What Revolutionary Movements Can Teach Us About Our Book Clubs
What Revolutionary Movements Can Teach Us About Our Book Clubs
In the weeks since the public lynching of George Floyd and racist killings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and numous others, much has been written about books. Particularly, which books to read, how to read them, who to read them with, and who to ask for which books to read. Additionally, writers and activists called out the triviality of white people in particular for reading as a response to Black death, a point discussed in detail in Tre Johnson’s article titled “When Black People Are in Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs.”
As folks that are both new and experienced with anti-racist movement work, it’s worth questioning--what is the role of reading in generating social change? In particular, how have previous anti-racist movements conceptualized the role of reading in relation to their movements?
Many prominent activist organizations have emphasized the importance of collective study--something often called political education. In order to join the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, for example, new members had “to attend Political Education classes as a Panther-in training and read two hours a day to stay abreast of the changing situations in the community and world.” Rather than positioning reflection as oppositional to action--something sometimes used to deride collective education projects---activist organizations often viewed these things dialectically, meaning that education should always inform action and vise versa.
Brazilian educational philosopher Paolo Friere used the term praxis to identify this intentional movement between action and reflection. Friere was deeply concerned with both progessive and revolutionary movements relying on propaganda and charismatic leaders to win the support of oppressed peoples. He tied the inclination towards centralization and authoritarianism that characterized many of the liberation movements of the 20th century to the failure of political programs to treat the oppressed as anything other than bodies and minds to be converted to the dogma of the struggle as efficiently as possible.
Friere was interested in building a movement not simply for the people or even by the people, but one in and of the people. The people, who Friere refers to as “the oppressed,” must develop their own critical consciousness and capacity to “name the world.” Only when the oppressed come to see their subjective experiences through the lens of “objective reality”--meaning through frameworks that describe how power functions in a society--could the oppressed build a movement and strategy for change that was truly transformative. In a period where people’s revolutions were often delivered--a tendency that made them both fragile and intransigent--Friere imagined a revolution that would be realized through action informed by reflection.
Though many national and international movements have headed Friere’s advice, revolutionaries and activists throughout time and space have differed on how exactly to balance action and reflection. Afterall, a tactic of the powerful often involves the use of endless fact-finding reports, investigative studies and even truth and reconciliation commissions to delay meaningful action. Additionally, social movements have often been stymied by what has been called (in admittedly ableist language) “analysis paralysis”--or the tendency to not take action because of the possibility of critique of any and all possible action.
Yet, running in the opposite direction towards action fails to insulate us from the trap of inadvertently reproducing dominant cultures and systems. An emphasis on action taking can lead people and movements to take ineffective action that they might have avoided had they understood the ways such action had failed in other places and times. Additionally, the action steps folks are often inclined to take are those that have been handed down from on high--things that, like voting and getting behind modest reform efforts, are sanctioned by the powers that be. Such actions not only often fail to deliver meaningful results, but often reinforce the functionality of the system itself. Those in power will gladly accommodate a minor reform initiative--whether it is mandatory anti-bias training in the workplace or making a statement condemning structural oppression--in order to absolve themselves from further action and have something to point to when accusations of harm or complicity in structural oppression inevitably reemerge.
More often than not, it is the white power structure that benefits the most from these types of reforms--for they frequently result in a return to relative social stability and teach all involved that the levers of change we have been granted--generally cast as our power to vote, consume and speak freely--are sufficient to create the just and equitable worlds of our imaginations. Audre Lorde warned against an overreliance on “the master's tools” or state-sanctioned approaches to creating change. W.E.B. Du Bois, who after moving from elistism to liberalism to socialism, applied for membership in the American Communist Party at the age of 93, writing “capitalism cannot reform itself--it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.”
So much has been written about the relation and tension between reform and revolution that it is practically its own genre in intellectual history. These debates are worth exploring in detail for those committed to anti-racism. In brief, however, these debates teach us that reforms should be carefully selected to shift power towards oppressed people. They teach us that we should be on alert for the elite power structure to claim these as evidence that the system does not need more fundamental transformation. They teach us that reading about these debates in the abstract can only take us so far and that answers will reveal themselves only through movement and action.
Finally, activists and writers such as authors Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun of “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture'' teach us that urgency is a learned impulse that often has its origins in white supremasist culture. The desire for urgent action constraints democratic decision making and often falls into the traps of taking action in the ways that are most familiar (and consequently seeped in dominant and white supremacist ideologies) that fail to propell movements forward. Additionally, overzealous action-taking often leads individuals and groups to target the most visible aspects of a problem at the expense of meaningfully engaging with its root causes. While there are certainly appropriate times to call for the resignation of people in power, such as police chiefs, university presidents and CEOs, strategies that simply remove leaders do little to change the systems of organizational hierarchy that often are generative of violence and racism.
Reading, then, inarguably has carved out its place in movements for social change. Reading groups must be attentive to how they are embodying praxis and be intentional about how they are balancing action and reflection. They must be grounded in the idea that, while it’s certainly good to commit to unlearning internalized patterns of dominance as quickly as possible, it is illusory to think that there is a point that one becomes sufficiently “prepared” to engage in collective struggle outside of these enclaves where “messing up” is low stakes. Reading must always accompany motion--for, in the words of Rosa Luxemburg, “history is the only true teacher, the revolution the best school.”
Reading groups must also notice and resist the ways that racial capitalism reconfigures our human impulse to understand and upend racialized violence into something palatable and even useful to the system as it is. This system will tempt you to make anti-racism yet another part of your personality you can purchase, import or project. The system will make anti-racism something you can get on a T-shirt at Target, something that fits into your consumer and voting patterns and goes well with wine and cheese at elite Ivory Tower gatherings. This system will itself read these books and reflect back to you a heavily redacted version of them on display in political speeches, in corporate advertisements and in our undemocratic and white supremacist workplaces. Revolutionary movements teach us to recognize appropriation, individualization and commercialization of movement values as the default reaction of a system incapable of meaningfully incorporating them.
The fact is that many of the book clubs folks find themselves in--especially white folks--likely don’t conceive of themselves as doing the type of “political education” the Black Panthers had in mind. Some of these folks resist stepping into a more radical approach to group study because they desperately seek to hold on to the perceived privileges, comforts and powers they hold in the world as it is. Some of these folks resist this radical orientation because they have been warned against so-called “extremism” their entire lives and have been spoon-fed the truism that the middle way is the safest, most rational and diplomatic way. Some folks resist a more radical orientation because their reading groups occur in the context of mandatory workplace initiatives and to push beyond the acceptable liberal discourses of racism could mean losing one's job, health care and source of income.
However, pointing out the limitations of these gatherings is not to dismiss them entirely. One thing revolutionary movements have taught us is that an ethic of comradely criticism--of critiquing the ideas and actions of others not to dismiss them but out of a desire to propel a struggle forward--is a vital ingredient to sustaining movement work. bell hooks offered criticism of the patriarchal and paternalistic elements of Friere’s work--something she did to push his thinking as what she termed a “comrade in solidarity.” This call out is not the kind of vitriolic cancelation we have become accustomed to that relies on the dominant carceral logics of disposability and punishment, but one that is additive, constructive and in motion. Most book clubs might be indulgent exercises in trying to feel less guilty about the state of the world--until they are not.
And though the revolution will not happen in living rooms (or, in our current reality, zoom-rooms) across the country, the seeds of revolutionary movement are often planted in surprising places.
If you’ve watched Hamilton in the last week, then you’ve learned that--regardless of how revolutionary you think the American Revolution may or may not have been--its foundational ideas and strategies were developed and debated in colonial taverns. The self-organized mutual aid societies built by Black folks in the South began as depoliticized community safety-nets and became incubators of radical visions for self-governance. The early working-class and Black women-led suffrage movement spread among middle and upper class white women largely via church sewing circles.
Self-organized groups of people can be benign and they can be transformative. While often comfortable and detached, they are ripe with possibility. When connected to radical traditions, they can propel struggle forward--they can be the seeds of fire that change the world.
By Lucy Griswold
Core Competencies to Lead for Equity
5 Core Competencies to Lead for Equity
Leaders with a focus on equity are needed now more than ever! But, what does it mean to lead for equity?
By Leslie Jiménez
Inequities have plagued our schools and districts for decades. Unfortunately, crises like the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbate them. According to estimates conducted by the NWEA Research team, on average students will return in the fall with approximately 70% of the learning gains in reading and 50% to nearly a full year behind in math relative to a typical school year (Kuhfeld & Tarasawa, 2020). Estimates are likely to be more severe for traditionally underserved students.
