School-Based Equity Leadership Teams: A case study on the recruitment process
By: Jessica Cruz and Linnea Mayo
Two Trinity College Undergraduates, Jessica Cruz ‘26 and Linnea Mayo ‘26, conducted a research project with RE-Center during the spring semester of 2023 that explored the experiences in the recruitment process of School-Based Equity Leadership Teams (SELTs) in a Connecticut urban school district. Here, Jessica and Linnea share their findings.
As Natalie Zwerger wrote in her Your Equity Team Just Might Be Inequitable blog, “If the [equity] team is given a shelf life or the long-term is reliant on one or a few dynamic district leaders who advocate for the work, then the viability of impact…suffers.” But how do we get a long lasting team? Once the team leader has been identified, the next step should be recruiting… or not?
From early October to mid-December of 2023, we looked into RE-Center's partnership with a Connecticut school district to address inequity by implementing School-Based Equity Leadership Teams (SELTs) throughout the district. With RE-Center finding SELT leads, the title for equity team organizers in each school (more information below), in February of last year and SELTs being at their beginning stages, we investigated the recruitment process of the equity teams. Specifically, we wanted to learn more about the SELT leads’ experiences to help inform how RE-Center could codify their SELT framework and use it effectively in partnerships with other school districts. To do so, with the support and feedback from RE-Center’s Policy and Research Strategist, Dr. Sophia Bolt, and RE-Center’s Executive Director, Natalie Zweger, we researched the following questions:
- What are the greatest challenges the SELT leads experience in the recruitment process and establishing their SELT?
- What support from their RE-Center coach and school administration has been and could be most helpful?
What is a School-Based Equity Team (SELT)?
Broadly, as defined in the SELT guide created by RE-Center (2023), SELTs (School-Based Equity Leadership Teams) are an effort to combat injustice in schools launched by RE-Center in districts across the country. The overall mission is to strengthen school capacity in creating and actualizing goals and action plans to address inequity.
Now, you might be wondering what exactly a SELT is and who SELT ‘leads’ and ‘coaches’ are. There are a couple pieces to this puzzle.
Essentially, the SELT system is like a basketball team. The RE-Center coach is the coach of the team, the SELT lead is the team captain, and the SELTeam is the whole team of all the players.
A group of RE-Center employees, who are racial justice strategists with a wide range of deep experience in equity and education work, serve as SELT coaches who teach, aid, and oversee SELTs and leads. Each coach supports multiple leads (and their schools).
Leads, mostly teachers and staff, serve as pioneers in their school buildings to recruit, establish, and start the work of their SELT.
The overall team serves as a committee that together achieves the SELT’s mission.
Each SELT should include, at the minimum, the following groups for all voices to be heard: “school leaders (principal and assistant principals), teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, parents and caregivers, community members, and, most importantly, students” (RE-Center, 2023).
Additionally, RE-Center’s SELT Guide suggests the following steps for the recruitment of these “players” to the team in year one:
- Create a clear description of the role of SELT members including compensation, acknowledgement of time commitments, etc.
- Market and promote the SELT through sharing information in classrooms, extracurriculars, emails, social media, letters home to families/community members, etc.
- Give applications and select potential team members by exploring individuals' visions for equity in schools and what they would offer to the SELT. Team members should have a common understanding of forms of oppression, racism, and the importance of diversity in schools.
What We Did
Throughout this semester-long research project, our methodology included participant observation, qualitative coding of feedback forms from monthly SELT training and micro-learnings, and qualitative interviewing. In analyzing and visualizing this data, we focused on practices and challenges of the current recruitment process.
Additionally, we had the opportunity to be participant observers at the SELT Lead monthly trainings in October (in person) and November (online), where we collected and compared field notes. We were also participant observers at a SELT coach planning meeting and a microlearning session. As we observed in these meetings we followed an observation guide centered on differences in how certain participants spoke about the recruitment process, common challenges and successes regarding recruitment, and which steps of the recruitment process, such as marketing, applications, or selections of roles, were brought up. Following these meetings we were provided with meeting feedback forms given to SELT leads after every monthly SELT training and microlearning. In order to analyze and pull out key themes, we created a codebook to code these feedback forms, and summarized our data into findings.
