Equity

The Power That We Hold

Lacey Robinson, Chief of Program and Engagement at UnboundEd, joined us at the 2018 Leading Educators Institute to share a version of her influential keynote, “Footlocker and Fridays.”  During the 50-minute address, Lacey shares the story of Shiloh, a former student of who dreamed of being a teacher. Past tense.

Using Shiloh’s story as an anchor, Lacey unpacks the systemic roots of oppression and racism that limit the opportunities of students of color and students in low-income environments. She challenges educators to understand their role in creating reparations in our schools through rigorous instruction.

Watch below:

More About Lacey Robinson:

Lacey Robinson has more that 20 years in education as an educator, principal, and staff development specialist with a focus on literacy, equity, and school leadership. As chief, program and engagement, Lacey is responsible for engaging with external partners including collaborators in the K-12 education space as well as district and system leadership to support standards-aligned, content-focused adult learning and professional development.

She oversees key design and execution elements for primary external UnboundEd service offerings, including Communities of Practice (CoP) and Standards Institute (SI) and the national programs. Previously, Lacey was the senior director of implementation for the national Transforming Teams program at New Leaders, a nonprofit that trains aspiring and current school leaders. Lacey is certified in facilitative leadership and has served as a staff development specialist nationally and internationally, most recently working with the Medical School of Rwanda on organizational and change management.

What Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Mean for Teaching

Dr. G.T. Reyes joined us at the 2018 Leading Educators Institute to share his perspective on the "why" behind diversity, equity, and inclusion and what they mean for teacher practice.  Dr. Reyes argues that we need to dismantle systems and structures that were designed to exclude in the first place to create schools where all students can succeed.

More About Dr. G.T. Reyes

Settling in modern-day East Oakland, which is ancestral land to the Huichin Ohlone, Dr. G.T. Reyes is a community-engaged scholar-artist-organizer.  His work is grounded in a commitment to the empowerment of young folks, teachers, school leaders, and cultural workers to value their ancestral traditions while radically imagining and building capacity in ways that can transform their own realities. As an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership for Social Justice program at California State University, East Bay, he recognizes and honors the native Yrgen land where the city of Hayward settles upon while seeking to be an active part of cultivating a program that has liberatory potential and power within local communities.  His approaches to educational leadership and critical research is rooted in socio-cultural traditions that decenter whiteness and coloniality.

He has worked as a teacher and school leader in K-12 schooling, as an educator and organizational leader in youth development, and as a teacher education and teacher development scholar in higher education.  Some of his work as a public intellectual and community-engaged scholar investigates Critical, Humanizing, Culturally, and Politically Determined pedagogies and teacher development; Principled, socioculturally-grounded, values-centered, purpose-driven educational leadership and organizational development; Participatory Action Research and problem of practice inquiry; Art, digital media, and Hip Hop as critical race counter-storytelling; Critical, anti-oppressive, and humanizing frameworks of social and emotional learning; and English Language Arts as liberatory education.

In addition to his work at Cal State East Bay, he is a founding school designer for the forthcoming Homies Empowerment Community High School.  He completed his Post Doctoral Fellowship from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, Society, and Culture in Education at the University of California at Berkeley.  

#PracticeMakesPossible: What I Learned at the Leading Educators Institute

Raye Wood is a teacher leader at Burton Elementary School in Greater Grand Rapids.  She is entering her thirteenth year in the classroom, and she completed her Doctorate of Education last spring.  She is a huge advocate for amplifying teacher voice and often blogs about her experiences in the classroom and beyond.

Wow.  Where do I begin?  How can I share with you—through mere words—the energy, the passion and the thirst for change that was the Leading Educators Institute?

I am changed in a way that I did not realize I could still be changed, and I expect that I will be forever grateful.  I’ve been in the classroom for twelve years, and I am hardly new to professional learning. But in just a few short days, I experienced a new kind of learning  that challenged my perspective, changed my expectations, and validated what I know our students need. How amazing is that?

