Roberto Germán [00:00]
Welcome to Our Classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto Germán. And Our Classroom is officially in session. Graces and Peace. Welcome to season two of Our Classroom. Grateful for the support that y'all provided throughout season one. It's been a little over a year now. We put up 34 episodes and we gonna keep this thing going. We're gonna get better and continue to explore all types of topics as it relates to education so that we can engage our audience in meaningful conversations. Today I'm gonna be talking about DEI diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Specifically talking to school leaders, offering tips for school leaders that are looking to start their journey in DEI work. Let's get it on. So, Lorena Germán and I recently published an article through Edutopia titled Four Tips for School Leaders Starting DEI Work. And this is really meant to encourage school leaders that really wanna get their hands dirty. They wanna dig in. Perhaps they don't know exactly where to start when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. And so, we wanted to break it down and offer you some simple steps to implement that we believe will help you to be successful. There's more to analyze. So, let's go ahead and dig in. Four simple steps here, right? So, the first step in moving towards equity and practicing inclusion celebrating diversity, and doing that authentic work, you have to hold up the mirror. You gotta look in the mirror. You gotta do your own work. You can't guide others in doing work if you haven't done the work yourself. And honestly, this is a critical step that a lot of people sometimes skip over. Why do they skip it over?
They're eager to get the work going. And being eager is good. Being enthusiastic is good. That's wonderful. But you can't skip steps here. You have to lay down the foundation. And so, you can't rush to do that work. Or sometimes they don't wanna look within, right? 'Cause sometimes we may hold up the mirror and see some things that we do not like, but it is essential. I can't stress it enough. It is essential that you do your own work, all right? You have to be able to go through it. You have to do that inward reflection. You have to unpack your own biases in order for you to then lead others in doing the same. Teachers often feel that school leaders are doing performative work because they use equity as a tagline in a one-off event or professional development sessions. And really what counts most is how you do things, not necessarily what you are doing. All right? How do you go about handling your business? How are you setting that example, right? You have to be a model in that. And so, a common barrier to getting started is facing the reality of having several priorities and so much to tackle at your school. We understand that many hats that you're wearing, much on the plate, everything needs to get taken care of. There's great demand, and yet this important work would definitely become a priority the minute your school ended up on social media, on the news because one of your teachers or another staff member did something racist or discriminatory. So, we have to keep this in mind and make sure we're doing the work and then encouraging and challenging others to do the work also, right?
This is a journey. There's trajectory in this. We're not gonna get there overnight, but we have to start by looking within. So that's step number one. Do your own work. Step number two, identify other school leaders who have done this work. Listen, folks, there are people doing the work. There are plenty of people that have done the work and there are plenty of resources available to you. So, you have to identify who are those individuals that can support you. That could talk you through situations that they've walked through themselves. That can give you wise counsel. That can challenge your thinking. That can process things with you. Identify those individuals. Build your network of people that would support you in this equity work, around this particular issue, who will dig deep into this context. And so, networking is essential. Join organizations and social media groups. Obviously, I'm gonna make a plug for subscribing to and joining and supporting a partner in with Multicultural Classroom, 'cause I think we do great work here but if it's not us, then wonderful. Identify the other wonderful organizations and individuals doing great work. You got the Red Clay Educators. You have Towanda Harris. You have folks like Dr. Kim Parker. Listen, Tricia from Disrupt Texts. So many wonderful people. Britt Hawthorne, Tiffany Jewell. I could keep going. Joe Truss, Brother Kwame Sarfo-Mensah. There's a lot of individuals you could resource to. And so, identify those individuals. Build your network. Tap into their thinking. Process different situations with them. All right? You don't have to do this alone, so don't stay on the island. Identify other school leaders who have done this work. All right? Follow them on social media. Connect with them offline. Connect with different folks at conferences. Put yourself in those spaces where you know that your iron is gonna be sharpened, right? We-- many of us know the saying, know the scripture, the biblical scripture, iron sharpens iron, right? And that's what we wanna do. We wanna continue to grow. We wanna continue to get better. We want to stay sharp as it relates to leading in this work of diversity, equity, and inclusion, right?
So again, step number two. Well, step number one was do your own work. Step number two, identify other school leaders who have done this work. Step number three, identify your school-based partners in this work. Identify your school-based partners in this work. You can be sure there are already individuals at your school wanting to do this work. Who are engaged in equity and justice-focused work. Who are those individuals? Do you know who they are? If not, keep your eyes open. Ask the questions. Listen carefully. Offer opportunities to engage in conversation with individuals who are gonna reveal to you what it is they're trying to do and how it is they wanna help and support. There's likely individuals who've been doing this work before you came along. Pick their brain. Have them share with you their understanding of how things have worked in the institution. Tap into that history, right? I think about different steps that I've been at different schools that I've been at. And it's always been an important practice for me to just listen. Especially in that first year. Like, hey, I'm not here to turn this whole thing around. Even if you hire me to turn this whole thing around, first I need to sit down and listen and learn from the individuals that have been there. I need to talk to the parents, to hear from the parents. I need to hear from the students. I need to hear from the alums, the staff members, and other stakeholders. Understand their perspectives. Understand where they're coming from. What they want to see for the school. Where is their alignment, right? Let's connect. Let's do some meet and greets. Let's build relationships. Let's engage in extracurricular events. Spill some momentum. Let's be present with one another. And definitely as a school leader, you wanna be present in these different spaces so you could feel it out for yourself. So, you could hear what's going on. So, you could understand what the vibes are. And then use that data to inform some of the decisions that you make, right?