A primary part of our research process also included qualitative interviews, where we got authentic and detailed accounts from SELT leads and coaches regarding their experiences in recruitment. Our interviews consisted of the SELT lead or coach’s involvement in the SELT team, largest challenges faced during recruitment, and effective advice and support received from SELT coaches. We also got insight on what a lead’s ideal SELT team would look like. We interviewed 3 SELT leads and 3 SELT coaches throughout November across different schools and teams. When analyzing these interview transcriptions we used our codebook to again pinpoint key aspects of our research question.
What We Found
To remind us of our research questions, we asked, 1) What are the greatest challenges of SELT leads in the recruitment process? and 2) What has been or could be the most helpful support from RE-Center coaches and school administration?
We found that SELT leads, many of whom were teachers, faced many obstacles in recruiting their colleagues. Our findings revealed that those obstacles were a lack of adequate time, lack of administrative support, and colleagues lacking a shared understanding of equity and racial justice with SELT leads.
“I didn't have as much time as I thought I would have, so I really can't give this role the time and attention it deserves.” - Lead [Interview]
“Everybody always thinks there's not enough time, but there is. It's about putting it on the calendar and not saying, ‘we have to meet,’ but ‘we are meeting.’” - Lead [Interview]
A key theme that emerged from the interviews, participant observation and feedback forms was that many SELT leads felt that timing is a large issue for them, especially considering many were at different stages of the three steps in recruitment. Lack of time prevented recruitment and recruitment strategies from developing. For example, instead of being at the point in the recruitment process that the RE-Center had initially planned for, some teams were still building up their individual teams in their schools. Therefore, the number of members on SELT teams varied from large successful groups, to others only having three people on their team. Leads mentioned that not having their time compensating prevented people from getting involved. Leads also brought up that they either didn’t have the time for adequate planning with their fellow leads, or were having trouble with recruiting because people don’t make time to get involved.
When speaking with a lead in a small school, she explained that they don’t have the capacity to take on multiple projects. Another lead also mentioned physical space, and how because their office is so far from their fellow SELT lead, it’s hard to have conversations and effectively build their SELT team. The SELT guide suggests for recruitment the steps of making a description of the role, marketing and promotion, then application and selection. However, because many leads are having difficulty finding ways to have conversations with various parts of the community, provide compensation for additional time needing to be spent on SELT, or getting time allotted for the teams to meet, recruitment is stunted. This places many of the SELTs in both the description of the role and marketing/promoting part of recruitment as described by the SELT guide.
“Administrators are committed to showing their schools in a good light. I think that colors the conversations in downplaying any concerns.” -Coach [Interview]
Another common challenge expressed by SELT leads and coaches is that they do not feel adequately supported by the administration in their school due to lack of attention, compensation and provided resources. Rather, it feels as though administration views the SELT as another project to take on, which undermines the importance of the SELT. Without the administration's support, projects like these have a hard time developing. A SELT lead said their administration typically views the SELT as another project on top of all their other responsibilities. Support from administration would also open up the door for opportunities of greater compensation, professional development training, and consistent meeting times, which would support SELT leads in recruiting other SELT members.
“Equity is not the lens in which all SELT leads teach. Until that shift happens, change is going to be stunted.” - Coach [Interview]
Finally, many SELT leads said that they experience staff pushback due to lack of common ground and full understanding of racial equity in terms of the SELT’s work. SELT leads reported that both within their schools and in their SELTs, there is a lack of common ground on issues of race. Many leads expressed colleagues being hesitant to talk about race or feeling “called out,” as opposed to an opportunity to learn and advance the experience of students of color in their classrooms and school. SELT leads also discussed fellow teachers being race evasive and color blind because of what they’ve been taught. Consequently, they felt that their colleagues didn’t understand the importance of the SELT, and therefore were hesitant to be recruited. Additionally, SELT leads expressed that this lack of common ground and equity focused work can even be missing amongst fellow SELT leads, making it difficult for the teams to establish further. Many SELT coaches furthered this by expressing that they often must reinforce the language and definitions surrounding race, such as race evasive and co-conspirator, to their SELT leads.
