When I was a kid growing up, I could pretty much count on having the same students in my class year after year. I was in the ‘middle’ track of learners. We were labeled and sorted into groups, and locked there throughout our school career.
When central office leaders spend time as guest teachers, we are better positioned to learn about and address the ins and outs related to systemic equity in the district we lead.
And here is where the reminders of my imperfections as a leader come in. Each weekend as I strive for sharp, rigid lines in my carpet, I am also reminded of my desire for more linear methods of delegation, more definitive processes for decision-making, and more precise organizational systems to help me accomplish the short and long term goals I’ve established for myself as a leader, and for our district as a whole.
It’s been years since that article came out, but I can recall the sentiment with great clarity. It left an imprint on my memory, as it was the first time I had ever experienced such strong emotions as a professional.
I’ve worked my entire career to be inclusive and equitable; to promote a culture of emotional and physical safety for students and adults. So I have to believe that changes geared toward helping all students and adults feel a sense of belonging, connection, and meaningful engagement in our schools are better achieved by being for something rather than against.
Occupying the back seat is conveying your desire to dismantle age-old rules of etiquette and blaze new trails. It’s about sending a distinct message about your style of leadership, and your desire to ensure a level playing ground for ideas and creative insight. Finally, it’s about expressing a leadership philosophy that demonstrates shared importance and a willingness to set ego aside for the betterment of the group.
I’ve experienced how our system can stack the deck against folks who are already struggling to get by, making it nearly impossible to ever escape the conditions that confine and shatter them. I’ve made it my life’s work to help open doors, windows, and other crevices of hope for those burdened by the failures of systemic injustice. I came to realize over time that I could be an agent of change; that I had capacity and untapped potential to make a difference for those who feel disenfranchised.
As school districts embark to support inclusive school cultures, it is paramount to make sure inclusion is part of the overall strategic plan. Like students, employees want to feel included, heard and valued, and they will go above and beyond if the essential need of belonging is met. Yet in my experience working with school districts across the country, I’ve noticed key employees left out of important discussions and decisions related to systemic change.
Ensuring all students are successful in school, requires a foundation of trust, caring, and support from which to build. Our schools need to be places where students and staff want to be, and where they see themselves and their contributions as valuable and important. Being a leader and champion for all students means just that; ALL students. As a leader concerned with equitable outcomes for all students, our core values should drive our decisions and help us stay true to this belief. It is this unwavering commitment that can inspire others to do the same, promoting a spirit of inclusion and equity that drives success for all.
People label others all the time. Labeling is a tool we use to help us grapple with difference and with our environment. Our labels can also influence what we see. The long-term consequences of labeling a child “smart” or “slow” can be profound. Labels that have to do with ability, class, race, or skill often shape the expectations of educators and can have lasting effects.