Equity

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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BY SULYN WEAVER, M.Ed.

SuLyn Weaver is a math educator of 19 years with Kentwood Public Schools in Greater Grand Rapids, where she also serves as a teacher leader. She is active on Twitter at @eunmi220


This summer, my family didn’t take any big vacations or go to the beach. We did spend some time in the sun, went to an outdoor movie (Crazy Rich Asians), and I was cast for a role in a short film.  For much of the past three months, I was preparing myself to be my best for students on day one.  Here’s a taste.

First, I created a new attendance system for our summer school administrator and then taught two groups of students for six weeks. My first assignment was to help prepare incoming high school students for the demands they will experience this year in freshman Algebra. It was as much about building relationships and confidence as it was about developing mathematical skills and knowledge. My second group of students will return to us this fall. We worked together to close gaps in their learning so they have the skills and confidence as students to embrace grade-level work.

I also planned to implement a new curriculum resource. Each time the middle school math department adopts a new curriculum, in many ways, it feels like hitting a reset button. I’m preparing for the hours I’ll spend aligning lessons to standards and assessments to lessons. I’m preparing for unit mapping and setting an implementation guide that will be my base for the following year. I’m drawing on all the knowledge I’ve gained through professional development, conferences, and collaboration to set up my math peers for success.

Accepting that I haven’t always done what is best for my students, but instead what was best for me, is a hard pill to swallow.”

Yet another part of my summer was devoted to my development as a teacher leader with Leading Educators. Through learning experiences with the LE team, I have felt personal growth of colossal proportions in my knowledge and awareness of:

  • the standards, 

  • the essential math shifts of focus, rigor, and coherence, 

  • how to analyze a lesson for the most crucial components of the mathematical tasks,

  • and how to plan and teach through a lens of equity. 

Beyond sessions, we heard from a group of exceptional student performers who shared poetry and stories of self that reminded us why we were there. Leaders from Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and Kent ISD also shared data about the opportunity gaps that exist within our own schools and the responsibility we have to ensure the likelihood of success is not dependent on a student’s skin color.  Accepting that I haven’t always done what is best for my students, but instead what was best for me, is a hard pill to swallow. 

This work has afforded me a safe place to examine my own practice with a more critical focus. I spent two full days with our district’s Leading Educators coach and her colleagues. The time is intense, vulnerable, and profound; it is also exhausting. As each day closes, we’re asked to summarize it using a survey. This year, as I struggled to access words, activities, and learning, I reflected on the numerous times my students might feel that same mental exhaustion throughout the day. I have new empathy for them as they’re also working through all the conundrums of adolescence.

My last, and most personal, activity this summer has been joining an organization which endeavors to support, advocate for, and amplify the voices of educators of color. I teach in the most diverse school district in our state, but there are times I don’t interact with an adult who is a person of color all day. As I think about my own daily interactions, I reflect on the implications for my students and with whom they interact. I am excited for what this network of educators will collectively bring to the community.


Read another Grand Rapids leader’s take on preparing for the new school year here (via EdNet).

The Power That We Hold

Lacey Robinson, Chief of Program and Engagement at UnboundEd, joined us at the 2018 Leading Educators Institute to share a version of her influential keynote, “Footlocker and Fridays.”  During the 50-minute address, Lacey shares the story of Shiloh, a former student of who dreamed of being a teacher. Past tense.

Using Shiloh’s story as an anchor, Lacey unpacks the systemic roots of oppression and racism that limit the opportunities of students of color and students in low-income environments. She challenges educators to understand their role in creating reparations in our schools through rigorous instruction.

Watch below:

More About Lacey Robinson:

Lacey Robinson has more that 20 years in education as an educator, principal, and staff development specialist with a focus on literacy, equity, and school leadership. As chief, program and engagement, Lacey is responsible for engaging with external partners including collaborators in the K-12 education space as well as district and system leadership to support standards-aligned, content-focused adult learning and professional development.

She oversees key design and execution elements for primary external UnboundEd service offerings, including Communities of Practice (CoP) and Standards Institute (SI) and the national programs. Previously, Lacey was the senior director of implementation for the national Transforming Teams program at New Leaders, a nonprofit that trains aspiring and current school leaders. Lacey is certified in facilitative leadership and has served as a staff development specialist nationally and internationally, most recently working with the Medical School of Rwanda on organizational and change management.

What Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Mean for Teaching

Dr. G.T. Reyes joined us at the 2018 Leading Educators Institute to share his perspective on the "why" behind diversity, equity, and inclusion and what they mean for teacher practice.  Dr. Reyes argues that we need to dismantle systems and structures that were designed to exclude in the first place to create schools where all students can succeed.

