We believe these steps are great for any school leader. One of our White team members wrote it to give White leaders, in particular, an additional lens.
Our country is beginning to reopen after unprecedented nationwide closures. Leaders in every company around the world are sharing their detailed plans. The phrases “maintain 6 feet of distance, outdoor dining options, 25% occupancy, mandatory face coverings, and temperature checks” are on repeat in the morning news.
These re-opening details have taken a back seat for me as we continue to see black lives taken in unjust and tragic ways. Those reopening details are crucial to the fight for equality as black communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are 3.6x more likely to die from the virus as whites (APM Research Lab). At the same time, there are larger systems with deeper details that need to be addressed as our country begins to embark on a new normal.
Responses to This Moment
During the beginning of the COVID outbreak, I remember opening my inbox and seeing at least 5-10 emails a day from every company I’ve ever given my email address to as they discussed their response to COVID. I do not remember receiving emails addressing race and police brutality after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. Now, those emails come with the subject line “Black Lives Matter.” Companies and organizations are thinking more about these issues and publicly communicating their stance. But we know sending out an email can’t be enough to address the roots of systemic racism and injustice.
My hope is that during this time of reflection and planning, that more leaders of companies, schools, and larger systems in our country clearly address their beliefs and actions taken towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. How will the reopening plans answer questions like: What actions will they take to support black employees? What organizations will the company donate to and support? How will they actively combat racism within the organization? What conversations and training will there be on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics?
The Power of Questions
Our education system is one of the most crucial places we need to start. Reopening “blueprints” and “roadmaps” must include the intentional tear down of deep-seated structures that unfairly disadvantage black youth. Schools can begin increasing awareness of white privilege, urge for anti-racist actions among those in positions of authority, and proactively address the trauma black students have faced as the result of the pandemic and witnessing the deaths of people of color at the hands of police. And as we begin rolling out these plans, there needs to be space and opportunities to hear every voice, even every whisper. These plans can’t just be plans. We need to reassess daily, weekly, monthly, even after every meeting or community gathering. We must ask for feedback, take the feedback, and make real change.
White school leaders can reflect on the countless privileges we have. We must “unpack our invisible knapsack,” as Peggy McIntosh would say. We need to listen, learn, ask questions, reflect, and show support as allies. This is especially important as we begin a new school year with a lot of new normals. As white leaders, we can’t assume we know what people of color want or need in our community. We can ask our staff, parents, and students questions and reflect on the data to incorporate frequent change and lasting improvements.
Questions to Ask Your Staff:
- How do different racial identities within your staff feel about the inclusivity of your school?
- What does your staff view as the strengths and weaknesses of school diversity, equity, and inclusivity?
- Does professional development fit the specific diversity needs of your staff and student population?
- Do teachers of color feel comfortable and supported in the school community? Do they feel their voice is heard and valued?
- How have you purposely hired to ensure your staff is representative of your student body?
Questions to Ask Your School Families:
- Do all parents feel valued and understood by school staff?
- Are there historic or current race-based tensions between school staff and parents?
- Do all parents have opportunities to see their culture represented in school events or in the school building?
- Do all parents feel comfortable advocating for their child’s needs?
This needs to be our focus in reopening plans. We need to seek out the whispers. Moving forward, we need to listen, learn, and act on every injustice within our country and schools. Schools have the unique opportunity to teach the truth, care for the future generation, and right the wrongs of history. It’s past time to take action, and as we’re already planning for a new normal, let’s commit to a new normal of equity and justice for all.
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