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Growing ME: Bridging the equity gap through mentorship 

By Julianne Ross-Kleinmann
January 7, 2020
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In my past position, I offered professional development to new mentor teachers. Research shows us that the number of people entering, and staying in, the teaching field is declining. But what I find even more alarming is the lack of diverse educators entering, staying and advancing in the field of education. So why is it important for students to see diversity in education?  “Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender.

This issue in education was the topic of discussion at the first Equity Action Forum (EAF) at ISTE19.

Many know ISTE for its ISTE Standards and ISTE Conference & Expo. But ISTE also provides opportunities for educators to come together about common concerns. At EAF, experts shared how they catalyze change and participants unpacked big issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion with a focus on action

It’s no secret that the diversity of K-12 educators in the U.S. does not match the nation’s student population. Research shows that diversity in schools, including racial diversity among teachers, can provide significant benefits to students. However, “while students of color are expected to make up 56% of the student population by 2024, the elementary and secondary educator workforce is still overwhelmingly white. In fact, the most recent U.S. Department of Education Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a nationally representative survey of teachers and principals, showed that 82% of public school teachers identified as white. This figure has hardly changed in more than 15 years; data from a similar survey conducted by the Department in 2000 found that 84% of teachers identified as white.” 

These staggeringly low numbers of people from diverse backgrounds who enter, stay and advance in the field of education was the topic that my group took on at the EAF. Over the past year, we’ve explored solutions to two problems: 

  1. A lack of diversity among teachers and leaders resulting in a paucity of role models for students and teachers.
  2. Stalled career advancement for people of color. 

Our discussions led us to develop a pilot program called Growing ME (mentorship enterprise), where we match mentors with educators from diverse backgrounds who have fewer than five years of teaching experience. The mentors’ purpose is to be a role model who can help new teachers navigate the first few years of teaching and leading as persons of color. Mentors provide educators with someone to talk to, help coach them in their field and suggest ways they can advocate for themselves.

In this first year, our goal is to connect 10 mentees to experienced educators in various fields of education. Ultimately, we would love to see our program develop into a professional learning network that provides ongoing resources for new educators.

Finding solutions

When we set out to address inequity in education leadership and advancement, we followed the engineering design process to identify an authentic problem, empathize with the affected community, define the challenges, ideate a solution, prototype and then test our plan.

Bring the Forum Technique Home and Making it Your Own and Growing ME is one idea that came out of our EAF group. If you’re interested in tackling an equity issue –– or any issue –– in your community, here are some tips to get you started in advocating for change:

  1.  Start a local professional learning community with like-minded colleagues. I belong to many professional learning networks but I most actively participate in the ISTE STEM PLN. It helps me both professionally and personally. We survey our members to learn what their professional development needs are and collectively plan and implement webinars, Twitter chats, book talks and more. Since we only see each other once a year at the ISTE conference, I also joined a local PLN that meets face-to-face regularly. Technology is great for connecting people across great distances, but coming together in person with colleagues to share ideas and discuss ways to provide resources for your local community is electrifying.
  2. Volunteer with local passion partners. Whatever your passion is, look for volunteer opportunities. I actively volunteer with local agencies that work on programs that enhance the development of children. Literacy Connections, Black Child Development, Delta Academy, AAUW and Junior League are just a few agencies where I present, mentor and share CS and STEM activities with teachers, students and their families. Volunteering with a local agency is a great way to move advocacy forward.
  3. Start Small. Dream big, but start small and don’t be afraid to fail and iterate. Use the engineering design process to identify and characterize important problems and possible solutions, but don’t be afraid to miss your mind’s deadline. If you and your group feel your project is important work, it’s OK to go slow.
  4. Listen to your community's needs. In the engineering design process, empathy is the first step to designing a solution for others. Students at John G Borden Middle School in Wallkill, New York, observed and listened to their peers during the Summer Learning Academy, which led to the design and prototype of a meditation space for students. The space was outfitted with pillows, writing journals, yoga instructions and student-centered décor.
  5. Share your ongoing story with others. You never know who you might inspire, recruit or receive feedback from when you share your ideas with others. You just might be the spark that someone else needs to get started on their passion project.

Getting the word out

Please consider joining our community by filling out this form. You can contribute as a mentor, mentee, promoter or volunteer. 

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Julianne Ross-Kleinmann is passionate about instructional technology to support teaching and learning. She is currently an instructional specialist for the Ulster County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New Paltz, New York, and sits on the ISTE Board of Directors.

Thanks to the members of ISTE Equity Action Forum Group 10 for contributing to this blog: Nicci Dowd; Tracy Daniel-Hardy, Ph.D.; Jean Kiekel, Ph.D.; Natalia LeMoyne Hernandez; and Michael S. Mills, Ph.D.