Interview with Hiewet Senghor, Founder & CEO, Black Teacher Collaborative: www.blackteachercollaborative.org
Tell us about your organization. Our focus is on training and supporting black teachers who have a particular commitment to serving black students, and we describe those as “shared racial identity learning environments:” schools where greater than 65% teacher populations and greater than 85% student populations are the same racial background (black). We launched a pilot fellowship across 6 schools in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Atlanta. There were ~45 teachers in those schools, and we were running a monthly professional development for those teachers that aligns with key elements of strong shared racial identity learning environments.
What motivated you to start this organization? Much of my work in Teach for America the last 2 years was around developing the leadership of their teachers of color, and that work allowed me to really leverage my traditional civil rights background with the education reform space. Coming out of that, what I realized is that there’s a lot of conversation around diversifying the teacher workforce but for me, that conversation was limited to “let’s get them in the classroom” and “let’s expect them to succeed with the same training as everyone else.” Teachers, in that particularly challenging space, left our kids still underserved. The former secretary of education John King Jr. was talking about while we are diversifying our teacher workforce, we have a leaky pipe because they’re really struggling. There were really high unrealistic expectations – not because there isn’t the potential for impact but because we haven’t figured out the training they need. We’re trying to make great black teachers to serve black children who are beautiful geniuses needing to be supported and cultivated.
What successes have you seen so far? There appears to be a great interest and a great longing for the potential here and the need for support for these teachers. All of that leads us to a place where we know there’s great interest and opportunity to serve a need, and we’re still trying to figure it out. We don’t know what it takes yet, but we have some ideas. We’ve seen some great teaching we think is worthy of being codified and examined to figure out how to learn how other teachers can learn from it. What we have seen is that when you create a safe space – especially for people of color – spaces where the people look like them, they can be vulnerable and admit their areas of growth and be very self-reflective. If anything, what I am very particularly proud of is the level of self-reflection and the really powerful growth mindsets that we’ve seen.
What have been the challenges? Our biggest challenge has been building the team. As a social entrepreneur, you know that it’s important, but I didn’t know how important it was. It takes time to build a good team, and we don’t necessarily have the time. Is there anything else you want us to know about your organization? There’s a tricky balance for our organization which is incorporating teacher voice and teacher expertise with organizational development and business development expertise. Those are two different skill sets, and when you’re operating with such a lean team, the idea of people being able to wear multiple hats becomes really challenging.
If you're interested in supporting and learning more, please visiting visit www.blackteachercollaborative.org