How Do We Create Spaces for Healing as Educators of Color?

How Do We Create Spaces for Healing as Educators of Color?

Education tends to make the most rational people seem crazy. So, it begs the question, how do we heal in these sick environments? My go-to answer is to typically just burn it all down and start anew, but we know that those efforts usually just end up looking like a new emperor in the same old clothes.

So, where does our healing come from?

Marcus Harden writes about the importance of acknowledging the hurt that has been caused by systems of oppression -- and the equal importance of finding healing for the students and often-overlooked educators who bear the deepest wounds.

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Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Systemic racism is often hard to see in action.

It’s easy to look back and wonder, how did we get here? How do we have such deep-rooted opportunity gaps in our schools? How do we have so few Black teachers? How can there be such a thing as a “school-to-prison” pipeline? How do we have so few women of color in positions of elected leadership?

These systemic issues are not necessarily carried out by people of malicious intent. They are carried out by all of us every day as we make seemingly reasonable decisions, and through polices and processes that masquerade as neutral.

We are in the eleventh hour of one such process, but it’s not too late! Today — this very evening — we have a chance to catch the system in the act. So let’s do it.

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Black Male Educators: The Endgame

Black Male Educators: The Endgame

Teachers as a whole are vastly underpaid, Black male educators are often in unsupportive environments, and the profession isn’t promoted (or respected) as a viable option in the canon of “careers.” 

So why stay? How do we ask others to come? What are the conditions we can create, right where we are to make this seismic shift? Here are seven reasons that I’ve come up with (feel free to add more!)…

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Liberating Structures: Why Black Male Educators Leave the Field (part 1)

Liberating Structures: Why Black Male Educators Leave the Field (part 1)

The structures and systems are shackles. We have to remind ourselves that we the people are the system. Our participation keeps the gears turning.

It’s time we break the shackles!

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The Full Series: Black History Today 2018, by Marcus Harden

The Full Series: Black History Today 2018, by Marcus Harden

I want to thank all who allowed me to honor and showcase them for Black History Month. The daily posts started as just a personal letter to people whom I believe to be truly amazing. We often wait too long to tell people what we think of them and their effects on us and our lives.

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Black History Today: Rickie Malone, gentle nurturer and ferocious advocate

Black History Today: Rickie Malone, gentle nurturer and ferocious advocate

The greatest investment we can make in society is in each other. When we choose to invest in the best in ourselves and each other, that is when true magic begins to happen.

We’re all just shallow reflections of the light and the lives that have shined into ours. When I think about a great light that has invested in me and so many others on this “Black Panther” week, I think of one the strongest heroes I know: Rickie Malone.

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Black History Today: Three men living their values with quiet integrity

Black History Today: Three men living their values with quiet integrity

The narrative rarely connects the words Love and Black Men, together. Love in the true agape and philo sense has been the cornerstone of the Black community. It is shown through time, it’s is shown through living your values. It is shown through example.

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Black History Today: Three brilliant, bold, beautiful women unapologetically rooted in Blackness

Black History Today: Three brilliant, bold, beautiful women unapologetically rooted in Blackness

Recent pop culture has placed Black Women at the forefront of the conversation, showcasing their abilities to be beautiful, bold, brilliant, unapologetically rooted in blackness — and of course to be what they’ve always been: Heroes.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in the Pacific Northwest, there are three women who are the real-life embodiment of the Dora Milaje or the adored ones.

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Black History Today: Jerrell Davis, an unsung revolutionary

Black History Today: Jerrell Davis, an unsung revolutionary

Many people speak of narrative change but are often afraid to be in the trenches. It takes an ecosystem to create change, yet often times those who are the champions for and by the people get overlooked, their revolutionary presence lost in photo ops and small victories.

Yet it was once said that you can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution. One man that embodies the revolutionary and the revolution is Jerrell G. Davis.

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Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Rarely in life do you meet people whom you instantly know are one-of-a-kind, authentic and unique in their presentation, passion, purpose, performance and personhood.

