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How one Minnesota school is building an inclusive culture that supports teachers of color

Midwest | December 12, 2022

A teacher reads from a children’s book in front of a large group of young children in a school auditorium.
Photo credit: Photo Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School.

Research has shown that favorable working conditions are related to the improved retention of all teachers, including teachers of color.1 For example, studies that capture teacher perceptions have found that a culturally affirming environment with an explicit commitment to equity and social justice is important for teachers of color when deciding whether to stay in the profession.2 What’s more, teachers report that school leaders play a key role in fostering these conditions.3 Growing and retaining a diverse teacher workforce also has the potential to improve student outcomes. Research indicates that students of color who are taught by teachers from a similar racial and ethnic background experience improved test scores, attendance, high school graduation rates, and social and emotional well-being.4

Through the Supporting Inclusive and Diverse Educator Environments (SIDEE) partnership, REL Midwest is working with Minnesota school districts to develop an approach to cultivate and sustain school cultures and working conditions that increase the retention of teachers of color and Indigenous teachers. Drawing on the research, the SIDEE approach includes four core components to develop these conditions: training on cultural proficiency, continuous leadership coaching focused on building an inclusive school culture, affinity groups to develop teacher peer support, and preparation for teachers of color and Indigenous teachers to serve as mentors to advance their own leadership aspirations and support other teachers.

Supports for teachers of color and Indigenous teachers in Minneapolis

Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School

Building on a long history of working with community partners in Minnesota, REL Midwest is partnering with Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School in the St. Louis Park Public Schools district. The school serves a student body with 25.8 percent students of color, and in 2020, the district implemented a Strategic Plan for Racial Equity Transformation , which prioritizes student voice and equitable learning environments.

To pilot the SIDEE approach, REL Midwest is working with Park Spanish Immersion (PSI) Elementary School in west suburban Minneapolis. In late August, 45 PSI elementary teachers and education staff met with instructional leadership coaches from REL Midwest for the first in six training sessions on cultural proficiency. During the session, staff reviewed a set of reflection questions5 designed to make self-appraisal, goal setting, and critical conversations related to cultural proficiency more concrete.

Over the next 2 months, REL Midwest staff held a series of coaching sessions with PSI school leaders and teachers of color. The sessions for school leaders explored research on the benefits of a diverse teacher workforce, and how that workforce can be leveraged to situate leadership successes and problems of practice. The coaching sessions for teachers of color and Indigenous teachers had two goals: provide peer support among teachers of color and Indigenous teachers through affinity groups, and advance teachers’ leadership aspirations and pedagogical strengths by preparing them to serve as school leaders and mentors. The framework for these sessions drew broadly from national mentoring standards, teacher leader standards,6 and The Power of Teacher Diversity: Fostering Inclusive Conversations Through Mentoring, which was developed by the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institutes for Research.7

Although all school staff engaged in the cultural proficiency trainings and affinity group offerings, the SIDEE coaching sessions are designed for either school leaders or teachers of color. These professional learning opportunities directly support the SIDEE approach by ensuring that staff at every level are included in creating a more inclusive teaching environment.

Reflecting and looking ahead

Together, the SIDEE cultural proficiency trainings and coaching sessions provide a foundation for school leaders to reflect on how they can make systems, such as the observation process, more inclusive and responsive for teachers. This fall, PSI staff reflected on the SIDEE professional learning opportunities and how the opportunities aligned with their own professional development goals for the school year. Kelsey Clark, who is in her first year at PSI as an elementary support supervisor and a member of the pedagogical leadership team, said she enjoyed the cultural proficiency training, noting that "one of [her] goals for this school year is to learn more about the observation process."

Dr. Corey Maslowski, PSI’s principal, spoke about his positive experience with the REL Midwest coaches, saying, "I have been grateful for the content, the great instructors, and the flexibility in delivery to meet the needs and wants of our staff members." As a school leader, Dr. Maslowski is a key partner in fostering an inclusive work environment.

During the remainder of the school year, REL Midwest plans to offer PSI staff four facilitated affinity group discussions, six all-staff cultural proficiency trainings, seven coaching sessions with school leaders, and nine coaching sessions with teachers of color and Indigenous teachers. REL Midwest will test and refine this set of professional learning opportunities to determine the usability and feasibility of the SIDEE approach in future collaborations with community partners.


1 For example, Bednar & Gicheva (2019); Boyd et al. (2011); Dixon et al. (2019); Espinoza et al. (2018); Kraft & Papay (2014); Ni (2017); Sun (2018)

2 Dixon et al. (2019).

3 Jacob et al. (2015); Sun (2018); Darling-Hammond et al. (2007).

4 Dee, T. (2004); Dee, T. (2005); Egalite & Kisida (2018).

5 Muñiz, J. (2020).

6 National Association of Secondary School Principals (2019); New Teacher Center (2018); Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium (2011).

7 Kimmel et al. (2021).


Bednar, S., & Gicheva, D. (2019). Workplace support and diversity in the market for public school teachers. Education Finance and Policy, 14(2), 272-297.;

Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Ing, M., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2011). The influence of school administrators on teacher retention decisions. American Educational Research Journal, 48(2), 303–333.;

Darling-Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., Orr, M. T., & Cohen, C. (2007). Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford University, Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.

Dee, T. (2004). The race connection: Are teachers more effective with students who share their ethnicity? Education Next, 4(2), 52–59.

Dee, T. (2005). A teacher like me: Does race, ethnicity, or gender matter? American Economic Review, 95(2), 158-165.

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

Egalite, A. J., & Kisida, B. (2018). The effects of teacher match on students' academic perceptions and attitudes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(1), 59-81.

Espinoza, D., Saunders, R., Kini, T., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2018). Taking the long view: State efforts to solve teacher shortages by strengthening the profession. Learning Policy Institute.

Jacob, R., Goddard, R., Kim, M., Miller, R., & Goddard, Y. (2015). Exploring the causal impact of the McREL Balanced Leadership Program on leadership, principal efficacy, instructional climate, educator turnover, and student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(3), 314-332.

Kimmel, L., Lachlan, L., & Guiden, A. (2021). The power of teacher diversity: Fostering inclusive conversations through mentoring. Region 8 Comprehensive Center.

Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J. P. (2014). Can professional environments in schools promote teacher development? Explaining heterogeneity in returns to teaching experience. Educational Effectiveness and Policy Analysis, 36(4), 476–500.

Muñiz, J. (2020). Culturally responsive teaching: A reflection guide. New America.

National Association of Secondary School Principals. (2019). Position statement: Teacher leadership.

New Teacher Center. (2018). Mentor practice standards.

Ni, Y., (2017). Teacher working conditions, teacher commitment, and charter schools. Teachers College Record, 119(6).

Sun, M. (2018). Black teachers' retention and transfer patterns in North Carolina: How do patterns vary by teacher effectiveness, subject, and school conditions? AERA Open, 4(3), 233285841878491.


Carol Felicio

Carol Felicio

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