Culturally Responsive Educator Mentoring

  • Pathway to Change Area: Systems Measures of Progress
  • Outcome from the PSESD Pathway to Change: Capacity and resources to close racial equity gaps; implementation of racially equitable policies and practices
  • Indicator Name: Persistence of a diverse workforce (K–12 certificated and classified educators) 
  • Indicator Description: The percent of new educators persisting for three years after they were hired

Making Mentorship Inclusive

Educator mentorship can be a formative strategy for support for teacher development, and this is especially true for educators of color.

Against the backdrop of a teaching force that is almost 90% white, educators of color face additional challenges. “We lose talent all the time because it can be a hostile working environment, people don’t feel like they’re valued, people don’t feel like they’re growing or they don’t feel supported,” said PSESD Director of Equity in Education, Eileen Yoshina. “These are all things that students of color feel, too.” Across the state there’s an emphasis on getting people in the door, but for Yoshina, retention is a critical key to maintaining a diverse K–12 workforce. “If people are leaving after a year or two in the profession, that’s not sustainable at all.”

Supporting and retaining teachers of color is a crucial strategy to eliminate the opportunity gap in the PSESD region, as well as across the state and nation. “The rate at which educators of color leave the profession is a lot higher than white educators because of barriers and bias they encounter in the system, schools and sometimes colleagues,” said PSESD ELA Program, Manager Becca Horowitz. Research shows that a diverse teacher workforce will improve educational outcomes for all students, and particularly for students of color, who are most adversely impacted by the lack of teacher diversity.

Educators of Color Leadership Community

Educators of Color Leadership Community Banner

In partnership with the Educators of Color Leadership Community (ECLC), a team from PSESD developed a grant funded through the Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) program to address the creation of a culturally responsive mentorship curriculum that would instill the equitable beliefs, knowledge and skills necessary to effectively support educators of color. Participants involved in ECLC attended BEST “Mentor Academies,” and they used their experience and feedback to co-develop the curriculum. “It was a real partnership with the people who are most impacted,” said Yoshina. “It was a collaboration — if we’re trying to retain educators of color, let’s actually partner with educators of color to talk about what retention and mentoring looks like for them. It felt like such a great, powerful way to really live into our values.”

For PSESD Special Services Director, Erin Stewart, the partnership also offered a way to think strategically about school support that meets the needs of our region. “This was an opportunity to really partner with educators of color in our region, to design and share their experiences and perspectives for us to think about for future programs or supports in our schools.”

Of the 433,217 students that PSESD serves, 55 percent are students of color. Centering opportunities to support educators of color is a reflection of the diversity of our region and our students. To truly lead with racial equity as an agency, deepening our learning around equity in the K–12 workforce and targeting strategies for improvement in our region is a vital step.

Mentorship as a Strategy for Retention

When it comes to retention, there should be an inclusive view on what that looks like for educators of color. The goal shouldn’t be focused solely on keeping educators of color in the classroom, but rather systematizing opportunities to further their career into leadership roles as well. “There’s a potential for systems change, if we are viewing our educators of color as leaders and creating formal opportunities for leadership,” said Horowitz.

Mentors talking with each other

Educators of color provide a critical lens on what makes education effective for students of color, and that’s why it’s so important to ensure that there are pathways to leadership opportunities. For Yoshina, the connection between educators and students cannot be overstated.

“If we are creating systems where educators of color are thriving, that’s an indicator of having a system where children of color are thriving. Paying attention to the wellbeing and longevity and development of our educators of color is something that we need to do if we’re really serious about improving our system.”

Looking Ahead

“So many educators are working from home, isolated from their colleagues,” said Stewart. “Mentorship becomes even more important in this current context.”

In the face of an educational landscape that looks more isolated than ever due to COVID-19, effective mentorship becomes essential. Creating community among educators can provide a structure of support to help tackle the difficulties of working in an educational environment that looks dramatically different than ever before. For many long-time educators, partnering with younger teachers can assist their adaptation to creative teaching practices with students that are increasingly technologically-savvy. “When we think about mentoring in general, it really is a two-way relationship in that both the beginning teacher and mentor are contributing to that relationship — contributing to learning and professional growth,” said Stewart. “It’s really about shifting the power dynamic in a traditional mentoring relationship.”

As educator mentorship adapts to this new educational environment, making it a priority to provide support for educators of color will be a key strategy to ensure equitable learning opportunities. “We’ve seen just in a short time with those couple schools that teachers [of color] will say, ‘I’m feeling supported. Come work in this school,’ ” said Yoshina. “To me, those are signs of effectiveness.”