My school was part of the first Leading Educators cohort from greater Grand Rapids.  Having finished my first year at our school as well as the intense process of writing a doctoral dissertation, I joined our school team this spring and attended LEI with the new cohort.  So, there I was with a group of people, many of whom I had never met, walking into four absolutely life-changing days. This group of new friends validated the beliefs I hold and walk with daily, they challenged some of those beliefs with great care, and they helped me stretch my perspective and ways of thinking. Because of them, I am more reflective, more passionate, and even more dedicated to the work I do every day.  Every teacher deserves that gift.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Because my colleagues began leading Leading Educators’ model of content learning and practice at our school last year, I came into the week with the experience of a teacher who has seen the end result of LEI first-hand.  Though, I had already experienced Content Cycle protocols and workshops last year, I gained a deep appreciation for the work having experienced the planning process at LEI.  Everything I was unclear about before burst forth in one large A-HA moment. That in and of itself is powerful. Now, as a “Lead Learner”, I can’t wait to use my content knowledge and passion alongside my colleagues to make our school more equitable for every single child who enters our doors.

  • We had some absolutely amazing guest speakers.  At times, I was moved to tears (in my eyes as well as on my cheeks if we are being totally honest) because I see the mistakes so many of us have made with the best of intentions. I often say, “You don't know what you don't know.”  And LEI showcased some of that. Our keynote speakers admitted to having made mistakes because we all do. Imagine standing before an entire room of educators and admitting that you helped perpetuate false narratives around students of color. That takes serious heart and vulnerability, and it pushed all of us to own our impact.  Dr. GT Reyes noted that you don't have to be the teacher of the year to make a difference, and it made my heart sing.

  • On Thursday, we heard from Lacey Robinson from UnboundEd.  To hear her speak in person was amazing. Again, she boldly shared that she know she has messed up.  To admit that in front of a community of teachers who she didn't know was powerful and brave. One quote really stuck with me: “We have to get past what makes us feel good and do what is right by our students.”  

I look back at my first few years of teaching from my current vantage point and I can see the mistakes I was making. At that time, I used the knowledge that I had and did what I thought was right (Leveled library, anyone?). Once you know you are making the wrong moves and you work toward changing them, you are growing. It is when you know you are making wrong moves but you keep doing what you've always done that we have a problem. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to push through that discomfort because it is what will fuel the most important shifts in our practice.

Truly, it's hard for me to fully express how much I appreciate the opportunity to experience LEI in this way. And now when I go back to my school in August as a “Lead Learner”, I'm going to work hard to remember that many of my colleagues don't have the benefit of having the "back story" of the work we are trying to do. I'm going to push for our team to really take a step back for a moment and re-invest ourselves in the bigger picture. To  do our best by students, I fully believe that we have to work together in a way that pushes our thinking, challenges our biases and the false narratives we have inadvertently carried with us, and strive to make education truly equitable for every child regardless of their status, ethnicity, gender, race, welfare, or zip code.

Together, I am certain that we can improve education for all kids.

4 Ways To Celebrate Women Educators

It’s International Women’s Day, and we at Leading Educators are especially thankful for the generations of women educators who have changed the world by cultivating self-discovery and growth inside and beyond the classroom.  We celebrate the countless women activists—such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Malala Yousafzai, and Sylvia Mendez—who have advocated for the universal human right to education. By championing the potential in all of us, these women have been the backbone of social progress for centuries.  We challenge you to join us in honoring them today and every day through concrete actions:

  1. Prioritize women’s opportunities for professional growth.  The Department of Education estimates that there are 3.8 million public school teachers in the United States, and about 2.9 million of those teachers are women.  Prioritizing professional growth means prioritizing women's advancement. Teachers need consistent, school-based opportunities to reflect on the realities of their context and develop their skills and knowledge in collaboration with others.  At the same time, teacher leadership strategies can create more systemic entry points to leadership and influence. By building structures that position and prepare women educators to both lead others and refine their teaching, schools can grow new leaders and energize teaching and learning in every classroom.  More and better learning benefits all of us.

