring and retention practices — removing barriers and providing resources and actions for change — can provide avenues to increase the diversity among the workforce. The Cultural Proficiency Framework provides a clear model for advocacy and organizational change by using four interrelated tools toward increasing equity and access through educational practice and policy.  Equity framework for a diverse workforce advocacy The conceptual framework used in a recent qualitative case study in Eaveston School District (pseudonym) sought to describe the relationship between cultural diversity, economics, power, policy, pedagogy, school improvement and student achievement outcomes (Welborn, 2019). The research analysis integrated these constructs with the equity framework of cultural proficiency, an inside-out approach that provides tools for addressing the responses to diversity that we encounter in our schools (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Issacs, 1989; Lindsey, 2019). Like Eaveston, San Bernardino City Unified School District has also engaged in the work of Cultural Proficiency, using the interrelated tools for increasing equitable outcomes. SBCUSD, in collaboration with their community partners, is embarking on an ambitious journey to develop inter-organizational systems, which will allow them to identify, develop, recruit, hire and retain teachers of color. Educators who are advocates for increasing the diversity of the workforce can utilize the conceptual framework for continuous improvement by beginning at the bottom of the framework with the barriers that guide unhealthy practices and the guiding principles that guide healthy practices. The third tool of the framework is the continuum, in which practices and policies related to recruitment, hiring and retention can be analyzed from most destructive to most proficient, and then the fourth tool, the essential elements, provides actions for increasing equity, access and inclusion. Cultural proficiency utilizes dialogue and reflection in cross-cultural situations related to personal values and behaviors of individuals and the organization’s policies and practices. As educational leaders consider systemic, transformative organizational change to improve outcomes of recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers and administrators of color, as well as increase equity, and serve all students, they must keep constant vigilance of self in their roles as change agents. The starting point for sustainable, systemic change in human resources practices related to a diverse workforce does not begin with changing the system or others around ourselves, but rather it is a personal mindset of individual practice based on social justice and equity of viewing cultural differences as assets on which to build educational programs. Acknowledging systemic barriers and challenges Barriers and challenges in any organization can often stop progress right in its tracks. When it comes to recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color, delays in the journey of increasing cultural proficiency within these practices can be detrimental and lead to further perpetuation of inequitable outcomes for students. The reality for approximately 25 million students of color in U.S. schools is that they are not educated by teachers of color (Pew Research Center, 2018), and it is important to note research provides evidence of reading and math achievement increases for students of color who are assigned a teacher of the same race. School districts across the U.S. are looking to their human resources departments for guidance in helping to better educate students of color by creating a value for diversity and sense of belonging for all. The first step for human resource departments is to be able to acknowledge the systemic barriers and challenges present for recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color in the district. The barriers to culturally proficient practice include: 1) systemic oppression; 2) a sense of privilege or entitlement; 3) unawareness of the need to adapt; and 4) resistance to change. Knowing about and how to use the barriers to cultural proficiency leads to recognizing aspects of human resource related practice and policy and understanding how to overcome resistance to increasing the diversity of the workforce in schools. Eaveston’s assistant superintendent of Human Resources suggests school districts make intentional efforts to disaggregate data by race and gender related to recruiting, hiring and retaining practices. Taking it one step further, barriers such as bias-related oppression or unawareness of the need to adapt can be removed if school administrators are transparent and intentional in their communications and human resource efforts. Confronting the challenges to recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color is also a priority in Eaveston and SBCUSD. While external challenges such as the systemic structures of teacher preparation programs and outcomes influence the disproportionality in race —  white versus non-white — of the number of applicants that are eligible to apply for certified teacher vacancies, using the Cultural Proficiency Framework requires human resource administrators to look for change from within. While human resources administrators in Eaveston work with state and local universities to explore the barriers that may be preventing some candidates of color from getting their certification, there are great efforts around growing Eaveston’s own. “We are working on an educational assistance program for our support staff who wants to get a teacher certification. We also realize the importance of educating our high school students about the career path for becoming a teacher. There’s so much talk about the problem and the challenges, but how do we get from talking about it action? We have to talk to kids about their experiences here in Eaveston.” – assistant superintendent of Human Resources, Eaveston SD Relying on core values and using the Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency To address the pernicious effect of the barriers and challenges encountered by human resources departments in recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color, personnel must rely on the core values of the school organization and use the Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency. The school district’s expressed core values promote a foundational component of practice — what they actually do. Use of the Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency provides human resource personnel a tool for aligning their practices in recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color to the core values, often expressed in the vision, mission and goals of the school district. The intentional choice to align the core values with behaviors and practice around recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color in the district sends the message to the school community, — including families, students and community members, — that you have a keen sense of cultural knowledge related to student needs and value diversity of the workforce in educating those students. The mission of Eaveston school district is that “all will learn.” In order to reach the mission of the school district, the human resources department keeps the core values of care, safety, learning and interdependence at the heart of the work. Building a community where unity among students, families, patrons and staff fosters learning, responsibility and appreciation of the diverse individual, the assistant superintendent believes his role in the Cultural Proficiency work is to identify and recommend to the board of education the very best employees in the district who will help students achieve and meet their goals. “For every role, I want to hire the best bus drivers, custodians, music teachers, chemistry teachers, and so on. We would like our work force to represent the exact student demographics we have, but we have to work within the job applicants holding appropriate certifications to get the very best job done.” Reliance on one guiding principle in particular, “people are served in varying degrees by the dominant culture,” has led Eaveston human resources department to change one of its recruitment practices. For all recruiting trips, both to local fairs and to Historically Black College and Universities, the assistant superintendent and director of human resources take teachers of color because they acknowledge that people are served by varying degrees of their own cultures and diversity at the table will lead to diversity in those prospective teacher candidates who visit the table. Overall, the Guiding Principles equips culturally proficient educators with the ability to implement practices and policies that express the culture and worldview that is backed by actions that value diversity. Using the continuum for increasing culturally proficient educational practices and policy development Human resources administrators involve themselves in best practice and identify areas in which they can improve the practices related to teacher recruitment, hiring and retention. The intention is to hire for talent in order to create effective classrooms that drive student achievement. The Continuum of Cultural Proficiency is a tool that contains six points with which human resource personnel’s practices and behaviors align with from most culturally destructive to most culturally proficient. The barriers to cultural proficiency produce behaviors, practices and policies on the three points on the left side of the continuum that are unhealthy for recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color, and consequently perpetuate the inequitable outcomes for students in our schools. The Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency produce behaviors, practices, and policies on the three points on the right side of the continuum that are healthy for recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color, which can increase access and equity for students in our schools. 

