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?
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