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Dec. 9, 2022

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WSUV professor gets grant to study teachers of color

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:

For Washington State University Vancouver faculty member Katherine Rodela, the isolation of being one of a few people of color working in the educational field hits close to home.

When the Southwest Washington native, a Latina, took a position as an assistant professor of educational leadership at the Salmon Creek campus, leaders of color in the field began to approach her, seeking a sounding board and a listening ear for their own experiences.

“The word got passed around,” Rodela said with a laugh.

Now, with support of a small grant, Rodela hopes to create a firmer structure of support for educational leaders of color, while providing area school districts with a road map on how to recruit and support people of color who wish to become administrators.

Rodela received WSU Vancouver’s first George Brain and Gay Selby Faculty Award in Educational Leadership this year. The $3,500 award is named for Brain, a former College of Education dean, and Selby, the first woman in the state to serve as superintendent of a district with more than 2,000 students.

Educators of color are rare in Clark County, and across the state. An analysis by The Seattle Times and The Columbian newspapers in 2018 found that 11.1 percent of teachers in Washington identified as people of color; 45.6 percent of students, meanwhile, are people of color. In Clark County, 7.9 percent of the county’s 4,750 teachers were people of color in the 2017-2018 school year, compared with 33.7 percent of the county’s 80,323 students.

For students of color, that life experience — and shared background — matters. Students of color told The Columbian and The Seattle Times they felt more listened to and “culturally grounded” with teachers with a shared racial identity. A growing body of research suggests that greater teacher diversity improves outcomes — including graduation, test scores and discipline rates — for students of color.

Rodela plans to focus on educators of color in Southwest Washington. She described her work as driven by “life story interviews.” She plans to spend several hours with small groups of principals, associate principals and administrative interns preparing to become principals. She also plans to interview some teachers and counselors — “anyone who sees themselves as leaders” in a school, she explained.

In addition to gathering information, Rodela hopes the sessions will lead to informal networks of educators of color — some of whom will likely be the only teacher or principal of color on their respective campuses — who can maintain relationships beyond the focus groups.

From there, she’ll create a picture of those educators’ life experiences. What was it like growing up? What was school like? How’s work going? How do parents perceive you? Are you listened to by administration?

“It’s really exploring their stories and their life histories,” she said.

There are efforts underway in Washington to diversify the teaching force, but it’s a slow process. Rodela hopes her research will provide area school districts and teacher training programs information about what works and what doesn’t when recruiting and supporting educators of color.

“It’s important for them to understand the unique experiences that leaders of color in their areas have,” she said.

Rodela’s research is slated to start this fall.

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Columbian Education Reporter