Even before the pandemic, many educators of color felt feelings of isolation within predominantly white schools. In my home state of Massachusetts, for example, Black teachers make up less than 5% of the workforce, as do Latinx teachers. Research indicates how frequently teachers of color feel invisible and unwelcome, undervalued, and antagonized.
One inspiring organization working on this problem is The Teachers’ Lounge (TTL). Based in the greater Boston area, they seek to support the recruitment, revitalization, and retention of educators of color. Before COVID-19, as many as 250 TTL members used to gather monthly on Saturdays at museums and Black-owned venues for five-hour blocks of socializing and programming on topics such as social-emotional learning. When TTL shifted to virtual gatherings last spring, attendance rapidly dropped off, and co-founders Jabari Peddie and Devin Morris worried about the organization’s ability to survive.
Yet TTL rose to the challenge, devising innovative practices to support their members from afar. Their story over the past year speaks to the importance of affinity spaces and sheds light on how schools can learn from organizations like TTL to better support the educators of color who play such a critical role in our nation’s schools.
Here are some lessons from the past year:
Support Well-Being Remotely
Our society often associates wellness programming with whiteness, but TTL has cleverly designed its own offerings in ways aligned to Black culture. One popular offering was a weeklong series of restorative virtual events last spring called “CTRL” — in honor of SZA’s celebrated 2017 album. There were “CTRL + ALT + DEL” events like yoga, meditation, and group exercise classes designed to help people “restart” and “hit the reset button” on their well-being. Longtime member Noelani Gabriel of the Community Charter School of Cambridge found it particularly rejuvenating to have opportunities to “move bodies and restore spirits” all within a dedicated affinity space where she could feel less self-conscious.
Disrupt the Dynamics of Hiring
Some of TTL’s most innovative work from the past year sought to “flip the typical hiring fair on its head,” according to Morris. Transitioning to a new school can be particularly daunting for educators of color as they seek to get a sense of a school’s on-the-ground commitment to inclusion. COVID-19 has made it even harder to get a feel for school culture since in-person visits are often not an option. TTL has responded with programming that puts more of the onus on schools to prove and improve their commitments to Black and brown teachers. Here are a couple examples:
- Last spring, instead of TTL members going from table to table having to market themselves, TTL interviewed a panel of school leaders about their systems to support educators of color.
- Similarly, this spring, TTL invited a panel of current educators of color to compare experiences across district, charter, and independent schools on topics ranging from recruitment to onboarding.
- TTL members were also surveyed about their experiences during hiring processes, and the results are being shared with participating schools. These schools conversely were asked to contribute to a booklet summarizing their supports for staff of color and the demographics of their students, faculty, and leadership.
Ultimately, TTL has had to recalibrate expectations in the face of remote gatherings. Here are a few of their recent shifts:
- TTL has pared back their five-hour Saturday sessions to three hours — typically now an hour of socializing, an hour of programming, and an hour that combines both.
- They are looking beyond simple attendance data as the go-to metric for measuring engagement. Attendees are often staying long after the formal programming to connect and problem-solve. Thus, with the support of partners like The Teacher Collaborative, TTL is attempting to measure depth and intensity of engagement as well.
- TTL is strengthening their email newsletter and developing a new online discussion space to reach members unable to make the online events.
While Morris admits it has been “heartbreaking” to hear the stories of many TTL members during the pandemic, the past year has also been “validating” about their important work to support educators of color. Even as they hopefully begin to transition back to in-person events, they seek to advance this work with greater purpose and efficacy by building on the lessons from this historic year.