If you really want to know if you are a culturally sensitive leader just ask your students about Black History Month.
Students often associate February with Valentine’s Day, I Love to Read Month, or even the 100th day of school. These are really comfortable things to talk about. What I’m less inclined to talk about is how the color of a person’s skin may impact the opportunities that person experiences. I’m even less excited to reflect upon my own white privilege.
These are some of the hardest conversations I’ve never had.
And I’m done not having them. Fortunately I work with an amazing team of teachers who are helping me with my journey. They push me. They help us get better for all kids…not just the kids who may look like us.
This school year I’ve been reading a different book each month to individual classrooms. This month…Black History Month…I’m reading, “All Different Now” by Angela Johnson. I’ve had the chance to fumble through some pretty powerful conversations with students. Admittedly, my contributions have been limited to asking a few difficult questions and then listening to students. I’m seeking to understand. At the same time I’m digging deeper.
What I’m learning is that I have a long way to go. Our kids are counting on me, and us, to teach them how to be culturally sensitive. How can I do that if I’m not part of the conversation?
The silence is blaring.
I need to confront my own comfort with the status quo. I need to question why I might be feeling so comfortable while others around me are hurting, angry, and oppressed. I need to acknowledge that my own truth is not always the same truth and journey that others have experienced.
Recently, I had the chance to connect with Brandi Bates about this topic on a radio program called, UnearthED. You can click HERE to listen to our 10 minute conversation.
Brandi helped me begin to shine the light on the dark part of Black History Month; my own white privilege.
Each year our school plans monthly breakout sessions based on student needs, staff requests, site priorities, assessment data, and district vision. Last year our team expressed an interest in taking the learning and relationships from individual breakout sessions deeper. With the help of some Greenwood teacher-leaders and an amazing administrative intern we developed a cohort model that keeps teachers connected around a single unit of study for three months. We believe that the conversations, reflection, and collaboration that will occur between the sessions is just as valuable as the formal learning time.
The K-2 and 3-5 cohorts were designed to address the different developmental levels of students (primary or intermediate). Sometimes these levels mean staff have unique needs due to differences in curriculum, technology capabilities of primary/intermediate students, and the types of conversations we can have about race/culture with a kindergartner versus a 5th grader.
We are using a ‘Flipped’ approach to professional development so that we can maximize our time when we meet face-to-face. (This basically means that staff will have the opportunity to choose from various articles and videos to review prior to attending a session in person.) The article for September’s session was from ASCD (2015) called, “Approaching Race from the Inside Out,” by Alexandria Neason.
The resources below are for the October and November sessions on Racial Equity and Cultural Proficiency.
Culturally Responsive Teacher Matters Article by Elizabeth Kozleski
6 Reasons to Teach African-American History All Year Round Article by Andrea Thorpe
Color Blind or Color Brave TED Talk by Mellody Hobson
How to Overcome Your Biases TED Talk by Verna Myers