That's critical. That's critical is just collecting that data, building those relationships, being in community, hearing from your stakeholders, and gradually building that team of individuals that are gonna be on the ground with you, moving the work forward, implementing these initiatives, building those partnerships. And so, when reaching out to your school community, you might fear being seen as lacking knowledge or the opposite, taking too strong of a stance. What's the alternative? Silence on the issue? If you are truly committed to the work, it's important to strive towards that goal. And so, it might require some boldness, some courage. But again, this is not something that you have to do alone. It's something you certainly have to model. But as you're modeling it will inspire others to walk with you, right? To journey, to partner, to build. And just keep in mind, this doesn't have to be done overnight, all right? Give yourself the grace and space to build those relationships as you identify your school-based partners in this work. So again, step number one for starting this DEI work. Do your own work. Step number two, identify other school leaders who have done this work. Step number three, identify your school-based partners in this work. And step number four, take tangible steps that will move you forward. Keyword, tangible, and forward. Those are two things that you wanna keep in mind. Sometimes we set goals that are unattainable. Come on folks, let's set some smart goals, right? Because even if I'm taking baby steps, I'd rather be taking baby steps than taking no steps or taking steps and then falling flat. No, I wanna be able to take steps that keep me on the path of where it is that I am trying to be. Where it is I'm trying to move the school community, right?
And so too often this working school becomes about a committee. You know, we've created the diversity committee. And, you know, they're gonna take the charge and lead in the work. But there's no real driver, committee falls apart boom, boom. Nah, nah, nah. We need this to be ingrained in what we do, right? Has to be like part of the fabric of this school. And so, we wanna think strategically about how it is that we can move things forward in a way that feels attainable and sustainable. 'Cause advancement is the goal. So, one school facing some major challenges. I recall identifying a critical issue of furthering inequities. And I was part of the problem. You know, I'm gonna admit, I-I-- there were things I was doing as a school leader and in which I didn't feel good and I was reinforcing behaviors and systems that were problematic. So, I had to think about like, what needs to change here? And so, some of the initial goals, once we're able to step back and identify these problems that we're seeing, right? Again, holding up that mirror as it starts with me, gotta look within. Once I was able do that, identify some initial goals. Some of those goals were: decrease the student's suspension rate by finding alternatives for student support. Partner with the district-based thought leader to create alternatives. And in a different context, Lorena was trying to help her school launch their anti-biased work. And her goals were the following: I identified two to three staff members who would engage in the work and establish a committee to share the labor and design next steps for impact. And so, starting these committees and communities within a school is no easy task, but it could surely be done and done well.
Again, you wanna think strategically. And it shouldn't be that the committee is taking over this work and is replacing the work of an individual or is replacing the work of the school leadership. Sometimes that happens, right? Will outsource work that really pertains to the school. Leadership will outsource it to the committee. And the committee already has, like, they each have their individual jobs and this is a volunteer thing and they don't have the time and capacity, right? And so, I'm saying that 'cause I understand that there's real tension there. There is space to have committees and whatnot. You have to simply think through what the function of the committee is, what the right number of individuals is to have on the committee. And also, like, how long do we need this committee for? And then what's next? And who becomes the driver of that? So, these are some of the things that are important to keep in mind. So, you wanna make sure that folks don't feel overwhelmed. You wanna make sure that you don't feel overwhelmed in this process, right? And so, remember, start small and focus on one task at a time. Don't work alone. Use the school community network that you build, right? Lean on them. Turn to the external experts when necessary, right? Is there a local organization that can support your school's work? In the case of one school, I worked with when I was in Massachusetts, Elevated Thought that was an organization we partnered with to use some art therapy for healing and identity building. I could think of plenty of organizations in the numerous schools that I've been at, but that-- the purpose is not for me to name all the organizations I've worked with in different schools. The purpose is for us to think through and particularly for school leaders to think through how it is they could start their work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Or maybe they have started, but you know, perhaps they had a shaky start. Or perhaps they need a restart. So, we want school leaders to consider these four tips when it comes to pushing forward initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I'll reiterate them. Do your own work. Identify other school leaders who have done this work. Identify your school-based partners in this work. And take tangible steps that will move you forward. I hope this breakdown has been helpful.
In season two, definitely gonna be carving out space and being more intentional about sharing tips, sharing insights, sharing case studies, reviewing certain scenarios that I've experienced firsthand or Lorena has experienced or people around us have experienced firsthand. Just 'cause we wanna make this as real as possible and we wanna offer tangible steps to different issues that surface within the educational experience, both in and out of the classroom. If you found these four tips for school leaders starting DEI work helpful, then be sure to share it with someone else who will also benefit. As always, your engagement in Our Classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show, and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto Germán.