School districts across the United States are looking to their human resources departments for guidance in helping to better educate students of color by creating a value for diversity and sense of belonging for all. 
Human Resources personnel in Eaveston School District work closely with the Cultural Proficiency Committee in the district to monitor their behaviors and practices related to recruiting, hiring and retaining their teachers of color. Identifying numerous behaviors and practices within the district on the left side of the continuum led the Cultural Proficiency Committee to choose increasing workforce diversity as one of the top three goals for the district for opening access for students in Eaveston School District.     Committing to standards of change with the Essential Elements  The fourth tool of Cultural Proficiency is the Essential Elements, which provide five action verbs for committing to standards of organizational change. Human Resources departments focused on recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers of color use these action verbs to take the identified behaviors, practices and policies and rely on the Guiding Principles to initiate change. This change in behavior, practice or policy opens doors for students by increasing diversity in the workforce, which research concludes is educationally beneficial for students of color. The Essential Elements of Cultural Proficiency include: 1) Assessing cultural knowledge; 2) valuing diversity; 3) managing the dynamics of difference; 4) adapting to diversity; and 5) institutionalizing cultural knowledge. In Eaveston, human resources personnel have worked closely with the Cultural Proficiency Committee to examine some of the current recruiting, hiring and retaining practices in the district and make changes through action to improve the outcomes. As part of assessing cultural knowledge, the human resources department worked to identify the culture of themselves as individuals and recognize how that culture might affect others. As previously mentioned, a cultural norm of the organization has been to send two administrators to job fairs. Part of valuing diversity has been to have conversations about the culture of teachers that two white males might attract to Eaveston’s recruitment table compared to teachers of color and understand the effect that historical contexts may have on these present-day interactions, thus impacting the recruitment and hiring efforts and outcomes. In order to manage the dynamics of difference in this situation, these administrators are now adapting to diversity by joining forces and taking teachers of color, both male and female, with them to recruitment fairs and ensuring that diversity is represented in interview committees.  As for San Bernardino, the formation of the Teachers of Color Campaign is one example of adapting to diversity. Pre-hiring teachers of color at the district’s recruitment fair and then sending the candidates to sites for interviews, creating a guest teacher pipeline where district substitutes go through an onboarding process and extensive training in hopes of recruiting them to become future classroom teachers, university partnerships, and the district’s Grow Your Own initiative have doubled the efforts for increasing teachers of color. The work has helped to begin institutionalizing cultural knowledge and the attempts to increase diversity in the workforce in Eaveston and San Bernardino. Overall, best practice of advocacy indicates an intentional commitment to increasing workforce, namely certified teachers, including commitments of funding, staff, time and a culturally proficient lens of practice. The purpose of this article was to demonstrate the need for a more diverse teacher workforce, supported by a district wide change initiative for equity and access. The Cultural Proficiency Framework provides a systematic model school district leaders can utilize for advocacy and organizational change toward culturally proficient practices and policies. Given an effective classroom teacher has the most impact on student achievement and overall success, the time is now to advocate in school districts across California and beyond to increase diversity of the workforce in our schools again. This mission is about social justice.  References Carver-Thomas, D. (2018). Diversifying the teaching profession: How to recruit and retain teachers of color. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from Cross, T., Bazron, B., Denis, K., & Issacs, M. (1989). Towards a culturally competent system of care, Volume 1. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Child Development Center, CASSP Technical Assistance Center. Edmonds, R., & Frederiksen, J.R. (1978). Search for effective schools: The identification and analysis of city schools that are instructionally effective for poor children. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for Urban Studies. Geiger, A.W. America’s public school teachers are far less racially and ethnically diverse than their students. August 27, 2018. Pew Research Center. Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge. Jankowski, N. (2017). Unpacking relationships, instruction, and student outcomes. Retrieved from: Kuh, G. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Lezotte, L., & Snyder, K. (2011). What effective schools do: Re-envisioning the correlates. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.  Lindsey, R., Nuri-Robins, K., Terrell, R., & Lindsey, D. (2019). Cultural proficiency: A manual for school leaders (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc. Welborn, J. (2019). Increasing equity, access, and inclusion through organizational change: a study of implementation and experiences surrounding a school district’s journey towards culturally proficient educational practice. Education Leadership Review, 20(1), 167-189.

Tamika Casey serves as Program Specialist-Equity and Targeted Student Achievement for the San Bernardino City Unified School District and Jaime Welborn is an assistant professor at Saint Louis University.

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Association of California School Administrators