To get through these challenges, we found that SELT leads reported that consistent coach meetings, RE-Center training/modeling, and staff training/professional development from RE-Center and school building administration have been or could be most helpful in aiding them through establishing their SELTs.
Consistent Coach Meetings
Q: What has been the best advice that you have gotten from your coach?
“That you can’t move everybody… [My coach] said okay, you’re going to have 20% of your folks who are never going to get on your side… the 60% that are in the middle are the ones that you can work on. And that was probably the most freeing thing [my coach has] said” - SELT Lead [Interview]
Firstly, leads expressed that consistent individualized meetings with their coaches have been and would be beneficial in supporting the work of SELT leads. When we looked at the feedback forms, this was the most requested support with 25% of all responses (19 of 76). By having these meetings, the coaches, professionals in the work of racial equity, could give effective advice on the challenges SELT leads face along the way, like those explained above — even being reminded that the leads are human can go a long way because so many of these teachers have multiple roles in their schools.
Modeling by RE-Center
“The resources are great but seeing them brought to life and absorbing the methods by which they’re brought to life are what truly prepares us to be SELT leads.” - SELT Lead [Interview]
Like coach meetings, training sessions led by RE-Center (coaches) provide models that also provide knowledge to prepare leads. Through SELT training meetings, leads see activities in real time which allows SELT leads to see other equity leaders in action. The training meetings discuss and carry out activities involving racism, oppression, and inequity in ways that make these concepts clearer for leads. In turn, this strengthens leads’ ability to carry out their own discussion and activities involving those themes in their own SELTs or in interactions with colleagues and community members. When leads notice what works for them, they can be confident in what could work for others. Coaches build capacity in leads, then leads can build capacity in SELT members, so SELT members can build capacity in their school – achieving the mission of SELTs!
Staff Training/Professional Development (PD)
“How can we get this work off the ground with so many other initiatives?... It would help if the district incorporated time in our PD schedule to devote time to this work.” -SELT Lead [Feedback Form]
Now, switching gears to how building level administration can support the work of SELTs, leads often requested staff training and more professional development (PD) days to educate school leaders, teachers, and staff. This is why it’s important to have the administration support the work, because they have the power to make sure social justice and equity is a priority in their schools, especially when serving historically excluded students. As we mentioned before, timing was a significant challenge, but the admin can make sure that time is built into the school's plans/PDs to educate teachers on racial justice. How can school leaders support their community if there is no common understanding of a racial justice? How will they effectively support the voices of students, family, and community? School leaders don’t need to have the same political views, but SELTs should at least be understood as a call for change for their students, not a call out to colleagues – staff training, prioritized and carried out by administration, can improve that.
What this means for RE-Center
Our research established a series of implications and suggestions for RE-Center as they expand the recruitment process of the teams. This includes continuing to provide training and consistent meetings with coaches, and further emphasizing timing, common ground, and administration/school support that is detailed in the SELT Guide recruitment process. Due to both the challenges and support needs expressed, RE-Center should consider reevaluating the expected timeline of recruitment. Additionally, RE-Center should continue to use its agency and influence to build stronger relationships with district and school administration. Our research indicates that for SELTs to be successful, RE-Center, or any outside consultants in a district, need to have access to administration to push their learning and development as well, often by way of coaching and training similar to that of the SELT leads.
Future research could consist of exploration of how to make the SELT framework non dependent on RE-Center and individuals. Because currently SELT leads lack sufficient support, RE-Center could examine best ways to connect SELTs and school building administration. This would be valuable research because our findings found that this relationship must be further developed and could have a tremendous impact on the establishment of the SELTs. Additionally, because the SELT Guide hoped to get more than just school staff on the teams, further investigation on the recruitment process, and especially on how to effectively recruit families and students, would be valuable.
Jessica is a Filipina American from Chicago, studying at Trinity College (Class of ‘26) to become an educator and advocate.
Linnea is a Black American student from Evanston, studying at Trinity College (Class of ‘26) to pursue a career in social justice advocacy and law.