#WeNeedDiverseTeachers: Why Diversity Among School Staff Matters

By Evelyn M. Randle-Robbins, M.A., author of The Hands-On Guide to School Improvement

#WeNeedDiverseTeachers: Why Diversity Among School Staff MattersI remember growing up in the 70s and not seeing a toy doll that looked like me, a black girl.

Today, if you peruse the doll section in any toy store, you’ll find that more and more doll manufacturers are diversifying toy shelves. Even Barbie has moved beyond the blond, blue-eyed mold. You’ll find different skin tones, eye colors, facial structures, hair colors, and hairstyles. Now there are dolls that mirror the diversity of our children. It’s great for all kids to see themselves reflected in the world this way. Yet that diversity is still lacking in our schools: The demographics of this country’s teacher workforce has not kept up with its student demographics.

Government assessments show that minority students have become a majority in public schools. Yet the percentage of teachers who are racial minorities has not kept up: More than 80 percent of teachers are white.

Let me be clear: I’m in no way insinuating that children of color cannot learn from white educators! But I am asserting that our schools can profit by creating a diverse staff of highly qualified teachers. This means hiring more educators who look like our students, who share similar cultural experiences with them, and who can serve as their role models.

Why Does This Matter?
At the most basic level, cultural diversity among the teaching staff matters because it reflects the human condition. Individuals, communities, and populations have always been diverse, although historically, schools and other public institutions rarely have been organized to reflect and honor this fact (Freeman, Freeman, & Ramirez, 2008). Schools need teachers who have an appreciation for diversity. I agree with E.B. Koleski, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters, when she says teachers “must view and teach difference as the ‘norm’ in society and reject notions that any one group is more competent than another. This entails developing respect for differences, and the willingness to teach from this perspective. Moreover, there must be an acknowledgment that the teachers’ views of the world are not the only views.”

“It’s also important that teachers relate to their students as more than just ‘bodies’ in the classroom,” says Koleski, “but also as social and cultural beings connected to a complex social and cultural family system.” Moreover, by becoming familiar with students’ home lives, teachers gain insight into the influences on students’ attitudes and behaviors that contribute to academic growth.

Finally, because there are several theories, there is no single right way of thinking about cultural diversity, just as there is no best way of teaching diverse students. But here are a few more things to keep in mind (regardless of whether your school has a diverse teaching staff):

  • Make a conscious effort to offer diverse perspectives in examples and teaching materials.
  • Help students learn to adapt and be flexible in new cultural environments.
  • Address multiple learning styles and interactive processes.
  • Rethink how to present information and how to connect with students in the classroom.
  • Administrators: Pay attention to how the school addresses the needs of diverse students and make support programs available for students who are not meeting the standards.
  • Administrators: Be proactive in assessing diversity needs. For example, does the school have a cultural fair or assembly to highlight diversity?

There is a need to build bridges between schools and teaching programs that promote more minority teachers in the classroom. All children have a basic right to a great public school with a highly qualified and thoughtful staff to help shape students’ racial identities, develop healthy self-image, and form well-rounded students.

Evelyn Randle RobbinsEvelyn M. Randle-Robbins, M.A., holds a master’s in school leadership and supervision from Concordia University, as well as a master’s in elementary education from Columbia College. After serving as an educator in the Chicago Public Schools for over thirteen years, Evelyn became an assistant principal of the Howe School of Excellence, a K–8 school in Chicago, and later became the principal at the Curtis School of Excellence, also in Chicago. With her extensive experience at every level of school operations, Evelyn has both the theoretical knowledge and hands-on “know-how” to bring about school transformation and improvement. She lives in Chicago with her family.

The Hands-On Guide to School ImprovementEvelyn is the author of The Hands-On Guide to School Improvement: Transform Culture, Empower Teachers, and Raise Student Achievement.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


References
Freeman, Y., D. Freeman, and R. Ramirez (eds.). Diverse Learners in the Mainstream Classroom (2008).

Goldring, R., L. Gray, and A. Bitterman. Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES 2013–314) (2013).

Henze, R., A. Katz, E. Norte, E.E. Sather, and E. Walker. Leading for Diversity: How School Leaders Promote Positive Interethnic Relations (2002).

Kozleski, E.B. “Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters!” (2010).

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education: 1995–96 through 2011–12”; and “National Elementary and Secondary Enrollment Projection Model.”