Unfortunately, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our Black and Brown youth are also suffering from the social-emotional impact of anti-Black racism, including seeing people like them unjustly treated and killed. To help our youth recover academically and heal from some of this trauma, leaders with a focus on equity are needed now more than ever! But, what does it mean to lead for equity? What does it feel like, look like, and sound like?
For the past two years, both as a doctoral candidate in the Education Leadership Program and most recently as a RIDES Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I explored these and similar questions through a combination of coursework, literature reviews, interviews, and experiences. Below, please find a summary of the top 5 core competencies present in individual equity-minded leaders, why they are important, and resources on how to implement them. In addition, I included resources for teams and organizations as we know that equity cannot be achieved by a sole individual but through collective impact.
1. Lead with your IDENTITIES.
Our identities affect our experiences, which in turn shape our beliefs and values, which influence the decisions we make, which impact the communities we serve- in other words, our identity impacts our leadership. Therefore, it is important to determine where you are in your identity journey so you can discover how your identities impact your perspectives, including how you relate to others, and to help uncover any hidden assumptions and biases you may hold.
To help guide you in your identity journey:
Complete a Paseo or Circles of Identity to capture elements of your identity that have helped shape who you are and how you interact in the world.
Create your own racial autobiography and explore how your earliest and most recent experiences and conversations about race, race relations, and racism may be impacting your current perspectives.
Review different racial/ethnic identity development models to assess what stage you are in your racial/ethnic identity development.
Watch videos such as Race: The Power of an Illusion to learn about the myths and misconceptions about race we all hold.
Create an Immunity to Change Map to identify and overcome hidden assumptions you may hold about yourself and others.
Use tools like the Implicit Association Test to help you uncover some hidden biases you may have.
As you continue to learn about yourself and your hidden assumptions and biases, engage in research, such as:
and especially of Black and Brown scholars, such as:
Angela Valenzuela’s Growing Critically Conscious Teachers: A Social Justice Curriculum for Educators of Latino/a Youth and Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring
In addition to the activities above:
Review different frameworks such as the Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multi-Cultural Organization to assess where you are in your anti-racism journey
Continuously engage in Courageous Conversations about race
2. Lead with your PERSONAL WHY AND VISION.
Your personal why describes your purpose. It is usually in the form of a story and describes why you do what you do. A vision statement reinforces your why by providing a clear direction as to what you do. A clear and compelling personal why and vision are necessary to motivate and mobilize others to join you in supporting equity work.
To draft your personal why:
Incorporate your learnings from your identity journey (#1 above) to draft your personal why/vision
Review frameworks such as Marshall Ganz’ Public Narrative and draft a story of self to describe why you have been called to serve.
In addition to the activities above:
Review literature such as Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and explore why your team/organization does what it does
Create and communicate a shared vision statement
3. Lead with your CORE VALUES.
Your core values provide insight into your beliefs and perspectives by highlighting what principles you value the most. They are especially important when it comes to making difficult decisions. By defining equity as one of your core values, you commit to ensuring that your decisions are focused on producing equitable outcomes specifically for those traditionally underserved.
To determine your core values:
Review your personal why and vision (#2 above)
Explore what values are meaningful to you
In addition to the activities above:
Implement an inclusive strategy to co-create organization-wide core values
4. Lead with the SUPPORT OF A STRONG NETWORK.
As highlighted by the testimonials of various prominent equity leaders and by various studies on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work, implementing equity work is emotionally, physically, and emotionally challenging (Harris, 2020). Therefore, as a current and future leader in equity, it is important to ensure that you are surrounded by a strong support network to help you stay grounded, to validate and affirm you, and to help you relax and rejuvenate, as necessary. Furthermore, you can leverage this strong network of support to mobilize communities and build coalitions, which is critical to advance equity work.
To build your strong network of support:
Explore and engage in what brings you joy and helps you feel grounded (e.g. singing, dancing, praying or just hanging out with friends and families)
Reach out to your confidants, especially when you need advice or just need affirmation
Revisit your personal why, vision, and core values (#2 & 3 above)
Engage in deep listening and humble inquiry and solicit input and feedback from those impacted, especially from those traditionally underserved and unheard
Recruit and mobilize allies/co-conspirators to help you amplify the work, especially in spaces that are not (traditionally) available to you
Connect with or join a community of practice with other leaders doing similar work for mentorship and support
In addition to the activities above:
Collaborate and partner with experts and other organizations conducting similar work in the field (e.g. Boston Public Schools, Cambridge Public Schools, San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools, National Equity Project, Teaching Tolerance, Undoing Racism)
Create conditions to foster psychological safety (Edmonson, 1999) and relational trust (Bryk, 2002) to create opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, especially across difference (e.g. roles, departments, identities)
Incorporate elements of adaptive leadership, such as the understanding that change is a gradual process, to help manage the difficulty, complexity, and messiness of conducting equity work
5. Lead with an EQUITY-BASED LENS.
To produce equitable opportunities and outcomes, you must explicitly lead with an equity-based lens. This means that all major decisions you make, policies you create and implement, and all systems and structures you operate are focused on producing equity; otherwise, you risk maintaining the status quo systems of oppression and injustice.
To lead with an equity-based lens:
Institute equity-based frameworks such as Boston Public Schools’ Racial Equity Planning Tool to ensure all major decisions are focused on producing equity
Use equity-based rubrics such as the Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol and the RIDES Progress Assessment to assess if equitable practices are consistently implemented
Review research and books, especially those of Black and Brown scholars, as referenced in core competency #1 above
In addition to the activities above:
Create systems and structures to hold everyone accountable to leading with an equity-based lens (e.g. institutionalize the use of an equity-focused planning tool, observation protocol, or assessment by all departments)
Summary: To lead for equity is challenging. You must be grounded in who you are, which is why knowing where you are in your identity journey and being clear about your personal why, vision, and core values is critical. You also must know when to reach out for support, which is why having a strong network is essential. Lastly, to lead for equity, you must explicitly lead with an equity-based lens and use tools that will hold you and others accountable.
Leaders with a focus on equity are needed now more than ever! We owe it to our youth, especially during these times when they are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the man-made pandemic that is racism. I hope this will be a valuable resource to current and future leaders like you in their fight to produce equitable opportunities and outcomes for all students, especially our traditionally underserved youth.
Leslie Jiménez is currently a doctoral candidate in the Education Leadership Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she is also a RIDES fellow. As a first-generation Mexican American from Compton, California who also aspires to be a superintendent of an urban school district, Leslie is continuously pursuing how to be a true equity-minded leader.
Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. New
York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Edmonson, Amy. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams.
Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.
Harris, B. (2020, Jan 16). Managing the toll of DEI work: The [diversity] struggle is real.
Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and
tactics for changing your organization and the world. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press.
Kuhfeld, M. & Tarasawa, B. (2020, Apr). The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can
tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement.
Positive Impacts of the New Normal and Making Them Stick
April 24, 2020
Positive Impacts of the New Normal and Making Them Stick
I’m hoping things will be back to normal someday.”
Nine-year-old Sasha’s reflection in the New York Times echoes sentiments from many students, parents, and educators seeking a return to normalcy during the coronavirus pandemic. With thousands of public and private schools in the U.S. shuttering their doors, many schools transitioned to alternative operations seemingly overnight. “This has pushed us to adapt very quickly, and whether it’s mindset, disposition, or just resources, not everyone has been able to make the switch successfully,” Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Bridget Terry Long commented in a recent interview with The Brookings Institution. How schools and school systems are failing to meet the needs of millions of U.S. students during the pandemic currently dominates conversations in the education sector.
Yet in a recent virtual panel presented by Bellwether Education Partners, education leaders explored another angle within this dialogue: the potential for positive change in a system that was failing to adequately and equitably serve students long before COVID-19’s arrival. For panelist Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, getting back to normal isn’t the goal. He explained, “This is a time to move into the 21st century aggressively […] A lot of the things that are going to happen as a result of what’s going on are not necessarily bad and could be an impetus" for innovation. Domenech’s comment suggests we think of pandemic-influenced schooling not as a disruption to our educational system, but rather as a transition within the life of the system to a new and better way of operating. But will the change stick?
To answer this question, we might look to the concept of imprinting. Arthur Stinchcomb* first introduced this idea to the organizational research field in 1965 when he described how organizations’ operating structures often date back to elements they adopted when they were founded. These elements reflect the values and social conditions present within the environment at the time of the organization’s founding. Even as that environment changes over the life of the organization, those structures remain “remarkably stable over time.” Applied to U.S. schools today that are rapidly innovating in response to COVID-19, Stinchcomb’s ideas suggest that a return to normal, or a reversion to traditional operating practices, is inevitable; schools’ 20th-century structures will be unwelcome hosts to emerging 21st-century strategies.
