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Achieving Educator Diversity with a ‘Grow Your Own’ Vision

AFT President Randi Weingarten helped set the tone with opening remarks that highlighted steps to address a growing lack of teacher diversity that has “reached a crisis point.” She urged “a deliberate focus on recruiting teachers of color and supporting them throughout their careers,” adding, “it must take place city by city, community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood.”
Click here for recent reporting on diversity-focused recruitment efforts in New Haven Public Schools.
Mounting research demonstrates compelling benefits that extend throughout — and beyond — the school community when the teaching force better reflects the diversity of its student population. Positive exposure to individuals from a variety of races and ethnic groups, especially in childhood, can help reduce negative stereotypes and unconscious implicit biases.
Co-sponsored with the National Education Association (NEA), the summit included more than 150 leaders from organizations around the nation. State legislators, superintendents, administrators, teachers, students, labor, researchers, higher education leaders, civil rights and social justice leaders, as well as faith-based organizations, were all represented.
Click here for our report-back on last year’s inaugural summit.
For Connecticut union and community leaders attending this year’s event, a significant take-away was the need for a collective embrace of efforts to achieve a more diverse teaching workforce.
“It’s going to take a national movement to break down the barriers to education careers for people of color,” said Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE) Executive Director Renae Reese (above, back row). “Leaders and innovators like AFT and NEA can go a long way to help further a greater understanding of both the need and the benefits. But it’s also going to take organizing and activism in our local communities,” added Reese, a former leader in our AFT Connecticut-affiliated University Health Professionals (UHP) union. 
CCNE has for nearly two years worked in partnership with our affiliated Hartford Federation of Teachers to bring labor and community together around a mutual racial and economic justice agenda. The effort, dubbed “My Classroom to My Colleague,” or MC², was launched to ensure that more graduates of the district’s schools return to Connecticut’s capital city for careers as educators.
Click here for our previous report on the launch of the MC² effort in Hartford.
“We need to break down barriers our students face,” said Syeita Rhey-Fisher (above, 2nd from left), a 3rd grade teacher at Global Communications Academy in Hartford. “We must be able to engage in difficult conversations, incorporate the voices of people across cultures and be open-minded if we want to make a deep impact. This would help to make the profession more attractive to our students who are Black and Brown,” added Rhey-Fisher, who serves on our local union’s committee for the school.
Rhey-Fisher’s comments refer to workshops she and fellow educators led for more than a year for their colleagues throughout the district. As with any topic, union members must feel safe and that their views are relevant. This will lead to them engaging in more meaningful dialogues and discussions. Leaders involved in the MC² effort early on recognized that fact as particularly significant considering the “diversity gap” of Hartford’s teaching workforce.
Click here for Rhey-Fisher’s recent commentary on the importance of teacher voice in education policies.
“MC² values our students’ strengths and recognizes the rich diversity they bring to our schools,” said Vanessa Cruz (above, left), a mathematics teacher at Hartford’s Bulkeley High School. “It begins with an invitation and appreciation for students’ cultures and experiences. It then extends to creating a strong community where all students pursue their purpose and passion,” added Cruz, also a member of our Hartford teachers union.
Cruz’ comments refer to our members’ goal of effectively re-orienting the district’s teacher prep and diversity efforts toward its own graduates. From their own classrooms, educators like Rhey-Fisher and Cruz can recruit the best young minds to teach future generations and prepare them for the training needed to succeed.
Click here to send email to AFT Connecticut organizer Daniel Durant (above, right) with questions about the MC² campaign.

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