Yolanda King Stephen
Excelling Beyond the Equity Statement
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Your district has made the statement, now what? Well, I’m assuming your district at least acknowledged the social climate and conversations taking place around us. No matter where you are in the country, right now, there are conversations happening in our communities that will certainly spill into the physically-distanced hallways come August.
Public relations professionals have played the proverbial Toe-the-Line when it comes to equality or acknowledgement statements with superintendents and executive leadership. It’s especially tough for people of color because discussions of equality, inclusion, race and how education fits into that is more than just black and white. There is a loooooooong history that is left out of history books that makes it even more difficult.
It’s hard to believe that black children and white children were not allowed to learn in the same classroom until the landmark Supreme Court Case in 1954: Brown vs. Board of Education. The History Channel has eloquently shared that “Brown v. Board of Education was one of the cornerstones of the civil rights movement, and helped establish the precedent that “separate-but-equal” education and other services were not, in fact, equal at all.” That was just a little over six decades ago.
While this may seem like a lifetime for some, that means people like my mom received her education in subpar conditions. This also meant less of a chance for a higher paying job upon graduation and even less of a chance of going to college. Believe me, conversations of her experiences were taking place at my dinner table growing up. She was super supportive and encouraged me to attend college. We didn’t know how it was going to get paid for but I knew she was a little more excited than I was about the future opportunities that were placed before me.
Now, protests for equality continue and education is at the center of that discussion regardless of the fact we are just trying to start school in some semblance of normalcy. Like everything else, there is no one answer that will provide immediate results; remember, this tribulation has had four centuries of a head start.
1. Actively recruit and retain teachers of color. The makeup of our teaching pool looks drastically different than what we see in the classroom. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, “in 2017, about 79 percent of public school teachers were white, 9 percent were Hispanic, and 7 percent were Black.” If no one has said it, I will be the first to say it…there is something special for a student when they have a teacher who just gets it, no matter the racial or lingual background. But it’s even more special for a student who has a teacher who looks like them.
2. Invest in professional learning. Yes, we are in budget cuts, but guess what, we find the funds to pay for other learning's and other ancillary items. Investing in professional learning on diversity training for all employees can bring in experts that can navigate tough conversations on race, bias, cultural differences, generational differences, inclusion, equality, and looking past personal beliefs to provide the best education for *each* child.
3. Step outside of a quote and into a book. Districts, and maybe even teachers, can take the lead in hosting a book club that focuses on books that can give educators ts the tools they need to have ‘the talk’ or facilitate a heated class discussion - or correct a student bias in a loving, helpful manner. One such teacher in my district started a Systemic Racism Book Study group via a Facebook outreach. She had an overwhelmingly positive response with over 75 educators asking to be included. This elementary teacher ended up having four of her colleagues help by hosting virtual book study sessions so the group size would be manageable. They focus on a set of critical thinking questions and then each group reports back via a closed Facebook group. Their book of choice to begin discussions was Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Daniel Tatum. If you would like to one-up, provide these same resources for parents to begin their own discussions.
4. Get black books by black authors on the media center shelves for all students. This includes books written by and for multilingual students. I ask our school media center specialists for book recommendations for students at least twice a year. I can always count on them to add in cultural readings to enlighten and teach our students and families. They can be your first resource because they know what interest students based on their age and Lexile level.
5. Evaluate the curriculum. It changes every year anyway (insert exaggerated shoulder shrug). Yes, we ask teachers to do a lot, why not ask them to evaluate the curriculum to find out where there are gaps of marginalized people? Teachers can help fill those gaps and find resources for others to use. Black and multicultural voices need to be added, diverse stories need to be represented, and black history needs to be taught even if it is October. In my district, we were no longer teaching an African American History course. This changed quickly after it was brought to our attention. My superintendent made it a point to be the voice in adding this elective class back to the curriculum. Bonus points if your district creates a district or school level equity and inclusion team that reports successes to the communications or public relations department.
6. Review the data. I wanted to end this blog with five action items, but the evaluator in me won’t allow me to leave out the numbers. If it is one thing that districts have, it's tons of data. What does the data look like for black boys? What does it look like for economically disadvantaged girls? What about English language learners? How do the numbers differ from the mainstream race of the district? Then take a deeper dive into the numbers by looking for the teacher (hopefully there is more than one) that is doing it right. Replicate some books, activities, songs, and learning's they are doing. No need to reinvent the wheel.
No matter where your district is in the process of recognizing there is a greater need to positively impact the education of students who are historically marginalized and come from cultures that differ from the majority of teacher representatives, making a statement really isn’t enough. As my public relations colleague, Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong from Washington state, would say, you have to back it up with awareness, alignment, advocacy, and authenticity. And as the Bible states in the book of James, “Faith without works is dead.” It is our fiduciary responsibility to breathe life into our equity statements by recruiting and retaining teachers of color, investing in professional learning, reading books from different perspectives, loading media center and online bookshelves with authors that give representation to various groups of learners, evaluating the curriculum, and reviewing the data.