In recent years, however, researchers have expanded upon Stinchcomb’s claims and challenged the idea that imprinting only occurs at an organization’s onset. Marquis and Tilcsik suggest “windows of imprintability” can occur throughout an organization’s lifetime, making the organization sensitive to environmental influence particularly during “periods of organizational transition, upheaval, and instability.” I’ve heard educators around the U.S. describe COVID-19 as just that: an upheaval. One teacher put it to me best, “This pandemic has rocked my school to its core.” Comments like hers make me wonder if schools today, like the organizations Marquis and Tilcsik describe, could be forever changed by this pandemic’s influence. And I’m not simply talking about online learning becoming a common instructional practice. The change that most intrigues, and honestly excites me, is the change to how schools and school districts operate.
It is a change that Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS), is already seeing in her district. “Discussions that at one time took two months are now taking two days,” she shared during Bellwether’s April 9th panel when describing how leaders in her system are cutting through the bureaucratic red tape to iterate standard operating procedures “in the moment.” The system she describes is agile and far from how we would normally characterize a large district serving 80,000 students. Santelises detailed BCPS’ strategy as “starting with the user [student] first versus starting with the bureaucratic infrastructure” when imagining what pandemic-influenced schooling could look like. BCPS’ limited stores of technology meant they needed to think beyond what peer districts were attempting with immediate laptop distribution and district-wide online learning. Their user-focused solution was a creative collaboration with public access television to broadcast K-8 lessons into students’ homes daily. As BCPS plans for “recovery” in the 2020-2021 school year, Santelises and her team are imagining changes to the very foundations of school life: how instructional time is allocated and how highest-performing teachers across the district could be strategically reassigned to highest-need communities.
Changes like these challenge inequities that Santelises knows have long been present in BCPS but, as a result of COVID-19, are now “front and center.” At RIDES, we might describe these inequities as not only front and center, but also woven throughout every facet of a school. The RIDES Systemic Improvement Map illustrates this. The map’s concentric circles illuminate the overlap between the classroom (which includes students, teachers, and curriculum), the school (which includes systems, culture, leadership and partnerships), and institutional racism and oppression. RIDES believes such a perspective allows change-makers to facilitate a ripple effect, encouraging “isolated solutions” to “radiate outwards into long-term institutional change.”
Yet even with this roadmap from RIDES, we should not assume school transformation is inevitable. Making the changes stick requires we organize the people within schools to own and facilitate that change. For that, we can look to John Kotter’s “Eight Steps to Transforming Your Organization”:
Establishing a Sense of Urgency
Forming a Powerful Guiding Coalition
Creating a Vision
Communicating the Vision
Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
Institutionalizing New Approaches
While Kotter argues that all eight steps are essential, Step 8 seems particularly relevant to this blog post’s wonderings. Kotter writes, “Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are subject to degradation as soon as the pressure for change is removed.” To avoid this, Kotter suggests organizations make clear connections for their employees between new behaviors and success. He also recommends being strategic when hiring and promoting leadership to ensure decision-makers “personify the new approach.”
Inspired by Kotter’s wisdom, I leave you with the following list of actions school leaders can take in the present to help make positive changes stick in the future. Though certainly not exhaustive, it’s a place to start:
Surface the “pockets of promise” happening now: Santelises used this phrase when describing how BCPS is thinking about success amidst COVID-19. Survey stakeholders at all levels and don’t be afraid to include some open-ended queries. You’ll welcome insights about things you don’t even know are happening.
Compile successes in a central location and give it an owner: With teachers and school leaders making in-the-moment decisions, practices are rapidly changing. Important organizational learnings will get lost in the shuffle. Empower someone within the organization to own this archive and develop a system for keeping it up to date.
Tune into the people facilitating these successes: HGSE Dean Bridget Terry Long named mindset and disposition as barriers to school innovation during this pandemic. What are the characteristics this new environment demands of your employees? Put a name to them and take note of the structures within your standard operating procedures that either promote or undermine them.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: Kotter suggests doing so “relentlessly.” Leverage or enhance your current communication platforms to share the successes. Highlight instances of desirable mindsets at work. Elevate voices from throughout the organization to build a sense of what Kotter calls “the way we do things around here.”
Keep tabs on the inertia towards the status quo: Even as new ways of operating become permanent, Marquis and Tilcsik warn that they merely “layer” on top of and do not erase prior imprinting. Make sure to name the operating structures that your new changes deviate from and develop ways to reflect on their continued influence. This will help you to recognize the inevitable pull towards the past and to take action to anchor new changes in the present.
By RIDES Fellow Abigail McCann
*Special thanks to my RIDES Fellowship comrade, Dr. Dia Bryant, for introducing me to Stinchcomb’s work on imprinting!
Dodd, H. (2020, April 14). ‘I Can’t Believe I Am Going to Say This, but I Would Rather Be at School.’ The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/us/school-at-home-students-coronaviru...
Domenech, D., Moskowitz, E., Rees, N., Rotherham, A., & Santelises, S. (2020, April 9). What’s Happening, What’s Next: COVID-19 Lessons and What School Leaders Need Now. Bellwether Education Partners, webinar.
Kotter, J. (1995) Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 59-67.
Map: Coronavirus and School Closures (2020, April 13). Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-...
Marquis, C. & Tilcsik, A. (2013) Imprinting: Toward a Multilevel Theory. The Academy of Management Annals, 7:1, 195-245.
Stinchcombe, A. L. (1965) Social Structure and Organizations. In J. G. March (Ed.), Handbook of Organizations: 142-193. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co.
Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools (2020). “Systemic Improvement Map.” https://rides.gse.harvard.edu/systemic-improvement-map
Vegas, E. (2020, April 9). What can COVID-19 teach us about strengthening education systems? The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2020/04/09/wha...
A New Metaphor for School Turnaround
February 27, 2020
As a child, I always watered the leaves of plants. I poured water onto blooming orchid buds and even submerged individual chilis on our pequin pepper plant in cups of water, whispering to them drink up. My mother would frequently redirect me, sharing her position that plants drank water from the roots and that my attempts to feed the flora through other methods were at best ineffective and at worst injurious for delicate petals and siblings surprised by slippery floors.
It wasn’t until my fifth grade science class where we had the chance to grow our own plants where I really started to believe my mother’s faith in roots. After sprouting seeds in paper towels, we gently planted them in pots of various substances--with dry dirt from outside of our classroom, with phosphorus rich soil purchased from a gardening store, and with the mix of sand and soil that you find in so many parts of South Florida that grows things like palm trees and hibiscus flowers and Zoysia grass. We fed them different regiments of water and sunlight and watched as some grew and others perished. Like morticians conducting an autopsy, we would study the plants that didn’t make it and examine them next to graphics showing the impacts of various environmental features--too much or too little water, nutrient rich or nutrient poor soil, too dense or too loose of soil--on root systems.
Other than teaching me that root system invariably are the site of water absorption, this activity taught me that, in order to grow, plants require certain environmental conditions. In nutrient poor soil and with the absence of sunlight, plants cannot merely will themselves into existence. The material that surrounded them mattered.
As a component of my graduate studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I have visited a number of schools in the Boston area. Some were filled with small children and others with the big, high school kids that I am used to teaching. Some drew on arts-centered learning and others on prioritizing the instructional core. All were undergoing some form of what has come to be called “school turnaround”--or the process of rapidly transforming a school from “low performing” to “high performing,” usually measured by increases in student performance on standardized assessments.
Definitions of turnaround vary, and carry particular technical meanings depending on context. For example, for a school to be undergoing “turnaround” according to the Obama-era School Improvement Grant Program standards, the school must fire the principal and all of the staff, with the option to rehire no more than fifty percent of the original staff. Despite variance in the use of the term, most conceptions of school turnaround share the idea that schools can and should improve rapidly and that visionary leadership is central to the process of school improvement. Implicit in the metaphor of “turn around” is the presence of a leader, carefully steering their vessel away from its current bumpy and troubled path. Unsurprisingly then, at each site visit, school leaders would share their strategies for turning the wheel. These varied significantly in form and scope.
In one chronically underperforming high school, where the majority of the students are English Language Learners and are eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch, the central turnaround strategy involved Instructional Improvement Cycles. We observed a staff meeting where teachers were placed into three categories: high-priority, medium-priority and low-priority. High-priority teachers would receive the most instructional coaching support, which would be systematically documented in an Excel Spreadsheet with lots of tabs.