Yet when you meet these people, whether you know it or not, their energy completely transforms your life. One of those people is Letta S. Mason.

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Black History Today: Chris Chatmon, using his gift in service of the Kings and Queens

Black History Today: Chris Chatmon, using his gift in service of the Kings and Queens

One of the greatest gifts, if not the greatest, is walking alongside someone else and encouraging them as they uncover their own gift. Then finding another and another to walk beside, giving the gift of being a gift, in service to others.

To do this with people is work, but very doable. To do this and begin to create systemic and institutional change, that is a gift in and within itself. When I think about people who hold that gift, brotha Chris Chatmon comes to mind.

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Black History Today: Keith B. Wheeler, sharing his message of H.O.P.E.

Black History Today: Keith B. Wheeler, sharing his message of H.O.P.E.

From the streets of Seattle that many don’t even know exist, to finding himself at Washington State University (the one mistake we can’t forgive him for 😂), to becoming a teacher on the rise back home in the neighborhoods he walked, realizing that there was more and a call to his life.

Keith B. Wheeler now lives in the hope that he espouses, traveling the country and giving to others the gift that has been given to him, never stopping short of acknowledging his own flaws and blemishes, while making sure to point out that it's those things that make us unique.

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Black History Today: Princess Shareef, shaping lives with grace and humility

Black History Today: Princess Shareef, shaping lives with grace and humility

Malcolm X once said, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” That quote always resonated with me as I know so many STRONG, POWERFUL, BEAUTIFUL Black women.

I’ve been blessed to have my formative adult years, profesionally specifically to be led by Black women. My first in education is a national and Seattle treasure, Princess (should be Queen) Princess Shareef.

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Nine Things Every Educator Needs to Know When Teaching Black Students

By Sharif El-Mekki

Most of my educational experiences as a child were in an all-Black spaces and all of my experiences as an educator have been in schools that serve Black communities. And, although I can’t say I am an expert on everything about educating Black children (despite people’s misconceptions, we are not a monolithic people), there are some experiences that I have had that speak to what Black students need from the educators who profess to serve them.

It goes without saying that the educational experience should support the development of literacy, numeracy, communication, problem-solving, and personal development skills. Students also need to be equipped with the “non-academic” skills necessary to navigate the real-world. To do that, our children and communities need a certain type of educator.

To ensure Black students are equipped with the knowledge to navigate real-world situations, they need educators who are deeply reflective, express empathy, are critically conscious, and can guide problem-solving.

These nine suggestions aren’t just from my experiences, but also from the countless hours of communication with Black families about the aspirations they have for their children and communities. These suggestions are not just for school-based educators. Anyone who touches the education of Black children, either directly or indirectly, should be immersed in efforts towards equity.

