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Wednesday / November 21

Asking the Right Equity Questions for Your School in the New Year

As summer draws to a close, school leaders’ thoughts turn to the new school year. The new school year brings new ideas, renewed energy, and creative opportunities. A new year is a fresh start and a do-over.

Most likely, experienced leaders feel prepared for the routines of school – student enrollment, educator and staff hiring, professional learning plans for educators and staff, and parent/community engagement plans, and student handbooks, just to name some of the more prominent responsibilities of school leaders. Leaders new to their roles know who to ask: How do we do things around here to be well prepared for the opening of school?

What Are We Doing, and Why?

Routines that are already in place are easy to replicate and often go unquestioned. Unquestioned routines demonstrate the power of organizational culture, which is often described as the way we do things around here (Schein,2004). However, until educational leaders start asking, Why are we doing things this way? we never drill down to the values, beliefs, and assumptions of the what we are doing.

So, what kind of question do you ask as you begin the new academic year? When you hear or use terms such as equity, inclusion, disproportionality, and diversity, what reactions from others do you notice? What might be the impact of the question: When we say, “All students, do we really mean ALL?” Think about asking this question at your first professional learning opportunity: Who are we as a school community?, followed by, Are we who we say we are?

As you think about the routine procedures for the new year, you may feel good about where you and your school are with back-to-school readiness. So, now, examine the terms that appear in your mission, vision, and core values statements. You may pause and reflect – but, how do we “know” who we are? How do we measure our progress and successes, and challenges toward our vision and mission?  Prepared or not for the new school year, you know the areas of improvement for you, your colleagues, and your school community might well include some or all of these concepts of  equity, inclusion, disproportionality, and diversity. Though the terms are familiar, they are rarely part of the everyday conversation. Opening up conversation around equity, inclusion, or disproportionality, might lead to issues about race, ethnicity, gender, poverty, social class, and/or sexual orientation in ways that may be difficult to manage. Discussions about equity, in fact, begin with acknowledging inequities that exist in the school. Even though, as a thoughtful leader you know, intuitively, the topics are real and need to be broached.

The questions posed below are to guide reflections on your leadership in serving student and community needs. Even if your school is judged to be homogeneous, you know that your students are going to emerge into a wonderfully diverse world. A world for which you want to be sure they are well-prepared! The questions have utility beyond your reflection. The questions also can serve faculty and staff members early in the school year in ways that these topics become a “normal” part of the school’s conversation.

  • In what ways do I describe the diversity of this school?
  • In what ways do the faculty and staff members know that I value diversity? What do I do or say that lets them know my value for diversity?
  • How do parents and community members know that I value diversity? What do I do or say that lets parents and community members know my value for diversity?
  • What might be some things I have said or done that lets faculty and staff know that I value inclusion?
  • In what ways do parents and community know that I value inclusion? What have I said or done that lets them know that I value inclusion?
  • How might faculty and staff react to the phrase – Don’t tell me what you believe, tell me what you do and I will tell you what you believe?

Take a moment. Breathe. What are some of your thoughts and reactions to the questions? How might your faculty and staff colleagues describe you as a leader using these same questions? How might your faculty and staff colleagues use the same questions to guide their own thinking?


References

Argyris, Chris. (1990). Overcoming organizational defenses: Facilitating organizational learning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Blankstein, Alan M. (2004). Failure is not an option: Six principles that guide student achievement in high-performing schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Collins, Jim. (2001). Good to great. New York: HarperCollins.

Fullan, Michael. (2003). The moral imperative of school leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gilligan, Carol. (1983). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Heifetz, Ron, & Linsky, Martin. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leadership. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Marzano, Robert, J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Mathis, W. J. (2016, March). Research-Based Options for Educational Policymaking: Housing Policy, Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

Oakes, Jeannie, & Lipton, Martin. (1990). Making the best of school. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ogbu, John U. (1978). Minority education and caste: The American system in cross-cultural perspective. New York: Academic Press.

Owens, Robert G. (1991). Organizational behavior in education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Senge, Peter M., Cambron-McCabe, Nelda H., Lucas, Timothy, Kleiner, Art, Dutton, Janis, et al. (Eds.). (2000). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York: Doubleday.

Senge, Peter M., Roberts, Charlotte, Ross, Richard, Smith, Bryan, & Kleiner, Art. (1994). The fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Doubleday.

Sizer, Theodore. R. (1985). Horace’s compromise: The dilemma of the American high school. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wheatley, Margaret J. (1994). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe (new ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Wheatley, Margaret J. (2002). Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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Written by

Between them, Delores, Raymond, Eloise, and Randall have coauthored well over a half dozen books, including Culturally Proficient Leadership: The Personal Journey Begins Within, Second Edition (Corwin, 2018). Check out their entire Cultural Proficiency library here.

 

A Professor of Educational Administration at Cal State University, Delores B. Lindsey uses cultural proficiency tools to make the learning arena more equitable. She is also a facilitator and cognitive coach.

 

Raymond D. Terrell has over 40 years of experience dealing with diversity and equity issues. He has been a Professor of Educational Administration and  Dean of the School of Education at Cal State L.A., as well as the  Special Assistant to the Dean for Diversity Initiatives at Miami University.

 

Eloise K. Terrell is a lifelong champion for social justice, equity and inclusion and has spent ten years supervising a progressive day care center. She has been active in voter registration efforts and managing election campaigns for candidates who held moral and ethical positions.

 

A Professor at Cal State L.A., and Interim Dean of Education at Cal Lutheran, Randall B. Lindsey has focused his time on the importance of diversity. He does so by working with colleagues to design programs for schools, city-wide agencies, and organizations.

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