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Enter to win character education books for kids!

July 2016 GiveawayThis month we’re giving away two books full of true stories that will inspire kids and teens to do and be their best. Our lucky winner will receive Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character and Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change by Garth Sundem.

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you build character in kids.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, August 3, 2016.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around August 8, 2016, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a U.S. resident, 18 years of age or older.


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10 Tips for Parents of Students Transitioning to Middle School

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

10 Tips for Parents of Students Transitioning to Middle SchoolFor those of us on summer break, the end of July signals that our days of summertime frolicking are quickly coming to an end and the time to prepare for another school year is upon us. For students like my fifth graders, the end of summer also means transitioning to a new building, meeting new administrators and teachers, maneuvering a new schedule, and mastering new routines. Along with the excitement, enthusiasm, and eagerness for all of that newness, it is normal for kids to experience some anxious, nervous, or scared feelings.

Being prepared can help tame some of these jitters. Since I’m a newbie at helping families make the move to middle school, I collaborated with my friend Dr. Susan Fuller, a veteran school counselor, to create this list of helpful hints for a smooth, seamless transition.

  1. Get school supplies ready. Perhaps you’ve already preordered a school supply pack that will be waiting for your child when he arrives at his new school. If you have, great! If you haven’t, research what supplies students will need so that your child can start school armed and equipped to learn on day one. Keep in mind that some teachers will request specific items. Band, for example, might require a one-inch, three-ring black binder with plastic sleeves for music. Knowing that you may be headed back to the store during the first week of school for a few more items may keep that extra shopping spree from feeling stressful.
  2. Invest in a good planner. One essential item for all students as they transition to middle school is a student planner. Encourage your child to get in the habit of writing down and keeping track of the deadlines for both short-term and long-term assignments and projects in her planner. Since many 21st century students have access to a digital calendar, your child might use an electronic planner if she prefers to. Program the planner to send her reminders when things are coming due and take advantage of syncing it with teacher websites, syllabi, and class calendars if available.9 Great Reasons to Use a Student Planner (Bonus! Download 9 Great Reasons to Use a Student Planner, a free printable list from Get Organized Without Losing It. Use this list to remind your child why it’s important to use a planner regularly.)
  3. Complete required summer reading. Many schools send home a list of books for students to read over the summer. Encourage your child to set aside some reading time every day from now until the start of school to complete that assignment. Remind him to highlight the parts in books that stick out to him, resonate with him, or puzzle him so that he’s ready to hit the ground running in his language arts class. There’s nothing worse than being behind before even starting, so help your child set a goal for how many pages he’ll need to read each day between now and the first day of school. If he’d rather not read alone, invite him to read the assignments aloud to you.
  4. Practice with a combination lock. For many middle school students, this will be their first time using a locker. It’s super fun until that locker gets jammed or the student can’t remember the numbers to that combination lock. Going to school prepared to rock the lock will help your child feel less frazzled when one or both of these issues strike. To borrow advice from the College Board: Practice makes perfect, so perfect your practice.
  5. Attend orientation. Because there will be a lot of changes, including a schedule with six or seven different classrooms, many schools will host an orientation. Make sure to attend so your child can become familiar with the new campus. If the school doesn’t have an orientation scheduled, call to ask for a tour of the building. Download a map ahead of time and highlight the areas students frequent, like the cafeteria, library, gymnasium, entrances and exits, and restrooms.
  6. Network. The burning questions your child might have (Do we have a strict dress code? What are the consequences for late work? Do we get to sit by our friends at lunch?) can often be addressed best by the experts—students who have attended that school in the recent past or who are currently enrolled. Keeping in mind that she is the author of her own story and will be responsible for scripting her own experience at school, find a few neighbors or friends that you trust so your child can interview them about campus life and her new school family. Have her write down questions that weren’t answered so she can ask school personnel. For caregivers who want to network, joining the parent-teacher organization can be a great way to connect and get involved.
  7. Check out extracurricular activities. A huge change for your child will be the myriad of extracurricular clubs available in middle school. Is he interested in robotics? Chess club? Scrabble club? Video game club? His new school may offer all of these. While it may be exciting to think about filling up the week with these different enrichment opportunities, it’s also important to make sure your child does a thorough job of discerning how much time he will need for his studies so he doesn’t over-schedule himself. Dream big, but start small.
  8. Sign up for online access. While middle school is a good time to loosen the reins a little if you haven’t already, your child is still not ready to go it alone. Stay in touch with what’s going on by signing up for online access to her schedule, attendance, grades, and academic plan if they’re available. Checking in periodically with your child’s student records may be the safety net and accountability check she needs to help her stay on track.
  9. Keep lines of communication open. When students go through this developmental stage, they often start to internalize what they’re going through. This might mean your child won’t initiate talks about his experiences aloud with you, so use your time in the car or around the dinner table to intentionally open up a dialogue with your tween. Ask him to share fun facts about his teachers. Inquire about what he’s learning in his classes, what part of the day fits him well, and what he doesn’t necessarily like. Find out the names of his new friends. Pay attention to any changes in his mood or disposition and offer him an emotional outlet when needed. If conversations aren’t his thing, provide a journal for writing or drawing out his emotions. Invite him for a walk, bike ride, or swim as another option for feelings expression and management.
  10. Empower your child. Your middle school child is at the perfect age to spread her wings and fly as she practices living the character traits and leadership skills she has been developing through her elementary school years. Move out of her way, but be there to guide, support, care for, and love her. Make sure she knows how to get an appointment with the school counselor or other trusted adults on campus. Remind her to work hard, be kind, and keep a growth mindset: There is no problem that’s too big, no conflict that she can’t resolve, and no obstacle that she can’t overcome.