  1. The Right Mindset: If you don’t believe Black children can learn at the same rate as any other child, then you don’t belong in front of them. Honestly, you don’t belong in a classroom full of White children either, because you’ll covertly (and even overtly) reinforce white supremacist philosophy. The right mindset would be one of growth and engages ongoing professional development. Research shows that Black children are particularly impacted by their teachers’ opinion about them. That can be both powerful and dangerous.
  2. Supporting Students in Developing a Positive Racial Identity: Students are bombarded with messages that they are worthless, achieve less, and that only the exceptional Black person can perform at the highest levels. Unfortunately, because of this constant attack on the Black psyche, some students have internalized this. Educators have a crucial role in perpetuating this negative self-image, or being there to ameliorate it. Ensuring that materials share the contributions of Black people on society, both historically and present-day can go a long way. Also, it is crucial that our Black youth see and participate in educators celebrating students’ efforts and achievements beyond athletics and entertainment.
  3. High Expectations, High Support, Much Love: Too often there is a lack of balance. Some will enact authoritarian demeanor and rules, in the essence of stripping students of their dignity in the name of instilling order. Others tolerate chaos and excuses in the name of love. The answer is in the middle. It isn’t about no excuses or “make all the excuses in the world” schools. It is about helping students develop self-control and self-discipline necessary to be productive leaders in their communities. Hilary Beard describes parenting of Black children as being in quadrants. She describes the style that Black boys respond to the best as “strict authoritarian.” That means holding high expectations and lots of love.
  4. Establishing Windows and Mirrors: Too often, White children’s positive sense of self is reinforced through media, and in life. White students see an overwhelming number of people in power and, consciously or unconsciously, begin to assume that it is their rightful place in life. Black children see this, too. Often, even when a student has a Black teacher, other positions of power may be overwhelmingly White, so students see that. Helping all students see themselves as contributors to society and leaders within it is vital.
  5. Serving Holistically: Often, when people describe a holistic education, they’re lamenting the loss of the arts in our schools—it is that plus much more. Our educational strategies should include the arts, health, career-technical education, computer science, etc. It should be grounded in college- and career-readiness and support students with pursuing robust post-secondary options. A holistic education without students learning about character education and social justice is a limited education and doesn’t truly prepare students for their work outside of school.
  6. Learner of Culture: Educators should be curious, respectful and knowledgeable about Black history and culture while maintaining a high sense of humility and curiosity. Even if you have taught Black children for decades, don’t assume you know the struggles of Black folks better than they do. Too many educators have this outlook.
  7. Skilled in Channeling Anger: Students should be angry. Often, it is impossible to truly teach Black students and help them to see the world as it is and the promise of what society can be at the optimal levels without them becoming angry. I am not speaking of the self-destructive anger, I am speaking about the anger that spurs action towards positive outcomes. Malcolm X said, when people get angry they take action. And, as James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
  8. Communal Outlook: Black culture often demands a marriage with individuality and community. Too often, American society and educators celebrate individualistic goals and place individual accomplishments above community achievements. This is a mistake and leads to disharmony and frustration. There should be a balance and community-based goals should be an integral part of any educational system.
  9. Sense of Purpose: Educators who are working for the liberation of students of color will need to have and maintain a strong sense of purpose. The why and the how they approach the work is crucial—without it being grounded as incubators of dismantling white supremacy in its many forms, it may miss the mark. Conscious and committed educators view our schools as environments that can foster a commitment to our communities. Educators must also do the work and professional development that hones their skills as liberators, not overseers of the existing system. Without a strong sense of purpose, an educator can easily become a perpetrator of the very injustices they initially sought to dismantle.

 

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Sharif writes about educating and supporting black youth at his Philly's 7th Ward blog, where an original version of this post was first published.

Q&A with State Superintendent Candidate Erin Jones

Erin Jones has spent her career working for equity in education, and her track record as an educator and as an advocate for all students has few peers in our state.

Erin was selected as a Milken Educator of the Year for Washington state in 2007, as one of 10 White House Champions of Change for Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2013 for her work promoting educational excellence for African-Americans in the community, and in 2015 as the Washington state PTA Educator of the Year.

In three years as the Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement in the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), her work centered around developing policy recommendations and promoting instructional best practices for diverse student groups.

Erin is now running to be our next state superintendent, and I had a chance to ask her a few questions about her campaign and her vision for our schools.

 

Matt Halvorson: Hi Erin! Thanks for sharing a few minutes from your busy schedule with us.

First off, what motivates you? What drives your desire to work in education?

Erin Jones: I came to the US after being raised in the Netherlands with an expectation that I would get a law degree and return to the Netherlands to work as an international lawyer. After one year in the US, I became very aware that students who looked like me were not getting the same kind of education I had received in Europe. After my second year in the US, I knew I couldn't go home. I realized race, zip code and home language were the greatest predictors of the kind of school experience kids would get, and I wanted to be part of changing that.

After serving as a classroom teacher for 12 years and an administrator for 8, the desire to better serve all kids hasn't changed. I know this is the work I am called to for a lifetime. This is the greatest civil rights issue the 21st century!