In another school, one hour of music instruction each day was the primary turnaround strategy. The theory went that music instruction teaches students a number of transferable skills--among them endurance, problem solving and active listening--and functions as a “vaccine against trauma,” effectively instilling a sense of resilience in students.
There was nothing fundamentally wrong with these strategies. Many of them I believe in and agree with. I, too, had seen the research, much of which connected these strategies to slight gains in student performance. However, each of these felt more like watering the leaves--sprinkling a lifesource on a visible part of a system--than engaging its roots.
The rhetoric and symbolism of school turnaround reinforced these approaches. An analysis of the top google images for the search term “school turnaround” produces the following images.
School turnaround is as a courageous captain of a ship steering schools in a new direction. School turnaround is a tool kit containing things like an emphasis on the instructional core, performance evaluation systems and school-wide approaches to behaviour management. School turnaround is a beaker filled with student-driven relationships, trauma-informed instruction and restorative discipline practices to be poured onto a school. A baptism. An adaptive shift. A sweeping out of old ideas and systems and imposition of so-called research-based ones.
The problem with the metaphor of turnaround is that it suggests no connection between the vessel to be turned and the medium through which it must pass. There is no essential relationship between a boat and water. A boat can move through salt water and fresh water. If a lake has eutrophicated and can no longer support aquatic life, a boat will float on it just fine. A cargo ship can pass through a patch of ocean covered in oil slick. The thing to be turned is seperate from what it is turning on or moving through.
Schools, unfortunately, do not float above society but are firmly grounded within it. A school is planted in the material world and is sometimes surrounded by things like concrete and liquor stores and unemployment offices. When Tupac wrote of himself as “a rose that grew from concrete” I hardly imagine he was self-reverentially making a point about his ability to transcend his social context. Rather, he was bringing attention to the concrete itself; It was this material that needed to be destroyed and replaced with something that could sustain human life. Concrete, like the dry dirt outside of my elementary school, was not a suitable place for plants (or people) to grow.
There is little significant longitudinal evidence suggesting that turnaround strategies are effective ways to improve student outcomes, even when crudely measured in things like standardized test scores. In their 2012 report analysing 40 peer-reviewed texts on the emergent topic of “school turnaround,” authors Tina Trujillo, Michelle Renée Valladares, and Tara Kini determined that much of the hype around turnaround as a strategy is based on “faulty and unwarranted claims” and that research supportive of school turnaround draws on “limited, snapshot analysis” rather than longitudinal study. The media’s enchantment with “miracle schools” has all but ended, as story after story of rapid school changes are quickly unmasked--the progress so often overstated, the result of demographic shifts, or systematic cheating scandals.
Many of the school sites that brand themselves as transcendental fail to account for the ways that they are also exceptional: they deploy zero-tolerance policies to council out troublesome students, rely on large philanthropic gifts to operate, or are staffed by a constantly churning labor source of young teachers willing to work long hours. We must also question where the schools that do turn around are actually going. What liberation comes from what Carter G. Woodson decried as an education “worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed”?
Despite its inefficacy, why is the turnaround strategy still with us? Why are we, as a society, a field and--most particularly--as education leaders so enraptured by this metaphor? Perhaps because it requires that we change nothing of the social context in which education occurs. Perhaps because it fits into our social narrative about how change happens--through the hard work of individual leaders who deliver solutions to the markets they serve. Perhaps it is simply the allure of being a captain.
I imagine the reasons are complex. It is reasonable to feel a sense of urgency about the state of our schools. It is reasonable to be frustrated by the lack of progress towards achieving equational equity. William G. McCallum, mathematician and one of the lead writers of the Common Core Standards, reflected on the low US student performance on the recently released 2019 PISA data noting, “maybe this is just a really hard problem.”
To grow schools we must engage their roots. We must visualize school transformation as ecological rather than ideological. We must consider their lack of water and sunlight and nutrients (a walk though Boston Public Schools reveals that this is not simply a metaphor--in some schools, you literally cannot drink the water). We must address the material realities that shape our school systems and admit that the work of eliminating poverty and racism are not the sole occupation of schools.
What might school and district level improvement look like that imagines schools as ecological? It would look like robust wrap-around services, such as physical and mental health care, affordable housing and job training programs. It looks like bottom-up initiatives that are generated and led by students, teachers and communities. It looks like iterative cycles of improvement that are considerate of the role of systemic racism and inequality in structuring school systems.
To this day, I water the leaves of my plants and talk to them as I give them water. In high school biology, I learned that leaves can absorb small amounts of water and as an adult my grandmother taught me that wiping the dust off of leaves is important to growing healthy plants. While talking to them has no scientific basis, I do it anyway, because as much as I approach the world analytically, I recognize that not everything needs to be justified or explained by mechanistic relationships. Sometimes faith and love are just enough.
Belive in us. I am optimistic. But a diet of wishful thinking and superficial interventions will not transform our schools, just like my whispers of love alone will not make my plants grow. Water, afterall, rolls off of leaves.
Establishing A Vision Of Equity
January 8, 2020
Improving equity starts with a shared vision.
Generating that vision, though, presents unique challenges.
During a recent consultation with a large educational non-profit, I interviewed over twenty team members and asked the question, “How do you define equity?” A sampling of those responses illustrates that while everyone may validate the value of equity, significant nuance separates what equity means to different individuals.
“A set of shared values that are upheld by every team member.” – Director of Human Resources
“Eliminating the academic opportunity and access gap that students in historically marginalized communities experience. That includes heightening awareness and then working to eliminate the white supremacy culture that is at the core of our country’s systems and policies leaving many people exposed.” – Vice President of Operations
“Equal representation, equal voice, equal vote; empathy, understanding, restorative practices, bias awareness; consistent reflection.” – Regional Executive Director
The sentiments expressed in these responses undoubtedly feel inspirational. Yet I remember sitting with tightness in my chest after gathering varying perspectives, wondering how to facilitate dialogue for achieving consensus when individual viewpoints spanned such a wide spectrum.
Navigating Toward a Shared Vision
The inner turmoil I felt propelled me to synthesize strategies for generating a shared vision of equity. Here are my top three takeaways:
Research-based definitions act as springboards for deeper discussion. Personal lived experience will ultimately inform a vision of equity. However, research-based definitions serve as a grounding tool for connecting conversations to the historical context and meaning of equity. Reliable definitions can be found at The Center For Public Education , The National Equity Project, and The Glossary of Education Reform. In drafting a vision for equity, it is helpful to begin with these definitions and then modify according to individualized context.
Emphasize and celebrate lines of difference as a means of strengthening dialogue. In my own practice, I have found dialogue flows more readily once difference of perspective is named. This requires us to climb down from our ladders of inference by combining statements of “I notice…” with the inquiry of “I wonder…” For instance, during our first equity team meeting a leader asserted, “I noticed you named elements of equality. I wonder what you think the relationship is between equality and equity. Can you tell me more?” Instead of shying away from dissenting opinion, this leader chose to engage in dialogue directly related to difference. In this regard, protocols act as useful tools for structuring and facilitating dialogue around diversity of perspective (I tend to incorporate the focusing four protocol to generate a shared vision of equity).
Focus on the specific and granular to align desired scope of impact. Instead of saying, “we want all kids to have access to an excellent education,” a team member might propose, “we are failing our black and brown kids with our school’s disproportionate suspension rates. Equity, for us, signifies a need to more effectively cultivate the unique gifts, talents, and interests of our students.” Shifting from vague to specific allows team members to envision outcomes that will more directly impact students. To this end, storytelling can be a powerful tool for bringing and sharing experiences around diversity and equity in your setting. A simple prompt, such as, “tell about a time when equity was absent in your school or classroom setting,” can be the key to surfacing challenges that may require extra attention. By answering this prompt and sharing stories of practice, common themes often emerge that help zero in on the building blocks that can be manipulated to create a strong equity culture
Making an Impact
The non-profit mentioned above chose to leverage the research-based definition provided by The National Equity Project.
With this in hand, they initiated a 60-minute group dialogue with the guiding question, “How would you modify this definition to more closely align with our organizational vision?” Team members shared opinions based in lived experience and celebrated lines of difference throughout the conversation. By sharing stories of practice, they shifted the wording of the original research-based definition to more closely align with specific organizational equity gaps.
Their vision of equity emerged as a guiding compass for informing data collection, diagnosis of needs, and production of initiatives. With quality communication feeding into a consensus, the organization succeeded in creating a more equitable outcome for students, staff and community members.