Welcome to this exciting new chapter in your family’s book of life. It’s a time of transformation and growth for your child. Connect with other families in this same age and stage so that together you can enjoy watching your future soar to new heights.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


Suggested Resources
Middle School Confidential™ Series


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Little Stranger in a Strange Land: Easing the Transition to Kindergarten

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Little Stranger in a Strange Land: Easing the Transition to KindergartenYou know by now that the little strangers we’ve been entrusted with don’t come with operating manuals. This is why I found myself holding my sobbing, brand-new kindergartner as I explained to her that yes, she did have to go back to kindergarten the next day and for five days a week for the next nine months, and no, she couldn’t go back to preschool. It simply hadn’t occurred to me to tell her that she was leaving preschool for good, never to return.

Sigh.

Hopefully you can learn from my mistake. If you have a preschooler who is poised to enter kindergarten in the fall, there are some things you can do—including practicing social-emotional skills—to make the transition to kindergarten as smooth as possible.

Talk It Up
This is perhaps the most obvious thing to do given the above scenario. You know how much information your child can handle, but if, like me, you have one that doesn’t like surprises, try to mention kindergarten at least once a day between now and the first day of school, focusing on what she can expect and how it differs from preschool. You don’t have to hold a formal news conference, just throw the topic into everyday conversations. (“Do you see that boy’s backpack? You’ll be carrying one like that when you start kindergarten next month.” “Are you excited to ride a yellow school bus like the one in this picture? How do you think that will be different from going to school in our car the way we did before?”)

Pretend
Your child may be anxious about whether he will have any friends in class, so now is a good time to practice friendship-making skills like asking to play. Tell your child that if there’s a game or an activity he wants to join, he can watch quietly for a bit (to make sure he understands how to play), wait for a break in the action, then politely ask if he can join in. Practice this at home: Get a puzzle or other activity that more than one person can do and start putting it together. Have your child stand beside you and watch for a bit. When you pause, have him politely ask if he can help you build the puzzle. Practicing this skill will help his confidence.

Get a Preview
If possible, arrange for your child to meet her new teacher before the first day of school. Many schools have some sort of orientation for this purpose, and some kindergarten teachers even do home visits. Either way, a familiar face will make the first day of school a lot less scary.

Manage Strong Feelings
This skill will serve your child well beyond the transition to kindergarten. He may be feeling excited, nervous, scared, or all three—and he needs to learn to manage these strong feelings. Start by helping him name his feelings and recognize clues in his body: “You said your stomach feels jumpy when you think about kindergarten. That could be because you feel nervous about it.” Reassure him that it’s okay to feel that way, then help him calm down with slow, deep breaths; counting; or saying a calming phrase over and over again.

These skills won’t make the transition to kindergarten perfect, but they can certainly make it smoother. And as for my daughter, she ended up loving kindergarten . . . once I convinced her to go back, that is.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon and Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.


