Addressing Racial Equity Can Boost Well-being Among School Staff and Students of Color

By Esther Gross, Sarah Her, Mavis Sanders, Kristen Harper, & Brandon Stratford, Child Trends

Longstanding patterns of racial and ethnic discrimination, both inside and outside of schools, may negatively impact the well-being of school staff of color and contribute to higher rates of attrition than among their White counterparts—a problem the pandemic may be exacerbating. State and local leaders can help by incorporating racial equity components into school employee wellness efforts to ensure that these initiatives address the specific needs of teachers of color and distribute resources and demands fairly across all staff.

One way that leaders can advance racial equity in staff wellness programs is by helping schools improve resources and operations. Three in four Black and Latinx teachers work in schools with a high percentage of students of color. These schools are often under-resourced and offer lower salaries and less administrative support—workplace conditions that directly impact job satisfaction and psychological well-being. Education leaders can improve school conditions for teachers of color by addressing common sources of workplace stress that are especially pronounced in under-resourced schools. Reducing class sizes, improving access to technology and other instructional resources, implementing restorative rather than exclusionary discipline practices to promote positive school climates, and granting teachers greater professional autonomy and voice in decision making are increasingly recognized as effective strategies to promote the wellness and retention of a culturally diverse teacher workforce. Furthermore, districts can recognize the value that teachers of color bring to schools by providing financial compensation for the extra duties they disproportionately perform, such as mentorship, translation, and community outreach and engagement.

State and local education leaders can further assist in creating the kind of safe and supportive schools required for equitable employee wellness by providing professional development that builds the cultural competence of administrators, teachers, and staff. Critical topics for professional development include the impact of systems of power on individual and organizational attitudes and behaviors, the role of implicit biases on school culture and staff relationships, and ways to identify and confront inequities in school policies and practices. To be most effective, the professional development should meet quality standards—specifically, it should be evidence-based, provide opportunities for reflection, occur within a collaborative culture with shared accountability for improvement, and be linked to clear goals and participants’ daily practice. Such efforts will not only improve the wellness of teachers and staff but also the well-being and success of the students they serve.

Leaders can also help schools assess whether their employee wellness efforts promote equity by ensuring that hiring, retention, and staff evaluation data are disaggregated by relevant identity categories such as race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In addition to disaggregated administrative data, local leaders can collect qualitative data (e.g., interviews, focus groups, open-ended surveys) to understand the experiences of teachers of color—especially factors that positively and negatively affect their wellness. Leaders can use these data to identify issues of concern, implement targeted and tailored approaches to ensure staff wellness, and allocate resources equitably across schools and districts.

As state and local leaders leverage federal recovery funds to help schools address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that they focus on racial and ethnic equity when addressing wellness. The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color. Equitable approaches to wellness are essential to ensure that the experiences, needs, and voices of school employees of color—including teachers and administrators as well as classified staff like paraprofessionals, food service workers, and custodial staff—are included in school recovery and improvement efforts. State and district leaders can guide such efforts to ensure that schools are healthy workplaces for all members of the school community.

This product is supported by cooperative agreement NU87PS004367-01-01 funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.

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