In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become one of the hot topics in education. Schools and other educational organizations have put greater emphasis on recruiting diverse talent and leaders of color. I sat down with Sinjin Jones, a leader of color making waves with the Make Your Mark Denver, a city-wide initiative to recruit more diverse leaders, to get his perspective.
What is the intersection between your role in recruitment and your work on diversity, equity and inclusion?
We have a major gap in our (education) system where we don’t have many teachers and leaders of color in high performing charter schools. What this means is that many of our students do not have relatable role models, people who bring a diversity of perspectives from race, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds to their classrooms. My focus is not only to recruit diverse talent, I want to ensure that the teachers and leaders of color enter a space where they can have equal opportunity to contribute and be successful. I want to make sure that the teachers and leaders we recruit are in a good environment so they can continue to do this important work.
What are the challenges of leading a DEI initiative?
There is buy-in from in all sectors in education right now to have conversations on this topic and a willingness to begin to make significant changes. The biggest challenge is that there are a lot of systems currently working against teachers and students of color. We need to focus on changing these systems if we are going to create lasting change, this also means we need to take a different approach to the way we have always done things in education. Take for example recruitment of teachers and teacher evaluation. In both of those systems we are rating teacher effectiveness on rubrics that often don’t evaluate or value the strengths of leaders of color, like lived experiences and their ability to relate to kids, or in the classroom evaluating the relationships that teachers are able to build with students and families. These systems need to be inclusive of a variety of experiences and talents outside of our traditional standards, all of this while not lowering our expectations.
How can schools create a culture that allows them to not only recruit but retain leaders of color?
Make DEI a focus and priority for the senior leadership. This matters because these are the leaders who are held accountable for auditing things like communication systems, recruitment strategies, deciding organizational charts and career pathways. It’s critical to make sure there are structures in place so that teachers and leaders of color have fair and equal treatment and we can eliminate personal bias. The second thing, is accountability. In order to ensure that the commitment to DEI is met then there needs to be a way to track your progress and hold yourself and others accountable. Lastly, as part of the commitment to DEI and the prioritization of this work you have to be willing to invest the time and resources for professional development of staff and teachers. Ultimately, we need more than a willingness to engage in DEI work, we must show in words and actions our commitment only then will we build a critical mass of diverse talent that can truly change the system.