More About Dr. G.T. Reyes

Settling in modern-day East Oakland, which is ancestral land to the Huichin Ohlone, Dr. G.T. Reyes is a community-engaged scholar-artist-organizer.  His work is grounded in a commitment to the empowerment of young folks, teachers, school leaders, and cultural workers to value their ancestral traditions while radically imagining and building capacity in ways that can transform their own realities. As an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership for Social Justice program at California State University, East Bay, he recognizes and honors the native Yrgen land where the city of Hayward settles upon while seeking to be an active part of cultivating a program that has liberatory potential and power within local communities.  His approaches to educational leadership and critical research is rooted in socio-cultural traditions that decenter whiteness and coloniality.

He has worked as a teacher and school leader in K-12 schooling, as an educator and organizational leader in youth development, and as a teacher education and teacher development scholar in higher education.  Some of his work as a public intellectual and community-engaged scholar investigates Critical, Humanizing, Culturally, and Politically Determined pedagogies and teacher development; Principled, socioculturally-grounded, values-centered, purpose-driven educational leadership and organizational development; Participatory Action Research and problem of practice inquiry; Art, digital media, and Hip Hop as critical race counter-storytelling; Critical, anti-oppressive, and humanizing frameworks of social and emotional learning; and English Language Arts as liberatory education.

In addition to his work at Cal State East Bay, he is a founding school designer for the forthcoming Homies Empowerment Community High School.  He completed his Post Doctoral Fellowship from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, Society, and Culture in Education at the University of California at Berkeley.  

#PracticeMakesPossible: What I Learned at the Leading Educators Institute

Raye Wood is a teacher leader at Burton Elementary School in Greater Grand Rapids.  She is entering her thirteenth year in the classroom, and she completed her Doctorate of Education last spring.  She is a huge advocate for amplifying teacher voice and often blogs about her experiences in the classroom and beyond.

Wow.  Where do I begin?  How can I share with you—through mere words—the energy, the passion and the thirst for change that was the Leading Educators Institute?

I am changed in a way that I did not realize I could still be changed, and I expect that I will be forever grateful.  I’ve been in the classroom for twelve years, and I am hardly new to professional learning. But in just a few short days, I experienced a new kind of learning  that challenged my perspective, changed my expectations, and validated what I know our students need. How amazing is that?

My school was part of the first Leading Educators cohort from greater Grand Rapids.  Having finished my first year at our school as well as the intense process of writing a doctoral dissertation, I joined our school team this spring and attended LEI with the new cohort.  So, there I was with a group of people, many of whom I had never met, walking into four absolutely life-changing days. This group of new friends validated the beliefs I hold and walk with daily, they challenged some of those beliefs with great care, and they helped me stretch my perspective and ways of thinking. Because of them, I am more reflective, more passionate, and even more dedicated to the work I do every day.  Every teacher deserves that gift.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Because my colleagues began leading Leading Educators’ model of content learning and practice at our school last year, I came into the week with the experience of a teacher who has seen the end result of LEI first-hand.  Though, I had already experienced Content Cycle protocols and workshops last year, I gained a deep appreciation for the work having experienced the planning process at LEI.  Everything I was unclear about before burst forth in one large A-HA moment. That in and of itself is powerful. Now, as a “Lead Learner”, I can’t wait to use my content knowledge and passion alongside my colleagues to make our school more equitable for every single child who enters our doors.

  • We had some absolutely amazing guest speakers.  At times, I was moved to tears (in my eyes as well as on my cheeks if we are being totally honest) because I see the mistakes so many of us have made with the best of intentions. I often say, “You don't know what you don't know.”  And LEI showcased some of that. Our keynote speakers admitted to having made mistakes because we all do. Imagine standing before an entire room of educators and admitting that you helped perpetuate false narratives around students of color. That takes serious heart and vulnerability, and it pushed all of us to own our impact.  Dr. GT Reyes noted that you don't have to be the teacher of the year to make a difference, and it made my heart sing.

  • On Thursday, we heard from Lacey Robinson from UnboundEd.  To hear her speak in person was amazing. Again, she boldly shared that she know she has messed up.  To admit that in front of a community of teachers who she didn't know was powerful and brave. One quote really stuck with me: “We have to get past what makes us feel good and do what is right by our students.”  

I look back at my first few years of teaching from my current vantage point and I can see the mistakes I was making. At that time, I used the knowledge that I had and did what I thought was right (Leveled library, anyone?). Once you know you are making the wrong moves and you work toward changing them, you are growing. It is when you know you are making wrong moves but you keep doing what you've always done that we have a problem. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to push through that discomfort because it is what will fuel the most important shifts in our practice.

