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Building a diverse teacher workforce through a robust inquiry, planning, and implementation process

Building a diverse teacher workforce

By Joni Wackwitz
July 24, 2020

When students have teachers who reflect their racial/ethnic and cultural background, the results can be powerful. For Black students in particular, having a teacher of the same race/ethnicity can lead to higher expectations, increased academic achievement, and fewer disciplinary issues (Goldhaber, Theobald, & Tien, 2015).

In many public schools, however, a mismatch exists between teacher and student demographics. Lansing School District in Michigan is one example. According to 2019/20 district data, students of color made up 76 percent of the district’s student body, whereas teachers of color made up only 19 percent of the district’s teaching staff.

To tackle this issue, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is partnering with Lansing to develop and implement an action plan for building a diverse teacher workforce. The project, which is part of the work of the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation (MAITP), entails a process of robust inquiry, including data analysis, root-cause analysis, goal setting, and the identification of evidence-based strategies to achieve those goals.

Betty Underwood, project director of Lansing’s Rewarding Educator Achievement and Performance (REAP) program, leads the district team. “Lansing received a Teacher and School Leader Incentive grant in 2017,” Underwood explains, “and part of that supports teacher recruitment, retention, promotion, and tenure. REAP oversees the grant, and we’ve been working with Human Resources and others to look at how we can recruit teachers to improve diversity.”

To ensure this process involves multiple voices and perspectives, the district team has brought together a broad group of stakeholders to participate. The group includes associate superintendents, human resources staff, data analysts, principals, teachers, and representatives from the local teacher union and teacher preparation programs.

A REL Midwest team is working closely with the group to provide coaching, analytical support, evidence-based practices, and tools and resources. Dan Frederking, Ed.D., a technical assistance consultant and the MAITP partnership facilitator, leads this team.

“The MAITP partnership has done a large amount of work at the state and regional levels in Michigan,” notes Dr. Frederking, “but working with Lansing has been a great opportunity to make an impact that directly serves a district and schools. It has been an absolute pleasure to assist Lansing in this important work.”

Analyzing district staffing data to determine key problems (during a pandemic!)

The original plan for the project was to convene the group through a series of in-person, 4 hour workshops. Although the pandemic put an end to that approach, the Lansing and REL Midwest team pushed on, reshaping the workshops into a series of 2-hour virtual sessions. The first two of these were held in May, with some 20 participants attending using video conferencing software.

Prior to the sessions, REL Midwest staff worked with a small team at Lansing to gather and analyze district staffing data, including teacher preparation and recruitment data. During the sessions, the full group dug into the data to identify the district’s areas of strengths and needs as they relate to teacher recruitment, retention, and diversity. Next, the group narrowed the list to 10 key findings to serve as problem statements. The group then used the following questions to determine which problems they considered most important to address.

Example problem statement

Attract: Pathways into the Profession

Three quarters of students in the Lansing Public School District are people of color, but only 10 percent to 15 percent of the students in Michigan teacher preparation programs are.

  • Is this key finding one of the most critical issues faced by the district?
  • If the issue is resolved, will student achievement improve sufficiently?
  • If the issue is resolved, will there be a measurable, positive impact systemwide?

Between the sessions, the lead team met to plan and advance the work. In addition, the team categorized the 10 problem statements using the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders Talent Development Framework. This framework organizes actions for building a diverse, high-quality teacher workforce into three stages: (1) Attract; (2) Prepare; and (3) Develop, Support, and Retain.

Reflecting on the process so far, Underwood notes that she particularly appreciated the ability to analyze the data with a diverse group. “Attendees included the teacher union president, the director of teacher preparation at Michigan State University, and aspiring school leaders, who are teachers who have attended a yearlong leadership internship program,” she says. “So, a lot of perspectives. We haven’t pulled together a diverse group like this before, and it’s been really helpful to look at the data with them and draw conclusions. They were excited to be part of it.”

Looking ahead: Action planning and implementation

The next step for the Lansing and REL Midwest team is to conduct a root-cause analysis to get at the sources of the identified problems. After that, group members will reflect on what they have learned, develop goals, and then create an action plan to address the district’s biggest needs. To support this step, REL Midwest will draw on research to share promising strategies. The team also plans to bring in national experts to discuss relevant topics, such as teacher recruitment, grow-your-own programs, and teacher mentoring programs.

The final sessions will support implementation of the district’s action plan, including identifying measurable outcomes and collecting data. At the end of the 2020/21 school year, the team will examine the data collected and adjust the action plan for the next year.

“We’re hopeful that the data-based action items that are developed will make a positive impact on the district’s teacher workforce,” Dr. Frederking says. “As with everything, we want to do whatever we can to create the best possible learning environment for all students.”

Related resources

Visit the MAITP page to learn more about the alliance’s studies, projects, and resources.


Goldhaber, D., Theobald, R., & Tien, C. (2015). The theoretical and empirical arguments for diversifying the teacher workforce: A review of the evidence (CEDR Working Paper No. 2015-9). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Bothell, Center for Education Data & Research.

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Author Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


Beating the odds (2)

Charter Schools (2)

College and Career Readiness (42)

Data Use (32)

Discipline (4)

Early Childhood (31)

Educator Effectiveness (36)

English Learners (10)

Literacy (11)

Math (1)

Online Courses (7)

Research Tools (2)

Rural (14)

Teacher Preparation (24)

Teacher Recruitment (2)

Teacher Retention (2)

Teacher Workforce (14)

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