2020 RIDES Leadership Fellow
2020 Urban Scholar
School Leadership Program
Harvard Graduate School of Education
November 7, 2019
Dr. John B. King, Jr. gave a keynote presentation at the 2018 RIDES national conference that emphasized the need for an ongoing commitment to dismantling racism in our educational systems. King is the current President and CEO of the Education Trust and former United States Secretary of Education under President Barak Obama. Recently, reporter Ian Shapira of the New York Times wrote a story about the King family’s search for their historical roots. King discovered that his great-grandfather was enslaved on a farm 25 miles from his current home in Maryland, and that farm was still owned by direct descendants of that slaveholder.
King shared the story with the RIDES Project, writing that he hopes the story will “spur necessary, albeit difficult, conversations about America’s complicated history and the ongoing struggle to grapple with issues of race and racism.” The article details the King family’s encounter with the current property owners and reminds us of the need to consider history, context, and memory as we work for racial justice.
Please click here to read the full article in the New York Times, published October 23, 2019.
Reflecting on the Stonewall Riots
July 3, 2019
Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul
With the passing of Pride Month this year, we took time and space to reflect on the legacy of the Stonewall Riots. On June 28, 1969, a New York City police raid targeted Stonewall Inn of Greenwich Village--one of few establishments catering to members of the LGBTQ community, including homeless youth, sex workers, and other marginalized groups. In the midst of institutionalized homophobia, this incident spurred a wave of demonstrations advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. Influential activist leaders, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, sparked a broader movement of gay pride marches and demonstrations in major cities worldwide.
What does this have to do with where we are in 2019? According to Human Rights Campaign’s reported figures, anti-transgender violence is still on the rise, with Black transgender women at disproportionately higher risk for murder. The Black transgender women we have lost to homicide in this calendar year alone include Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, and Brooklyn Lindsey. In addition to fatal violence, transgender women of color--especially Black women--face greater difficulty accessing basic needs, such as employment, housing, and medical care.
This history, along with many narratives of marginalized communities, is too often omitted from “mainstream” American history. By including LGBTQ history, themes, and people in curriculum, schools offer opportunities for students to gain a more nuanced understanding of the world around them, while also encouraging respectful behavior and critical thinking. GLSEN offers a wide selection of lesson plans and other resources to acknowledge this content and incorporate it into standards-aligned units.
While not exclusive to transgender students, Black girls experience both misogyny and racism in school systems each day. This distinct form of misogynoir results in Black female students experiencing increased disciplinary action for simply existing in predominantly white spaces. On average, Black girls are suspended six times more often than white girls. Although Black girls are just 16 percent of the female student population in the US, Black girls account for one out of every three female arrests on school grounds. Meanwhile, criminal justice reports found that between 2000 and 2014, women facing incarceration increased by 700 percent, and Black women are imprisoned at twice the rate of their white counterparts. Essentially, we need to dismantle the conditions that foster a school-to-prison pipeline among Black girls labeled as “bad kids” early on.
As school leaders, this may require some deep-seeded excavation of the status quo with regard to school policies. Consider how your school community sets guidelines on access to gender-segregated activities and facilities, or what language is used to define appropriate hair and clothing styles. Additionally, schools need to consider what systems are in place to protect student safety and privacy, alongside training and procedures for faculty and staff responding to incidents of harassment and bullying. To continue these conversations among your team of educators, we’ve linked some policy guides from the National Center for Transgender Equality, along with additional guidance from the ACLU, Gender Spectrum, HRC, and NCLR for K-12 settings. We encourage folks to bookmark resources linked in this post throughout the remaining 11 months of each year, as we create educational spaces that are inclusive and welcoming.
As we approach the 4th of July, celebrating the independence of the United States, I invite you all to honor those who came before us fighting for freedoms that include LGBTQ rights alongside many intertwined, ongoing fights for human dignity.
June 17, 2019
I write today with some exciting leadership transition news concerning the Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools (RIDES) project. First, let me start with a brief review of the RIDES work to date. We started RIDES 3 ½ years ago as a response to Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and the societal forces that somehow made it a common and regular event for unarmed black and brown men to die at the hands of police. With startup support from the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean’s Office, and a three year grant from the Walton Family Foundation, we developed a mission and vision for disrupting inequities in schools and tools to support schools that aspire to meet the ABCDs of high quality integrated schools. We have built an aligned set of self-assessment tools and curated more than 150 practices that help schools and districts move toward their equity goals. We have developed and launched a RIDES Leadership Fellowship where more than a dozen HGSE students are being supported as they prepare to take on diversity, equity and integration leadership roles in schools and districts.
Most exciting to me personally, we have developed and begun to scale up the use of an Equity Improvement Cycle that Dr. Darnisa Amante and I developed, that provides schools and districts with customizable, structured support in naming and addressing their equity challenges. It starts with a focus on developing the personal and team equity culture sites need to do deep work around race and equity, and then guides them through a six-step improvement process that builds their capacity to identify and improve in their settings. In this past year alone, we have been able to support Equity Improvement Cycles in more than 35 schools or districts in nine different states. Darnisa and I have done this nationally through a very successful pilot RIDES Institute, as well as in local Equity Improvement Networks that I have set up in New York and in other cities. In several of those settings, we have been able to engage students as partners in equity improvement alongside teachers and administrators, by launching the work with the Three-Day Intensive version of the cycle.
Over the last two years, as I have been able to work more extensively in the field, it has become increasingly appealing for me to reduce my workload at Harvard to do more direct equity improvement work with schools and districts. At the end of June, I am stepping away from my full-time teaching responsibilities at HGSE as well as my role as Director of RIDES. Fortunately for RIDES, a skilled and committed faculty colleague, Dr. Candice Bocala, is eager to step up to the overall leadership and management of the initiative. Candice brings a relevant academic focus, through the courses she teaches at HGSE on facilitating adult learning, racial equity practices, improvement science, and program evaluation. She brings over a decade of involvement and practical leadership experience helping schools and districts learn and use the Data Wise Improvement Process. In the same spirit as RIDES, Data Wise helps educators build a collaborative culture and use a wide variety of data sources to advance equitable instructional changes for all students.
During the coming year, I will stay affiliated with RIDES, supporting Candice in the transition, leading the continued development of the Improvement Cycle work and, with my RIDES colleague, Dr. Darnisa Amante, launching a scaled-up version of the RIDES Institute. The Institute will start October 20-23 and will involve as many as 12 schools and districts over the following eight months. More information and an application should be available shortly and will be posted on the websites for RIDES (under the RIDES Institute tab) and for HGSE’s Programs in Professional Education.
In addition, as a consultant, I will be developing and supporting local Equity Improvement Networks in several cities and states, working with teachers, school and district leaders, and, where possible, parents and students. I especially look forward to being involved with middle and high schools to engage students as partners with adults on equity improvement. Please contact me directly if you would like to learn more about this work.
Please join me in welcoming Dr. Candice Bocala as the new Director of RIDES. We look forward to a smooth transition and exciting work in the coming year. Through my continued work at RIDES and through direct work in the field, I look forward to remaining connected with many of you over the years to come.
Serving & Partnering with Families
March 29, 2019
Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul
We uplifted and centered student voices during last month’s Virtual Community Webinar. Not only is it key to involve students as partners and equity agents, but we need to also value the expertise that caregivers and families bring to the table. After all, they are the experts--parents are our first teachers.
Dr. Karen Mapp, Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty, has dedicated her career to family and community engagement. We are fortunate to have Dr. Mapp joining us as a keynote speaker at our conference, Beyond Desegregation. In her classes on leadership and on engaging caregivers, Dr. Mapp emphasizes the importance of garnering trust. This is particularly urgent in school settings, where the loving adults in students’ lives are often marginalized or made to feel unwelcome in bureaucratic school systems. Leaders need to let those being served define their needs, giving “power to,” rather than exerting “power over.”
What might this look like in practice? At HGSE’s Alumni of Color Conference, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop hosted by the National Parent Leadership Institute, which oversees regional Parent Leadership Training Institute sites throughout the country. Despite many situations where parents voices are unheard by school leaders, NPLI maintains that parents lack neither the motivation or will to improve the children’s school experience, but rather, the advocacy skills.
This organization helps parents develop those skills through a program with curriculum to develop skills in civic and community organizing, so that they can influence policy and programs affecting their students. NPLI provides child care, food, and homework help during program hours to truly support parents invested in spending time to develop these skills. While children receive extra academic support in subjects such as literacy and numeracy, families are free to deeply engage in the program content and complete a final project where they graduate at the State Capitol or other significant local civic setting.
