Growing Your Own … Diversity

Growing Our Own Teachers of Color:


Teachers of color have a life-changing impact on the success of students of color. 

  • Black Female students who have at least one Black Teacher are 29% less likely to drop out
  • Black Male students who have at least one Black Teacher are 39% less likely to drop out.

A 35% Gap:

Washington State has 12% teachers of color … 47% students of color … a 35% gap.  The number of teachers of color has not changed much in a decade.  Meanwhile, the number of students of color continues to rise.

Limited Pipeline:

Districts work hard, and compete with one another, to increase hiring diversity.  One limitation is the number of teachers of color in the pipeline.  One way to increase diversity in the pipeline is to grow your own.  Seattle has grown teacher diversity hiring to nearly 20%.  Growing paras into teachers has contributed to that improvement.

Growing Paras … into Teachers:

Washington, statewide, has nearly 60,000 teachers and nearly half as many paraeducators.  While 88% of Washington teachers are White, there tends to be substantially greater diversity in the paraeducator ranks. 

Classified to Certificated:

Seattle created a Class to Cert” program as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2003.  The contract provided $300,000 per year and Kim Van Anna was hired to create the program. 

Here is how Kim tells the story. 

At the beginning it was an idea that included support for paras, professional development and this idea of helping move from “classified” to “certified”.  One of our goals was diversity.  Our paras are far more diverse than our teaching corps and they live and work in … and are committed to … Seattle. 

I worked with a committee.  We sent an RFP to universities, asking for a program that would support working adults.  We heard crickets.  Only one replied.  City University worked with SEA and the district as we imagined and built a program together. 

We took in our first cohort in 2004.  50 applied.  22 were admitted and 21 graduated in 2007.  We had to learn everything along the way.  How to get mentors and substitutes.  How to explain the program to principals.  I begged forgiveness often.  I found myself saying, I’ll find out, a lot. 

Although some paras have only an AA degree, many have a BA degree.  We work to provide the BA degree and certification.  And we are working on ELL, math and science certification options. 

The Professional Education Standards Board highlights Seattle’s program.  59 have completed the program and 52 are still here in Seattle.  58% are white; 15% Asian; 15% Hispanic and 12% Black … almost as diverse as our student enrollment.  And the program has delivered good longevity with only five moving away – some due to family transfers out of the area. 

The program is a great way to actualize dreams.  Some of our participants tell us they have wanted to be a teacher since they were a child. 

How did you grow the program?

In the beginning it was hard.  I wasn’t always certain from year to year, especially when the contract was up for negotiation, whether the program would continue.  Now that the program has remained in several CBAs, I am more confident in telling potential participants that the dollars will be here for you when you are ready. 

The website has the basic information on the program along with quotes and stories.  I hold regional sessions each year.  I see some of the same people every year.  They come, ask questions, but don’t sign up.  There is obviously an itch there.  I can tell them all about the program.  What I can’t tell them is what it will be like to be a working adult that has to hold down a job, participate in the program, and make sure their family is okay. 

So, I asked a graduate of the program to come tell about her experience.  Our graduate told the group that she was uncertain about signing up.  But she finally did.  She was in a cohort that supported each other.  She told about the highs and lows; how it impacted her kids and her husband.  How they figured out who did dinner.  She was afraid.  There were tears.  But she made it through. And the clincer at the end of her story … Her husband still does the laundry! 

How do they learn about the program and sign up?

I reach out by inviting paras to a round of informational meetings.  I let them know that there is support here for them … no matter what.  Then, for those who are interested, there is a second meeting when they can meet with the university representatives and talk specifics.  We hold these sessions on evenings and weekends. 

And then for those who enter the program, I meet quarterly with the universities to check-in on candidate progress.  What are the challenges?  Who is struggling?  How can we support them? 

What is next to keep growing the program?

The improvements to the website helped us tell our story.  More communication with principals helps.  It works great when a principal makes the connection and tells me one of their paras is interested.  Some principals have been amazing, reaching out, making personal contacts and bringing candidates each year.  Two of our outstanding principals, Anitra and Mia, started as IAs in the district but under a different program. 

And we have continued to work over time to support the Seattle Teacher Residency which helps those with BA degrees to earn Master’s in Teaching and become certificated. 

Lessons Learned:  Key benchmarks:

This is another great improvement science story.  A great idea turns into great results … little by little … incrementally … over many years … and many improvements over time.

  • Partnerships …

    between the district and the union … and between paras and teachers.

  • Reaching out …

    to learn more from universities and the Professional Educational Standards Board

  • Listening …

    to the paras and adjusting the program to meet needs

  • Testimonials …

    from those who had benefitted from the program

  • Principals:

    Enlisting those closest to paras to help with the recruiting

Paras know your community, like working with kids, and often bring greater diversity. Growing paras into teachers is a great way to grow teacher diversity.  And more teachers of color do, in fact, make a deep impression on the success of our students of color.

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Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
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