Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 3 – 2020-21
Beginning your own personal journey — let alone leading your school community — down the long road of achieving equity can be intimidating. It is difficult to know exactly the best way to start, let alone continue, so that as you begin to challenge the systems that have been in place for generations, you can do so confidently. Though starting and sustaining this work may seem daunting, you will start to fill your “toolbox” with resources that will assist in challenging yourself, the way you operate as a leader, and the systems you have control over.
Articulate to Yourself Your Rationale (Realize that there is an issue)
In understanding the best place to start for leading school equity, a great place to begin is with yourself and being clear as to the reason you want to start down this path. It is crucial that you are clear and resolute in your belief of this important work so you are able to communicate the vision to your stakeholders. In fact, it is entirely possible that your rationale is different from that of your colleagues; you may be aware of inequities within your school data and are seeking to eliminate the predictability of outcomes for your students. Others might say that it is our obligation to create and maintain systems that eliminate barriers and ensure that all students in our charge have the same access to success. All are correct, as part of your work is to know the different reasons your staff and families come to the table to work alongside you.
Listen to Your Community One of the best ways to identify the needs of the community you serve is to develop systems that allow for regular, transparent, and open communication with stakeholders who have historically not been given a voice or seat at the table to share their concerns. To build trust and relationships with the groups you are trying to understand, you will need to find ways to safely give different groups a voice they may not have had previously. One might start with different focus or affinity groups. You could offer a “Coffee and Chat” for families where you listen and seek to understand the concerns and barriers your families face. This could also be done with groups of students. It is a great opportunity to build a trusting relationship.
As you work to incorporate a broader variety of historically marginalized and underrepresented voices, the podcast, “Code Switch,” is a highly acclaimed and award winning resource that directly addresses race and is geared towards a general audience that you should consider putting into your regular listening rotation.
Whether you come from a place of privilege or not, talking about race is uncomfortable. It is difficult to hear things about your school or societal systems, especially if you did not have any control over those decisions or systems. Do not let that stop you from the work.
Where to Start with Leading School Equity
Learn as Much as You Can Part of understanding the challenges for the community you serve is to learn as much as you can about the historic barriers the underserved face. Then, seek to learn what it means to be an anti-racist. In doing this, you will be able to better identify your personal relationship with race and can use these perspectives to inform your journey. Quality books to include on any list might include: “So You Want to Talk About Race,” “The Guide for White Women who Teach Black Boys,” “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?,” “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” and “White Fragility.”
Learn How to Talk about Race Whether you come from a place of privilege or not, talking about race is uncomfortable. It is difficult to hear things about your school or societal systems, especially if you did not have any control over those decisions or systems. Do not let that stop you from the work. Lean into the discomfort. Rather than disengaging, learn a protocol to help you talk about race. “Courageous Conversations About Race” is a tool that can support you and your staff as you engage in these meaningful conversations.
Use Data to Drive your Next Steps If you are looking for quantifiable data that either you or your building leadership team can use to identify a baseline for the work you are beginning, an equity audit is a great tool to use. With an equity audit, your team will have clear data to identify barriers that currently exist that result in reduced access, engagement, and achievement for your students and community. You can then work that data into actionable steps for a School Improvement Plan that will result in higher levels of achievement for your students. There is a long list of free and for-a-fee equity audits that can be done with a simple search. The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium (MEAC) and Beloved Community are both organizations with quality tools to utilize. Equally important to recognize as part of this process are the stories families and students will share with you once they feel safe and trusting enough to do so. This qualitative data that may surface will reveal the things that need to change, but build understanding of the experiences that cause people pain.
Recognize You Are in the Journey for the Long Haul Know and accept that the work you are seeking to embark on is not quick. For lasting, sustainable change you cannot simply address equity in your school with a few professional development experiences. It is much too complex an issue. If it were that simple, we would have done it already, right? Rather, the work that you are looking to begin will need to continue beyond the next few years. Do it anyway. It will continue beyond your tenure at your school. Don't let that stop you. It is the right work and the time to begin is today.
It is the right work. It is hard work. Do it anyway.
Shaun Campbell
Associate Principal, Evergreen PS
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Ensuring School Safety, Engaging Families and the Community, Closing the Gap
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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2020-21