 

Matt: What has it been like to transition from working in schools and administration to navigating the world of politics?

Erin: I absolutely must stay connected to schools in order to do the politics. The children and the teachers are in the reason I am running for election. In my opinion, when one becomes removed from school building and disconnected from the real work, one can no longer represent the people. We see evidence of this every day in the kinds of decisions legislators and other leaders make on behalf of people they don't know.

I am also still working as an administrator as I run for office... I will be resigning, however, at the end of my contract in June.

 

Matt: In what ways would you say the politics in our state and the political process for this role are contributing to the educational inequities in our state?

Erin: There are many ways the politics and political processes contribute to inequity in public service, whether that relates to healthcare, housing or education. There are many unspoken rules in the political process. There are ways that political insiders and those with money have an advantage - because they can take off work or not work at all, because they're connected to money and can get big donations. The challenge with political insiders and wealthy people getting elected over and over is that they cannot represent the voices of the most marginalized, so inequity is perpetuated. This is exactly how the Legislature could decide on opening day this year not to make a dent in McCleary. When the lack of funding doesn't impact your children, it's easy to push that decision off... so inequity continues.

 

Matt: Washington is one of a handful of states with a growing opportunity gap between students of color and white students, and between low-income students and their more affluent peers. In your opinion, what is contributing to those gaps in our state specifically?

Erin: 1. Inequity in funding and support. Who gets access to arts programming and electives? Who gets to take Advanced Placement or College in the High School classes? Who is able to benefit from Running Start? These things contribute to inequities in public education. Our poorest schools continue to struggle to pass levies and bonds, which means schools cannot be fixed and poor rural districts don't have the same ability to purchase FTE or access wi-fi.

2. Bias and prejudice. We all have it, but in the Northwest, we don't want to admit our issues with "others." Unfortunately, we have all been exposed to negative media and a culture that undervalues people of color, which shows up in our expectations for students and how they are provided (or not provided) with opportunities. We need to be willing to unpack our biases and the ways we have been trained to think about ourselves and others in order to better serve all students.

3. Lack of training and support. 20 years ago, our state was primarily white. Our teachers were trained to serve middle class white children. Now, suddenly, with an influx of students of color and recent immigrants, staff need to know how to more effectively communicate with and instruct a new demographic. It means we must begin to prepare students differently for the classroom. It means all teachers must know how to instruct students who don't show up in school with academic English.

 

Matt: What bold actions will you take for equity? What bold actions will you take for families?

Erin: Bold actions: I'm the first black woman to run for statewide office. That in itself is a bold move. I am aware of the power of modeling and the change I can create by rewriting the narrative about the potential of students of color or those "othered" for whatever reason.

I have a 4-step plan for addressing equity in our state:

  1. Recruit, hire, train and support staff to increase the number of educators of color in schools, AND better prepare support white teachers to serve students of color and students who enter classrooms without fluency in English.

  2. Create a model for authentic family and community engagement that recognizes the value of parent as first teacher and the need for schools to partner with community organizations to provide needed non-academic resources necessary to serve the Whole Child. Families are CRITICAL to the success of students, but we must listen and engage families in meaningful ways. OSPI used to have a family engagement office - CISL. That office must be reinstated. We find and promote what we believe has value. When there is no one at OSPI dedicated to family/community engagement, that sends a clear message.

  3. Address the needs of the Whole Child - the academic, social-emotional, physical and cultural needs of our children.

  4. Create a smooth pathway/pipeline for students to move from early childhood to post-high school. This pathway should help students and families navigate public education, help students connect early to their passions and then create a roadmap to ensure students develop the skills and have the experiences they need to be able to pursue their passions beyond high school (whether that requires 2/4-year college, tech school, apprenticeships, military).

Learn more about Erin Jones and her campaign at www.erinjones2016.org.
Follow her on Twitter: @Jones4WA.