Leadership and civic advocacy skills can be made more accessible to families and caregivers. Despite whether or not the parents you liaise with are trained educators, their lived experiences and goals for their children should shape the priorities of your school as you serve students. As an organization outside of school, perhaps NPLI is better positioned to garner openness and trust from the 3rd party perspective, while parents express grievances about their child’s school experience. In my own direct service experience in an out-of-school time program, I fielded many frustrating complaints from parents about their school leaders responding dismissively to serious concerns.
Before tense situations escalate, I challenge teachers, administrators, and district leaders to consider a fresh perspective: Are you listening deeply to understand? Are you approaching situations with compassion? Are you respecting where families are coming from? How proximate are the school’s cultural norms in comparison to those at home?
Many out-of-school and after-school time spaces feel like another home for young people, but how can your team make school feel like home for all families who enter the building? For additional guidance, check out where RIDES ha compiled best practices and research on family and community engagement. As one of NPLI’s graduated parents mentioned during the workshop, “I want to know my children loved and cared for in ways that we care for them at home.”
4 Ways to Honor Black Communities at School
February 22, 2019
Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul
Given how quickly February flies by each year, I am eager to share resources and suggestions on how schools can uplift stories of Black communities within the remaining 11 months of every year. In compiling this list article, I adopted the approach of the RIDES Systemic Improvement Map, with a close lens on the interplay between culture, leadership, and what happens in classrooms.
1. Notice how we prioritize content in curriculum.
Across all subjects, teachers need to prioritize presenting full stories of Black leaders throughout history beyond our shortest month of the year. Moreover, are these stories nuanced in challenging our notions of either internalized racial inferiority or internalized racial superiority? How do we define what is “American” history or “American” literature, and whose voices are relegated as “other”? This goes beyond teachers of English, history, and other humanities subjects. As we guide students to think critically in STEM subjects, how can educators pose questions that interrogate positions of researchers and perceptions of who holds true knowledge?
Black Lives Matter at School Week has been popular and is an interesting first step for schools to provide lessons and action plans that engage students and teachers in conversations about the humanity of Black people. In addition to supporting Black students with their positive racial identity development, thoughtfully facilitated lessons are beneficial for non-Black students and educators to unpack internalized anti-Blackness. Numerous resources from Teaching Tolerance to UCLA’s publications for public school professionals bring substance to how we can continue to build diverse and relevant curriculum beyond the scope of a designated month or week.
2. Pursue equitable behavior management
In my experience and throughout many studies, we see that Black students are disproportionately subject to exclusionary discipline in schools, often receiving harsher punishments compared with White students with similar infractions. Examine the racial demographics of your school's current behavior system. Take note of patterns and use that data to actively change your school's culture. That may mean adopting more restorative rather than punitive approaches and engaging in intensive development among colleagues. Some of the best intentioned teachers have inflicted trauma upon countless Black students in the name of “zero tolerance” policies.
3. Confront disparities in academic outcomes
Efforts to reform school curriculum and culture to dismantle systemic racism in schools need to also be paired alongside shifting the racial disparity in academic outcomes. For example, Rochester City School District in western New York has made a concerted effort within the past few school years to commit the district’s educators to active participation in the “Black Lives Matter at School Week.” Yet, recent data shows that less than half of students from RCSD graduate high school, and fewer than one third pass the New York State Regents Exam in four core subjects. RCSD is just one of many urban majority-Black school districts across the country. Last month’s Virtual Community Webinar with Zaretta Hammond emphasized the urgency to pair rigor and literacy with racial justice. As educators, we must walk the walk when we proclaim, “Black Lives Matter.” Through rigorous coursework and quality instruction, Black students can survive and thrive with core literacy and numeracy skills necessary for higher education and career success. This webinar’s video recording is currently available for streaming.
4. Seek out more than 4 things
While many list articles are often a bit tongue-in-cheek, I implore communities of education professionals to look beyond the quick and simple fixes to ensure quality education and overdue justice to Black communities within and surrounding schools. Happy Black History Month!
Supporting Immigrant & Undocumented Students
January 29, 2019
Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul
Immigrant students and families across the country carry a diverse set of experiences and cultures within each of our school communities. In the past few years, we have been exposed to a barrage of xenophobic rhetoric in national public discourse, alongside alarming media coverage of abuses at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In addition, this administration’s sweeping policy proposals threaten to discriminate on the basis of age, income, and ability to work. Although much of this unrest occurs beyond the walls of our schools and organizations, this political climate informs our perspective on forging effective family and community partnerships, in accordance with the “B” of RIDES’s ABCDs--sense of belonging.
In the past few months, members of the Harvard graduate school community mobilized to spread awareness of the public charge proposal, including students from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Graduate School of Education. Though not yet passed as a law, this proposal threatens to expand the types of public benefits considered to be a “public charge.” Widespread ramifications of this proposal has spurred trends of families dis-enrolling from benefits beyond those mentioned in the proposal, fearing denial of their status in applying for a visa, green card, or citizenship.
From the HGSE perspective, students, faculty, and other community members expressed concern for additional negative consequences of this proposal, including greater rates of truancy, housing displacement, withdrawal from free and reduced price school meals, and general anxiety among undocumented or mixed-status families. School leaders have the position to serve families by developing trust amidst increased skepticism and wariness of public agencies in the wake of ICE deportations.
Current RIDES Fellow and Ed.L.D. candidate Mariel Novas has engaged in these issues with her work last summer as a Rappaport Public Policy Fellow at the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement in Boston. “There is real fear and uncertainty ripping through our immigrant communities right now,” said Novas. “The Trump Administration has taken a hostile stance toward all forms of immigration [with] long standing policies changing in what seems like the blink of an eye.”
For example, Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS, was ordered to be terminated within the next year for arrivals from many countries, including Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, and Nepal. Furthermore, the United States Department of Homeland Security continues to enforce harsh immigration and asylum constraints, pursuing deportation of long-term immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries. Such deportations have haunted many communities across the country, despite the nation’s 2008 agreement that bars deportation of protected Southeast Asian groups as a condition of establishing diplomatic relations after the Vietnam War.
According to the RIDES white paper on Family and Community Partnerships, schools often demonstrate little sensitivity to the nuances of the immigrant experience. This can have dangerous implications in contemporary circumstances where many families face impossible choices--health care, food, and housing versus citizenship. Our white paper offers some strategies of improving partnerships between schools and families, further involving parents and other caregivers in making decisions on their children’s educational experience. Resources provided also include descriptions of exemplar sites around the country where school practitioners are implementing models of family organizing and communication.
Ultimately, if we hope to uphold our commitment to dismantling racism and oppression, we need to sustain open dialogue with families and seek to understand their concerns and stresses. To meet their needs, school personnel could develop a positive reputation among communities as a genuine resource for connecting to external services, such as free legal counsel or social service organizations.“There is an urgent need for our schools to revisit how to best support immigrant students and families,” Novas insisted. “We need to be creative and intentional in making sure they feel safe and seen.”
Are We All on the Same Page?
November 30, 2018
By Amy Jiravisitcul
When engaging with diversity, equity, and inclusion across an organization, many professionals invoke the image of moving the needle, making gradual progress in small increments. However, organizations need to also consider whether all individuals, all departments, all stakeholders are using the same scale.
Dr. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, wrote about the Multi-level Model of School Alignment, as a way to categorize organizational elements, from the individual level, relational level, organizational level, to the extra-organizational level. How do we know whether organizational alignment at a school is happening among individual personnel, among subject or grade-level departments, among school leaders and administrators, and among external constituents, such as communities, teachers unions, and policymakers?
Ultimately, all elements of a school or organization need to be grounded in a common mission to carry out work that is unified and cohesive. It may be daunting to clearly define or draft components of your mission that relate to the “C” of RIDES’s ABCDs, Commitment to Dismantling Racism and Oppression. Taking on this unequivocal commitment may elicit challenging decisions, with the risk of alienating some constituencies that no longer fit your more specific mission. However, having a strong and clear mission is foundational to aligning your organization’s work across all members and partners.
If your organization’s mission espouses a commitment to justice and racial equity, each part of your organization must contribute to that mission. RIDES has shared some tools to reflect and assess your organization’s alignment with equity and inclusion, such as Advancing the Mission: Tools for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Systemic Equity Implementation Rubric.
While honing in on initiatives related to racial equity work, it’s key to plan your theory of action. Bridwell-Mitchell suggests asking, “To which organizational element is this initiative most related?” and then reflecting on how activities within this initiative align with the school’s mission. Are there possible unintended consequences that could undermine the school’s mission, and how might you plan for such consequences? Finally, what other organizational elements are involved in making the initiative successful, and what needs to happen within additional elements to support the initiative and school’s overall mission?
