June 19, 2020
Stop, Look, and Listen
Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.
I think of myself as a person who is open minded and concerned for the well being and prosperity of all teachers and learners. In my tenure, I collaborated with others in large and small school districts to provide equitable access to gifted courses; ensured that the neediest learners received the best teaching by revamping the ways we assigned classes and schedules; used my position as leader of Federal and State Programs to allocate Title I funds providing for equity, revised student discipline to be fair and restorative, took a deep dive into grading practices and made changes. I have an optimistic outlook that with advocacy and deliberateness, we can move this nation and its systems, practices, and policies to welcome diversity, insist on equity, and demand inclusion. Change is the work of leaders. In today’s world, business-as-usual thinking and behaving is unacceptable. Exemplary leaders know they must transform the way things are done. We showed that we could make things happen with COVID. We must take that same urgency now and act. Change requires that leaders actively seek ways to make things better–to grow, innovate, and improve. First, though, we must stop, look, and listen.
3 Big Ideas
- Stop. Do not do things that perpetuate racist policies and practices and when you see or hear of it, you must show leadership by insisting that it stop. Stop defending. Stop interrupting. Stop ignoring. Stop supporting by not acting. It’s appropriate to examine what we do and how we do it through a lens of race and gender and where we find disparity, we must move to change. “Once we know better, we must do better,” said Maya Angelou. My graduate students will attest that I ask each of them to look at their school/district mission, vision, and core beliefs. From there, they start to look for concrete examples of where they see these ideals in action. Unfortunately, most of them report not seeing many of them, leading me to ask, “Does all really mean all or does all mean some?” That leads to somber faces and opens the door for conversation. Holding high expectations for students is a common mantra that helps set a bar for achievement and performance. But when all really means all, but those kids, we are overtly continuing the system we set out to improve. By looking for and at discriminatory grading and homework policies and practices, we can replace those harmful ways with supportive and just measures. “How Teachers Are Changing Grading Practices With an Eye on Equity” by Katrina Schwartz and Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman are two great places to begin. The latter is filled with samples and examples of equitable practices being used today in large and small schools, elementary and high schools, public and independent. The book is an important read and makes a perfect faculty book study when followed with action.
- Look. When looking around, look for your bias and those of people around you and ask, “How can we put an end to this harmful injustice?” Sadly, we don’t have to look far for ample evidence of failures and injustices. It is not enough to call out bias: we must correct it. In The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, leaders are asked to clarify their values. Identify those fundamental beliefs that will guide decisions and actions along a path to success and significance. That journey is a highly personal one and is essential. Take a deep look inside and then share those values with those around you. A common understanding of shared values emerges from process, not pronouncement; unity comes through dialogue and debate, followed by understanding and commitment. We must hold ourselves and others to the shared values. I saw this compelling and disturbing video on TV one evening and have not been able to get it out of my mind. I knew it would find a place in EmpowerED 3-2-1. This Proctor and Gamble ad titled “P&G: The Look” is about a Black middle-aged man doing things like being a dad, grabbing a bite to eat, reading, shopping for a suit, and other seemingly ordinary things. The “Look” is real and powerful and awful. We must check ourselves as we look around. I know wearing masks makes the smile harder, but we all smile with our eyes too. The graphic below using The Giving Tree cover, was retweeted by Kayla Alexander @kjalexan40 and sourced to Tony Ruth @lunchbreath. I love that it includes “Justice” by straightening the tree, aka fixing the system.
- Listen. Sergio Pecanha’s Sunday June 7, 2020 Washington Post opinion piece, “I Can’t Breathe” shows how our work at eradicating racist policies is just beginning. Further, the protests and marches are opportunities. My 13-year old son read Pecanha’s piece and had a lot of questions. It was a great continuation of many, many conversations about, prejudice, privilege, policing (my nephew is a policeman in a large city) and about how the conversations parents have differ depending on race. I am proud that his favorite authors are Jason Reynolds and Jewell Parker Rhodes. Whenever he reads for pleasure, he chooses a book of fiction or nonfiction that helps him deepen his understanding and resolve to make the world better. Here are a few of his chosen summer reads.
It pains me that his best friend’s parents must have different conversations than we do. Nothing brought that home quicker than two pieces from current superintendents in two school districts in which I worked that echoed a conversation I had with Thomas’s dad and mom. My son has stood in solidarity with him and has been his ally. Mostly, though they are friends who talk about airplanes, sports, math class, and probably girls. I hope at some point they talk about race. Dr. Donald Fennoy, Jr. Superintendent of The School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, in Resources for Talking to Your Children about Racism speaks honestly and openly on Zoom with School Board members on a path forward. Likewise, Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools, Virginia, shares, Filling in the Blanks with Dr. Gregory Hutchings: I Can’t Be Quiet.
I still have an optimistic outlook that with advocacy and deliberateness, we can move systems, practices, and policies to welcome diversity, insist on equity, and demand inclusion. To be willing to change, people have to feel something. Thinking isn’t nearly enough to get things moving.
“We need to start somewhere, and we need to start today.”
– Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Superintendent Alexandria City Public Schools, Virginia
“The mind unlearns with great difficulty what it has long learned.”
– Seneca, the Roman philosopher writing to the citizens of Rome
What is your moral imperative realized?
“Moral Imperative” is based on Michael Fullan’s book, The Moral Imperative Realized; this short inspirational video is a reminder that school leaders, and principals must answer the call to drive the change our children deserve.
About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.
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