  2. Advocate for women—especially women of color—to have greater agency in district and school leadership positions.  While women make up more than three-quarters of the U.S. teaching force, they hold only 30 percent of school and district administration roles (Department of Education, 2016).  This imbalance contributes to larger trends of pay disparity, perceived social status, and inequitable career advancement seen in American society as a whole. Research suggests that organizations with more women in senior leadership positions are more successful (Dawson, Kersley, Natella, 2014).  Creating opportunities for women to lead is good business.

  3. Recognize the role that systemic bias plays in accomplishing or derailing change. The perspective of women leaders is critical when focusing on the most direct ways to address the opportunity gap.  We know from our work with districts that effective school transformation strategies must be grounded in what and how students learn—a capacity where women currently have the most experience and influence.  Under-representing women in decision-making roles that affect instruction unintentionally excludes valuable insights into what students and teachers need to increase student success. Even more, we know that students of color are most likely to be taught by white women, so larger systemic shifts are necessary to ensure that hiring managers recognize and counteract institutional biases that prioritize creating formal and functional opportunities for women of color to drive change.

  4. Lift up the experiences of women of color, trans women, and undocumented women. There is no single “woman’s experience,” so it’s important that those with influence recognize and honor the diversity of experiences lived by women educators.  Teaching is an inherently dynamic and demanding profession, and the reality that life is intersectional means that simply being a person comes with other layers of stressors.  From the institutional perspective, policies for pay and work-life balance have long perpetuated systemic privileges for white women, so it is important to identify within-gender disparities and advocate for solutions that take these important differences into account.  Approach your support for women educators with the same kind of intersectional equity orientation that you expect for students. In the words of Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Have more ideas to add to this list? We would love to hear them at @leadingeds!

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Take Action to Protect Dreamers

Like many of our peers in education (Chiefs for Change, Houston ISD, Boston Public Schools, Oklahoma City Public Schools), at least five former U.S. Secretaries of Education, and millions of Americans, we were stunned by the Trump administration's decision this week to eliminate protections for 800,000 DREAMers.  As a nationally-focused organization that works in a range of urban contexts to advance socially just teaching, we know many of the teachers and students who bring their talents and stories to the learning communities we serve are DREAMers: undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children by parents who wanted their families to join in the promises of the American Dream.  Through our direct support to school systems and teacher leaders, we work to cultivate equitable classroom environments where each student and teacher’s experiences are affirmed and celebrated so that, the moment they step foot in a classroom, their minds are  focused on working to harness their limitless potential.  Denying DREAMers the protections afforded through DACA creates inhumane chaos and directly challenges their opportunity to thrive. This decision affects us all and requires our persistent attention.

Much of the conversation since last Tuesday has focused on the qualities and contributions of DREAMers: 700,000 DACA recipients are in the workforce and pay taxes, 45 percent of DACA recipients are currently in school, 100 percent of DACA recipients have not committed a felony or other serious crime.  Yes, these facts negate baseless economic and security justifications for ending DACA, but the reality is that there’s an even more important rationale for keeping and expanding the protections of DACA: DREAMers are humans. They are our friends, our neighbors, our students, and our colleagues.   They live and work alongside us every day, adding beauty and richness to the social fabric of the only country they have ever known. Listen to some of their stories.  They have upheld their promises to meet the requirements set forth by DACA, so it is our responsibility to ensure that our nation upholds its promise to them by demanding a permanent legislative solution.  

So, as educators who work with and alongside DREAMers, what can we do?

  • Build knowledge: Several education organizations including Educators for Excellence, the American Federation of Teachers, Stand for Children, Teach For America, and the Education Trust are hosting a tele-town hall on Tuesday, September 12 to share stories, take your questions, and provide information about opportunities to support undocumented students in your classroom and beyond.  You can register here.

  • Help students and parents understand their rights: Many districts have policies in place to prevent immigration officers from entering a campus without special authorization.  Research your school or district’s policy and provide accessible materials such as these from Remezlca.  

  • Support DREAMers in renewing DACA by October 5: Individuals whose DACA expires between September and October have until October 5 to renew for 2-years.  Once a person’s DACA has expired, they will not be able to re-apply.  United We Dream provides more information here.