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Suggested Resources


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6 Strategies for Introverted Teachers

By Andrew Hawk

6 Strategies for Introverted TeachersTeachers’ motivations for becoming professional educators usually follow one of several themes. Some people love working with young people. Others love learning, maybe even a specific subject, and want to share their knowledge with others. Many teachers join the field because they want to make a difference in the world.

The biggest part of teaching is interacting with students, and this is no problem for most teachers. However, there are other duties that come along with teaching, of which many prospective teachers are not aware. Take, for example, open houses, family nights, and school carnivals. All of these events require teachers to mingle with their school’s stakeholders. Then there are the school committees on which teachers are likely to serve. These committees most likely involve brainstorming with colleagues and possibly public speaking. Also, professional development seminars are required. Most of these will be simple sit-and-listen sessions. However, some of them will require more participation. Many professional development seminars seat participants in groups to complete activities together.

While these non-teaching aspects make up only a small portion of a teacher’s duties, they take many teachers out of their comfort zones. For introverted teachers, they can lead to sleepless nights. Here are some tips that I hope will help put your mind at ease.

Practice interviewing.
I have had several opportunities to serve on interviewing committees. One thing I have learned from my experiences is that administrators gravitate toward confident, outgoing candidates. This is unfortunate because many of my introverted colleagues are some of the best instructional leaders I have met. When you are preparing for an interview, go on the Internet and print out a list of interview questions. Have a friend or family member interview with you. The more times you practice answering questions, the easier the words will flow out of your mouth when it comes time for a real interview. One more thing to remember if you have not interviewed before is that there may be anywhere from one to five people interviewing you. Keep this in mind so that you are not caught off guard.

Prepare for public speaking.
Just as in college, you will probably be called on to complete some sort of public speaking engagement during your teaching career. This may be to deliver a presentation to staff members or parents. The good news is that you do not have to like public speaking to be good at it. Practice, practice, and practice some more. You will gain confidence by knowing the material you have to present inside and out. Practicing will also ensure that you do not falter during your presentation even if you are feeling anxious. Public speaking experts like to point out that a little nervousness helps prevent a flat presentation.

Participate in school events.
Taking part in school events is an important teacher responsibility. The first thing to remember is to wear a smile for as much of the event as possible. You are representing your school, and parents are likely to notice if you look unhappy. If talking to unfamiliar people takes you too far out of your comfort zone, keep the interactions short but pleasant. If you are working a booth, say phrases like, “Hello, thank you for coming tonight.” Even if you start off slow, you will likely relax as the event progresses.

Attend professional development.
First, capitalize on as many professional development opportunities as you can with your teaching schedule. Many school corporations cannot afford to send their staff members to professional development, so jump at the chances you get. The skills and knowledge gained from workshops and seminars are valuable to teachers as they further their careers.

Second, life isn’t the only thing that is like a box of chocolates. I have attended professional development seminars that ranged from a couple of hours to two weeks of full work days. These can be very different depending on the material and presenters. Currently, most presenters are embracing a philosophy that adults, like young people, learn more by doing instead of listening, so many seminars and workshops are hands-on these days. This usually means some form of group work. If this takes you out of your comfort zone, try to recruit a colleague to attend with you. In the past, group work at professional development was not my favorite thing in world, but it did get easier with experience. When the time comes, take a deep breath and try to learn everything you can. If you are uncomfortable at a workshop, chances are you are not alone.

Communicate clearly at parent-teacher conferences.
Parent-teacher conferences are vital to running a successful classroom. It is important to present to parents an image that is confident and approachable. My colleagues who have struggled with parent-teacher conferences usually projected one of two images. They either overcompensated for their anxiousness by coming across too strong. Or, in an effort to avoid a conflict, they sugarcoated unfavorable information to the point where the message was not properly conveyed. Avoid these mistakes and aim for the middle of the road. Be honest and upfront with information, whether it is good or bad. Just as with interviewing and public speaking, rehearsing does help.

Remember why you teach.
Schools operate best when their faculty contains a variety of personality types. While working at a school can take an introverted person out of his or her comfort zone, this does not diminish that teacher’s ability as an instructor. Often, teachers with this personality type are so passionate about teaching that their passion will elevate them past the parts of the job they find challenging.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


Suggested Resources
Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)
Teaching Smarter: An Unconventional Guide to Boosting Student Success
Classroom Warm-Ups In a Jar®: Quick and Meaningful Activities for All Grades


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