With this broad-based view of individuals, teams, and larger organizational actors, strategic initiative planning can promote buy-in and honest critique of connectedness to the mission. With ongoing assessment and reflection using the rubrics and tools mentioned above, your organization may also become attuned to changes over time in your mission and theory of action.
Your organization or school may not be having the same types of conversations, plans, and goals for dismantling racist systems today as it would in a few decades. By using Bridwell-Mitchell’s multi-modal framework as an organizational map, you can ensure that your organization’s mission and objectives evolves while staying aligned and unified.
Four Ways to Move Forward with
October 3, 2018
We hope you are off to a great start this school year. As you continue to work on making your school or district one where all children learn at high levels, feel included, appreciate their own and other cultures, understand racism, and work to dismantle it, below are four suggestions for this year, and one for the next.
1- Apply for the RIDES Institute
For the last three years, the Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools (RIDES) Project at Harvard has curated over 150 practices and partnered with a dozen traditional and charter schools, as well as six Boston-area school districts, to develop tools and processes to build more diverse and equitable schools. For the first time, in 2018-19, we are offering what we have learned to schools across the country. You can read about the and access the application (due on October 5) at this link.
2- Participate in the RIDES Virtual Community Webinar Series
This new webinar series will focus on hot topics that charter and district schools have identified as key challenge areas in moving beyond desegregation to real integration. Each webinar will be free and held monthly after work – for maximum participation—starting at 7 PM Eastern and will each feature brief framing of a common challenge along with practical examples of how schools and districts are addressing it. The dates of the first three webinars are November 1, December 13, and January 10. Be on the lookout for more information about how to register.
3 - Consider a five-day course in instructional observation and improvement
For the last eight years Instructional Rounds Institutes have prepared hundreds of educators in public, private and charter schools and districts to bring about deep and sustained improvement in the learning and teaching that is at the heart of their schools. The Instructional Rounds Institute is co-chaired by Lee Teitel, RIDES Faculty Director, and the rounds practice serves as the basis for key areas of the RIDES Equity Improvement Cycle. Through breakout sessions and a visit to a local RIDES affiliated school, the Instructional Rounds institute (December 10-14) will offer participants opportunities to learn ways to apply the Instructional Rounds approach to their work on equity and integration. After reading about the Rounds institute here, if you’d like to apply, please click on the Apply button found here. If you have further questions about how this Institute could be useful to your integration work, contact: Lee_Teitel@gse.harvard.edu
4 - Use a new documentary series to spark deep conversations about race and equity in schools
America to Me is a great 10-session docu-series about life in a racially diverse school that can serve as an excellent way to focus and mobilize people in your community on persistent racial inequities. RIDES Director of Practices, Dr. Stacy Scott and Director Teitel have been on the advisory group supporting their 10-city launch where small group discussion leaders can use carefully developed materials and guides to use the episodes to spark deep discussion about race, schooling, inequity and more. For more information, visit: https://www.americatomerealtalk.com/ Also, RIDES Director of Coaching, Dr. Darnisa Amante, is supporting watch group leaders. If you are interested in talking with RIDES about how to use the documentary series to trigger or support your efforts at equity improvement, write to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “America to Me Follow-up Approaches.”
AND …. Look ahead to next year with a RIDES Leadership Fellow
RIDES is proud to be preparing the next generation of school and system leaders committed to diversity, equity, and integration. Learn more about the Fellowship here, meet the seven Fellows here, and find out the process for trying to get one of these well trained, committed individuals to help your site address its diversity and equity challenges next year.
Lee Teitel and the RIDES team
Using art to take ownership of the history of school
July 20, 2018
As a former classroom teacher and educator at the New York Historical Society, Katie Fuller knows the possibilities of learning through stories and artifacts.
By asking students questions about art, the act of learning becomes reciprocal. Students gets to tell the teacher what they see, and bring their own experience to the table. Their interpretation of the art — and, by extension, history and the world around them — matters.
That’s why Fuller spearheaded Race + Revolution: Still Separate, Still Unequal, a traveling exhibit of art that both depicts schools and is for schools. She co-curated the show with Larry Ossei-Messa.
The art show focuses on the state of school segregation and its implications on educational equity. Fuller tailors it to the specific local context of school segregation in wherever the exhibit lands. For example, in Connecticut, the exhibit was organized around historical documents from Sheff v. O’Neill, the court case that put the state of Connecticut on the hook for its racially segregated schools.
Fuller also created a curriculum guide to accompany the show, which can be used without seeing the pieces in person.
“Teachers are burdened with so much material, they have to sift through and see what’s relevant,” she said. “I wanted to make that easier.”
As a white woman teaching in a predominately Black and Latinx school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Fuller struggled to talk about race and racism.
“I had the content. I knew how to teach literature. But I didn’t know how to have conversations about race and racism,” she said.
She hopes that this artwork can serve as a launching pad for dialogue about the forces that shape the world we live in today.
“We are creating a space … in which we can deepen the conversations. It’s not just people coming into look at artwork and then walking away. It’s really important that people come in, look at the artwork, connect with what they’re feeling from that artwork, and then we take that feeling and turn into dialogue and possibly into action.”
Below are some pieces that Fuller believes can spark conversation in the classroom about the way history bleeds into our present. You can watch Fuller’s presentation at the 2018 RIDES conference here.
You can find more information about the exhibit, as well as Fuller’s contact information for the curricular guides here.
No justice without equity
June 14, 2018In his speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Wednesday, former U.S. dismantling racism in schools is more urgent than ever.
He not only diagnosed what he considers to be the greatest challenges facing equity in today’s schools, but also offered some prescriptions, including diversifying the teaching force and organizing structures around the students with the highest needs — although he warned against silver bullets.
And despite his concern for the state of racial equity in schools and larger society today, he also offered a message of hope about the role schools can play in the movement for justice.
The speech was the keynote of the Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools national conference, “Moving Beyond Desegregation: Beyond Desegregation: Promising Practices for Creating Diverse and Equitable Schools.” Following the speech, King was on a panel with three of the inaugural cohort of RIDES Leadership Fellows: Angela Callado Kiley, Stefan Lallinger, and Mariel Novas.
“I really do believe that the work that you all are engaged in...is essential to the health and well-being of our democracy, and that the values around which we are all gathered this morning are under assault, and we have to reckon with that,” King said, referring to the current presidential administration, which has distanced itself from work on racial equity in schools.
King was the Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, succeeding Arne Duncan. Now, he is the CEO of The Education Trust.
King noted that the Trump administration is considering rescinding guidance released under President Barack Obama regarding the racial discipline gap, among other actions that have ramped up challenges to educational equity.
“It was this school year that the President of the United States could not bring himself to make clear that the KKK and Nazis were on the wrong side on [the University of Virginia] campus,” he said.
King said that he was the first Secretary of Education to be kicked out of high school. Both of his parents died by the time he was 12, and their absence shaped his teenage years.
“Kids live whole lives, not just school lives, and we have to be about trying to change outcomes in their whole lives,” he said.
“I was blessed that educators chose to see I was worth a second chance. For many of those kids, they don’t get that second chance...and the reality in our society is that that is quite true for our African-American students, our Latino students.”
He said despite persistent disparities in the way students of color are disciplined, taught and treated in schools, he was made hopeful by the energy at the conference. He called for interrogation not only of achievement gaps between schools and school districts, but within schools, noting that disaggregating data can often show students being underserved in schools that, on the whole, look alright.
“I’m inspired by the commitment...not only to diversity, but to the idea that diversity must lead to justice, and justice must mean to equity; that diversity, equity and justice work are the same work, but they require change.
Change, King said, will not come through one-off implicit bias workshops, or just by addressing that racism shapes our schools, though that’s a start.
“It’s not enough — it is not enough — just to name the problem,” he said.
King said that change will come with concerted efforts to empathize with students.
“But that takes work, that takes commitment, that takes acknowledgement of the challenges we have in creating belonging, and intentionality about changing them.
And, he said, it might require us to change the way we think about and structure our schools.
“What if we started with kids who face the greatest challenges, and figured out to make school work for them?” he asked.
What reviewers are saying about "America
May 22, 2018
"James’ docuseries declares that now is a time for urgency, and the first three hours make quite the compelling case...Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School is considered an elite institution, home to a diverse student population that represents America as a whole...But there’s a problem at this seemingly ideal school: Test scores are on the rise for white students, but black students aren’t seeing any progress. The gap is growing, even though it appears all students are being given the same opportunities. And no one knows why."
-Ben Travers, Indie Wire
"There are some indelible portraits here, of struggling, striving, hopeful teenagers and of instructors and administrators up against obstacles they can see and hear, as well as more elusive matters of racial bias, ingrained prejudice, white privilege...and opposing educational beliefs."
-Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune
"Directed by Steve James, 'America to Me' has a different energy that most films about young life in the ‘10s, largely because the lengthy running time allows the production to breathe in ways that most documentary films don’t, but also because of James’ deep humanism, one that challenges preconceptions and conveys a deep love for his fellow man."
-Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
On Tuesday, May 29, we'll kick-off our conference with a screening of part of America to Me, a docuseries about race at a Chicago area high school that is diverse, but far from equitable. If you're interested in being among the first to see this amazing film, register for our conference today!
Reflecting on pathways to equity
April 13, 2018
Last Saturday, our local school and district partners joined Harvard students in RIDES courses for our annual Pathways to Equity conference, where we reflect on our work over the past school year. Educators and students shared their challenges and successes as they pursue true integration, as well as steps they're excited to take next year.
Here is just an abbreviated list of what our partners accomplished this year:
A team from Bowman Elementary continued work on a schoolwide Dismantling Racism curriculum.
Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School worked to detrack its first year English courses through a "leveling up" program, in which the expectations for all students are raised.
Cambridge Street Upper School worked to detrack its math classes.
Fletcher Maynard Academy, also in Cambridge, created a pilot curriculum about race and equity for its youngest learners, in pre-K and Kindergarden.
Watch a glimpse of from the conference, and hear how participants describe the work around school integration, here.
March 29, 2018
Earlier thismonth, hundreds of educators, students, academics and activists descended onto Appian Way, home of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, for the annual Alumni of Color Conference. The theme this year was “Radicalize, Reimagine, Reconstruct,” and so RIDES’s work on reimagining integration fit right in.
For one of the panels, educators and one student who we’ve worked with talked about how they are reimagining integration at their schools, with a special focus on the role of students.
Here are some highlights from what they had to say.
Niles West High School; Skokie, Ill.
At Niles West High School, there are 2600 students, compared to only about 300 adults. So Jason Ness wasn’t surprised that student voice really made his staff’s work around diversity and equity click.
“One of the things that really transformed our work was bringing the students into it,” he said.
Now, students at Niles West also go on “instructional rounds,” where they observe a specific “problem of practice” in classrooms, like lack of student belonging, and then come back together with staff and administrators to talk about solutions.
“We’re carving out a definition of what equity looks like at Niles West,” Ness said.
West High School; Iowa City, Iowa
This December, RIDES founder Lee Teitel traveled to Iowa City for a three-day workshop at West High School, which, as West student Leen Hamza pointed out at AOCC, is an oasis of racial diversity in relatively homogenous Iowa. (The school is about 60 percent White, compared to more than 90 percent of the statewide population.)
Faculty at West have been doing work around implicit bias for a couple of years, but in December, they invited students to the table. Through instructional rounds, a team of students, including Leen, state and district-level administrators, and school faculty identified patterns around race and belonging in the classrooms at West.
This semester, they’ve been poring over that data and talking next steps.
Hamza, a junior, said that the implications of their work are even bigger than school.
“Implicit bias and lack of representation and systemic racism exists at pretty much every school, because that’s just how society is,” she said. “The way that people treat each other in society is not very different from the way that people treat each other in schools.”
East Somerville Community School; Somerville, Mass.
The students at East Somerville, a K-8 school only a few miles from Harvard might be young, but they, too, have a lot to offer, said principal Holly Hatch.
“They want to help, they want to be engaged,” she said.
ELL teacher Valquiria Gouvea said that the school’s partnership with RIDES “has really illuminated...that students need to bring their ideas about what is happening at our school, and what they want to see.”
Bowman Elementary School; Lexington, Mass.
Principal Mary Antón isn’t new to work around diversity and equity -- she’s been spearheading conversations and professional development focused on racial inclusion and cultural competency for years. She and her faculty have worked with RIDES two-and-a-half years.
That partnership has informed the creation of a Bowman-specific Dismantling Racism curriculum, that helps students of all ages talk about race, power and oppression. Anton realized the need for such a curriculum after having a realization: “[I realized,] we’ve left the children out this… We wanted our students to understand that these issues of power and oppression are ongoing, and to have the tools to talk about it, and we also wanted to have a call-to-action, for students to feel like they could take action.” The curriculum is now in its second year, and being expanded.
Interested in hearing more from educators about how they began to listen to student voice to affect change in their schools? Learn more about our own conference in May.
Well wishes to RIDES's first Program Coordinator, Amber K. Boyd
February 26, 2018
Today, we wished good-bye to RIDES's first Program Coordinator, Amber K. Boyd. Amber joined the team in 2016, and has been instrumental to RIDES's growth and development ever since.
Amber has brought a wealth of insight, passion and fun to our team. We'll miss her, but are forever grateful for the direction she has provided! We wish her the best as she pursues her artistic dreams.
Lessons on reimagining integration from the Little Rock Nine
More than 60 years ago, nine teenagers put their lives on the line by enrolling at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They were met with resistance from a violent mob and the Arkansas National Guard.
Some of the students eventually had to relocate because of death threats. The following year, all Little Rock public schools closed as an act of White resistance to desegregation.
Nevertheless, the stories and images of those brave teenage students — Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals — remain some of the most salient of the American desegregation story.
Earlier this month, members of the RIDES team, along with members from the HGSE Black Student Union, had the honor of sharing lunch with two members of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown Trickey and Terrence Roberts, as well as Treopia G. Washington, the sister of Ernest Green, the first Black student to graduate from Central High School. Sonia Lowman, the director of the documentary Teach Us All, a documentary about school segregation, and Jonathan Crossley, the principal of Baseline Academy, an elementary school featured in the film, were also at the table.
It was truly awe inspiring to sit among these heroes who have been fighting for equity and equality their entire lives.
Here are some of our takeaways from our conversation with them:
Integration is a collective commitment. One thing that the Little Rock saga makes clear is that desegregation is incredibly different than integration. While the Nine desegregated Central High School, they were not permitted to feel safe and welcomed -- something that many students of color in 2018 can relate to, though the violence may not be as overt. The onus cannot be on students, families and teachers of color; integration involves hard work from every member of a school or district community.“It is futile to desegregate schools when integration is not the outcome,” Terrence Roberts said.
A sense of belonging is crucial -- and not dependent on desegregation. Treopia G. Washington never had the opportunity to attend a desegregated school, as she had already matriculated to college before her younger brother, Ernest and the rest of the Little Rock Nine enrolled at Central High School. However, her experience at Dunbar High School, a segregated Black school, was invaluable. “The teachers could have been the CEOS of any Fortune 500 company today,” she said.
Roberts agreed that his all-Black schooling was instrumental to his personal development. “Every kid in the universe needs what we had in those segregated schools in Little Rock,” he said. “There was never a moment I didn’t feel loved.”
Washington said that schools like Dunbar -- many of which were closed during desegregation, causing a massive job loss for Black educators -- offer important lessons for schools today. “What can we bring from that era to resolve the issues we have now?” Washington asked. “That kind of nurturing environment is not only important for students of color...but for all students.”
Segregation goes deeper than personal preferences. Oftentimes school segregation is excused away by personal preference -- people live where they want to live, and send their children where they want to. It’s not that simple, said Minnijean Brown Trickey. White flight to suburbs was made easier by government policy. “If we’re going to interrogate our social conditions, we have to be really truthful,” she said. “You have people who live in close proximity of each other, and because of institutional [history], they’ll never interact.”
The work is hard — but necessary. It’s hard to not get discouraged with the state of schools after all of the work and sacrifice to improve public education, Roberts said. “I do not consider myself as ever having left a segregated society. We have to accept the reality of our existence, and it’s not good. But we can’t give up.”
"There will always be excuses."
April 13, 2018
Last spring, we asked the educators, administrators, and students to sit down with us and talk about their reasons for pursuing integrated schools.
Jamie Smith was teaching at Bowman Elementary School in Lexington, MA at the time.
When Smith was a child, she was one of the only students of color in her class, an experience she describes "as having to do a very narrow tight-rope walk trip every day."
That feeling is what inspires her to work toward true integration today.
"We've struggled, and it's important that the next generation doesn't have to struggle like we do," she said.
Smith said fighting to dismantle racism in schools is hard — and scary.
"You automatically know you are going to meet resistance, you are going to meet hostility, people who are going to downplay what you have to say," she said.
"But, if everybody's so afraid to make the first move, we're all just going to be standing there.
There will always be excuses for why you shouldn't get started. But none of them are good enough."
You can watch excerpts from Jamie's interview here.
Stay tuned to hear from more of our partners about their commitment to integrated schools.