  • Amplify DREAMer voices:  Brave individuals like Leslie Arreanza and Jose Gonzalez are using their personal stories to challenge misconceptions and build momentum for Congressional action.  Seek out opportunities to learn from their first-hand experiences as you have conversations with those around you.

  • Contact your Congressional Representatives: Direct appeals from constituents have been a powerful force in driving congressional action this year.  Platforms such as this tool from FWD.us make it easier than ever to make your voice heard.  It takes less than 1 minute to sign the petition AND get on the phone with your representative’s office.

We commit to taking action, and we value your partnership and accountability in doing our best for our undocumented students and peers.  Will you join us?

Bonus: Watch this powerful statement from Superintendent Ricardo Carranza of Houston Independent School District.

Owning the Work of Dismantling Racism

Dear Friends of Leading Educators:

Like you, I’ve been taking some time to process the heinous acts of white supremacist terrorism in Charlottesville earlier this month. While news cycles plow forward, my thoughts are still with the people of that city and with everyone feeling the ongoing pain inflicted by persistent systems and acts of white supremacy. For many of you reading this, the events in Charlottesville were not at all surprising; for many others, they served as a wake-up call to delve more deeply into understanding white supremacy at the personal and systemic levels. No matter where each of us may be on our journeys toward understanding and ultimately disrupting the effects of systemic racism, it is important for us to individually and collectively continue to engage.  

It is with that in mind that I wrote to the Leading Educators’ staff shortly after the tragic events in Charlottesville and shared reflections from some of our teammates, each of us calling on each other to recognize the privilege and responsibility we all have to say and do something. We shared our thoughts on how the unabashed parade of hatred and bigotry we saw in Charlottesville is but a symptom of larger systemic oppression that has targeted people of color since this country’s founding. Following the example of counter-protesters who took action in the face of hate (including a great many educators), we are steadfast in our belief that we must be even more committed to owning our personal responsibility to dismantle white supremacy in our institutions - be they nonprofits like Leading Educators or the school districts from which our students and families rightfully expect excellent, bias-free education.

As CEO, I am thinking about how we as an organization move beyond simply talking about systemic racism internally and in our work with teachers, schools, and districts. First, we know we don’t have all the answers, so we are looking to our friends and colleagues for resources and reflections to spark the necessary and difficult conversations.  Here are a few from TNTP, Education First, and Facing History and Ourselves that we have found valuable. Thank you to you all.

Next, we are focusing our efforts on tangibly addressing our own institution’s systemic racism using readings like this. Informed by a cross-functional, diverse Equity Working Group, we are creating better systems to foster collaborative and inclusive approaches to our work. To ensure that we have the knowledge and skills needed to align all of our work to diversity, equity, and inclusion principles, we are engaging in cycles of professional learning about issues of equity in small groups and developing affinity groups. To be sure, we, like so many others in our sector have a long way to go as illustrated in this report from the New Schools Venture Fund and Promise 54.  

Our curriculum features teaching for social justice as a core component, and we will continue to collaborate with our partners around learning systems that maintain high expectations through a rigorous curriculum. All children can and deserve to grow without the shadow of bias limiting their opportunity to experience the joy of learning and to reach their fullest potential.

Additionally, we continue through partnership with experienced, diverse educators to adapt our programming to ensure that our work results in students learning in safe, equitable schools alongside teachers who acknowledge and control for their biases. This work by individual educators is hard but powerful, and it requires teachers to commit to walking a long, shared journey over time. In this video from our summer institute, several teachers speak to the emotional impact of this processing and the implications they see for their instructional practice moving forward. We are hopeful about the conditions we can collectively build for students to discover and harness their full potential. In order to do so, however, we must push for educators to see the necessity of their own personal growth - coupled with explicit conversations that bring about further awareness of identity and racial equity.

We know there is even more we can do, and we are inspired to take action with you.  Please take the time to share what you, your schools, and/or your organizations are doing to seek out opportunities to learn together.

With care and solidarity,

Jonas Chartock

CEO, Leading Educators

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress/AP