Committee for Children Blog

Why Does SEL Matter in Promoting Educator Diversity?

teacher with students

The recent murders of George FloydAhmaud ArberyBreonna Taylor, and others, and the ongoing violence against Black people, such as the attack on Jacob Blake, have dramatically underscored the racial injustices within our country’s systems. Throughout history, racial equity has been an issue intertwined with our education system in a multitude of ways. On our journey to becoming better and more active allies, we at Committee for Children understand we have a role to play in helping dismantle interpersonal and institutional racism. As we boldly stated: Words are not enough anymore. We must take action.

We’re committed to improving specific issues related to our priority areas—social-emotional learning (SEL)child protection, and bullying prevention—that disproportionately impact the Black community and communities of color. Each month, our policy experts will answer questions relating to these priority areas and racial equity. Our series has covered exclusionary discipline reform, trauma-informed approaches to education, and culturally responsive teaching, and will now address the importance of teacher diversity and the role SEL has to play in promoting it.

How does educator diversity promote educational opportunity for students?

Schools can promote racial equity and provide myriad benefits to students of color by diversifying the educator workforce. The educator workforce is predominantly white (84 percent), while white students make up just about half (51 percent) of the public-school student population.1

Benefits for students from educator diversity include increased academic engagement, increased high school graduation rates, and increased college enrollment rates. For example, Black students who had one Black teacher in their educational career were more likely to graduate high school and more likely to enroll in college.2 Some scholars posit that Black teachers benefit Black students through fostering pride in racial identity and connection to community, which then leads to improved student academic engagement.3 Increasing access to more Black educators also reduces racial disproportionality in exclusionary discipline.4

Diversifying the education workforce can happen across multiple levels, not just with teachers. Black principals increase the likelihood that newly hired teachers are Black. The presence of a Black principal can also diminish turnover of Black teachers.5 Additionally, access to school counselors that share the same race as their students, particularly for non-white students, promotes high school graduation and college attendance rates.6 Finally, according to analysis of intergroup contact theory, exposure to different groups can reduce bias;7 this suggests all students and educators could be part of reducing bias and racial inequities with a more diverse educator workforce.

How can SEL promote teacher diversity efforts?

Teachers of color are leaving the field at higher rates as compared to their white counterparts and have reported experiencing unwelcoming school cultures.8 School leaders who want to promote the retention of teachers of color can address school culture as a point of focus and tap into teachers’ desires to enhance students’ SEL.9 SEL can contribute to workforce diversification by helping create supportive school environments—an important factor for teachers when choosing to stay in or leave the field.10 A positive school culture supports teacher retention.11 Educator diversity further offers additional chances for students to practice social-emotional skills that connect with diversity and promote racial equity in education.

How is policy responding to these issues?

Pieces of legislation at both the state and federal levels have been introduced that would promote diversity in the educator workforce. At the federal level:

  • The Teacher Diversity and Retention Act promotes recruitment, training, and retention of diverse teaching candidates and strengthens educator preparation by including SEL competencies, restorative justice, and cultural responsivity provisions
  • The Strength in Diversity Act of 2020 provides for grants that could be used to promote and expand teacher diversity

At the state level:

  • In June, legislation (HF117 and SF61) was introduced in Minnesota that provides for grants to increase the number of educators of color, as well as supports school curriculum and climate that’s more inclusive of racial and ethnic diversity

What can I do to support these efforts?

Here are some ways you can take action:

  • The Strength in Diversity Act of 2020 has crossed over to the Senate; you can advocate the importance of educator diversity to Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
  • The Teacher Diversity and Retention Act has languished in the House Committee on Education and Labor; you can advocate the need for this bill to Chairman Scott and Ranking Member Foxx
  • Finally, you can sign up to receive action alerts from our Policy and Advocacy Team at key times specific to your state

Some of the content of this blog post was repurposed from the Committee for Children policy brief, “SEL and Racial Equity.”

1U.S. Department of Education. (2016). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce. Policy and Program Studies Service Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.

2Gershenson, S., Hart, C. M. D., Hyman, J., Lindsay, C., & Papageorge, N. W. (2018). The long-run impacts of same-race teachers. (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 25254).

3Cheng, M., & Soudack, A. (1994). Anti-racist education: A literature review. No 206. Toronto Board of Education (Ontario), Research Department.

Foster, M. (1993). Educating for competence in community and culture: Exploring the views of exemplary African-American teachers. Urban Education, 27(4), 370–394.

4Wright, A. C. (2015). Teachers’ perceptions of students’ disruptive behavior: The effect of racial congruence and consequences for school suspension.,%20Disruptive%20Behavior,%20and%20School%20Suspension.pdf

5Bartanen, B., & Grissom, J. (2019, May). School principal race and the hiring and retention of racially diverse teachers. (Anneberg Institute at Brown University Education Working Paper No. 19–59).

6Mulhern, C. (2020). Beyond teachers: Estimating individual guidance counselors’ effects on educational attainment. Harvard University.

7Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(5), 751–783. 3514.90.5.751

Harris, L. (2020, August 26). Lasana Harris interview: How your brain is conditioned for prejudice. New Scientist.

8Dixon, D., Griffin, A., & Teoh, M. (2019). If you listen, we will stay: Why teachers of color leave and how to disrupt teacher turnover. The Education Trust and Teach Plus.

9Dixon, D., Griffin, A., & Teoh, M. (2019). If you listen, we will stay: Why teachers of color leave and how to disrupt teacher turnover. The Education Trust and Teach Plus.

10Kini, T., & Podolsky, A. (2016, June 3). Does teaching experience increase teacher effectiveness? A review of the research. Learning Policy Institute.

11Reyes, J. A., Elias, M. J., Parker, S. J., & Rosenblatt, J. L. (2012). Promoting educational equity in disadvantaged youth: The role of resilience and social-emotional learning. In S. Goldstein & R. B. Brooks (Eds.), Handbook of resilience in children: second edition (pp. 349–370), Springer.