Senior Associate Julie Ryan attended the largest National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference (PoCC) this December 8-9th. More than 5,200 participated, including 3,600 teachers and administrators from 40 states and five countries. Julie, who staffed the Search Associates table in the Exhibitors Hall, had to choose which of the 94 thought-provoking sessions she could slip away to!
Keynote Speaker Bryan Stephenson gave a compelling talk at the opening session. Bryan, author of a memoir Just Mercy as well as Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative spoke of his life's work as a lawyer: thwarting careless justice and extreme punishment.
Bryan offered four ways individuals can tackle the entrenched inequities in our social and justice system. The first is to get closer to parts of our community where there is suffering, people hiding, and children living in poverty. He said, "You don't have to have the answers; you just have to try to understand." Bryan considers schools with high suspension and expulsion rates failures. He says that through compassion and love, by making traumatized children feel safe, we will change the world. The third step to changing the system is the willingness to do uncomfortable things! We cannot judge our character or commitment by our work with the privileged. Finally, Bryan encourages hopefulness because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Hopeful educators, hopeful people, wrap their arms around underprivileged kids and see the good in them.
Julie was able to attend most of Headed to the Top: New Study Reveals Ways to Increase Opportunity for People of Color and Women in NAIS Member Schools, which was based on research that Moderator Amanda Torres conducted for her doctorate.
Often schools post job descriptions which emphasize head of school (HOS) experience at a similar school. This results in the "musical chair" syndrome, where the same pool of experienced heads trade positions, allowing little room for a new or different type of administrator to land a position. Next, search firms narrow the pool to the most promising set of candidates before sharing with the school. One wonders what criteria they are using, and one can only wonder if these decisions reject unknowns or alternative candidates because of inherent cronyism. On the other hand, racially and culturally diverse candidates are most interested in heading diverse, progressive schools. Though cultural fit is hard to quantify, more attention should be paid to this area.
Search committees often interview 9-12 candidates. By the time finalists are selected, many schools have taken into account gender diversity but not people of color. Lastly, after each finalist visit, the search firm or committee gathers feedback from the school community. For a final decision, the committee aims for consensus, which can be problematic. Research has shown that when a search happens, there is little consistency as to why search committee members voted for a certain candidate.
Overall 35% of candidates say the intensity of the hiring process makes them think twice about applying. Search firms and committees should consider ways to minimize the disruption of the interview process, including limiting travel requirements and the number of interviews. Julie describes an interesting debate between two heads of school:
"… one thought that the day-long rapid fire interview to interview with multiple groups of people represents the typical day of a HOS and is therefore valid, while another audience member said there is NO research to support that this type of experience has anything to do with the candidate's success on the job… "
NAIS would like to assemble a helpful book on HOS searches for search committees. Amanda Torres' findings underscore the work to be done:
- Design and prepare a bias-free hiring process, including job description, desired skills, standardized procedures, screening, etc.
- Train search committees in implicit bias – screen search firms and hire those with demonstrated cultural competency – schools can assess this.
- Build in accountability measures that eliminate double standards for culturally diverse candidates
- Evaluate interview questions and hiring practices to eliminate stereotyping of female candidates.
The PoCC was designed by NAIS for several purposes, one of which is to equip educators with the knowledge and skills to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, intercultural, and gender fluid climate of their schools, while also attending to social-emotional, academic, and workplace outcomes for the entire school community. Another aim of the event:
"[To offer] attendees the empowering experience … that more closely mirrors world racial and ethnic demography, and the professional development scope and vision necessary to refocus their work and learning through an equity perspective."
Search Associates has identified attracting more diverse candidates to international schools as a priority. It was exciting to see how many attendees expressed interest in teaching abroad for the first time or possibly returning to international education.