Truly, it's hard for me to fully express how much I appreciate the opportunity to experience LEI in this way. And now when I go back to my school in August as a “Lead Learner”, I'm going to work hard to remember that many of my colleagues don't have the benefit of having the "back story" of the work we are trying to do. I'm going to push for our team to really take a step back for a moment and re-invest ourselves in the bigger picture. To  do our best by students, I fully believe that we have to work together in a way that pushes our thinking, challenges our biases and the false narratives we have inadvertently carried with us, and strive to make education truly equitable for every child regardless of their status, ethnicity, gender, race, welfare, or zip code.

Together, I am certain that we can improve education for all kids.

4 Ways To Celebrate Women Educators

It’s International Women’s Day, and we at Leading Educators are especially thankful for the generations of women educators who have changed the world by cultivating self-discovery and growth inside and beyond the classroom.  We celebrate the countless women activists—such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Malala Yousafzai, and Sylvia Mendez—who have advocated for the universal human right to education. By championing the potential in all of us, these women have been the backbone of social progress for centuries.  We challenge you to join us in honoring them today and every day through concrete actions:

  1. Prioritize women’s opportunities for professional growth.  The Department of Education estimates that there are 3.8 million public school teachers in the United States, and about 2.9 million of those teachers are women.  Prioritizing professional growth means prioritizing women's advancement. Teachers need consistent, school-based opportunities to reflect on the realities of their context and develop their skills and knowledge in collaboration with others.  At the same time, teacher leadership strategies can create more systemic entry points to leadership and influence. By building structures that position and prepare women educators to both lead others and refine their teaching, schools can grow new leaders and energize teaching and learning in every classroom.  More and better learning benefits all of us.

  2. Advocate for women—especially women of color—to have greater agency in district and school leadership positions.  While women make up more than three-quarters of the U.S. teaching force, they hold only 30 percent of school and district administration roles (Department of Education, 2016).  This imbalance contributes to larger trends of pay disparity, perceived social status, and inequitable career advancement seen in American society as a whole. Research suggests that organizations with more women in senior leadership positions are more successful (Dawson, Kersley, Natella, 2014).  Creating opportunities for women to lead is good business.

  3. Recognize the role that systemic bias plays in accomplishing or derailing change. The perspective of women leaders is critical when focusing on the most direct ways to address the opportunity gap.  We know from our work with districts that effective school transformation strategies must be grounded in what and how students learn—a capacity where women currently have the most experience and influence.  Under-representing women in decision-making roles that affect instruction unintentionally excludes valuable insights into what students and teachers need to increase student success. Even more, we know that students of color are most likely to be taught by white women, so larger systemic shifts are necessary to ensure that hiring managers recognize and counteract institutional biases that prioritize creating formal and functional opportunities for women of color to drive change.

  4. Lift up the experiences of women of color, trans women, and undocumented women. There is no single “woman’s experience,” so it’s important that those with influence recognize and honor the diversity of experiences lived by women educators.  Teaching is an inherently dynamic and demanding profession, and the reality that life is intersectional means that simply being a person comes with other layers of stressors.  From the institutional perspective, policies for pay and work-life balance have long perpetuated systemic privileges for white women, so it is important to identify within-gender disparities and advocate for solutions that take these important differences into account.  Approach your support for women educators with the same kind of intersectional equity orientation that you expect for students. In the words of Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Have more ideas to add to this list? We would love to hear them at @leadingeds!

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Getting the Most Out of Coaching

Kelsey McLachlan is the Instructional Leadership Coach for Leading Educators’ New Orleans program.  Kelsey began her career as teacher in Chicago Public Schools where she taught for six years.  She also led teacher leadership development at Teach for America Greater New Orleans and was the Founding Assistant Principal at KIPP Leadership Primary.  Kelsey spoke with us about her direct work with teacher leaders to advance educational equity through rigorous classroom instruction.

LE: Tell us about your role. What does an instructional leadership coach do at Leading Educators?

KM:  To my thinking, excellent coaching is about transforming leaders so that they not only increase student achievement, but also positively affect all of those around them. My aim is to help the leaders I coach be as successful as possible at grasping opportunities to improve and reaching goals through collaboration.  I have the privilege of partnering with teams of teacher and school leaders to ensure that they are making steady progress towards student and teacher goals rooted in college and career readiness standards. Reaching these goals is the way to live and achieve our mission of equitable schools for all students, and it's my job to use all of the components of our program to do that: one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and professional learning sessions.   

LE: What are common challenges your coachees face when stepping into instructional leadership?

KM: Accountability is often a challenge for new leaders. I support people to become stronger at holding each other accountable through explicit coaching around this skill in addition to modeling it in my own interactions with them. Holding people accountable to their student and personal growth goals and being honest, or “showing them the mirror”, is a strong way to build trust. In the course of our work together, we agree on goals that impact students' lives, and I want to hold them to those goals in a supportive way. I try to become invested in their goals as if they are mine and check in on them regularly.

Motivating others to action, and teaching the skills to motivate is vital in leadership coaching. I often compare coaching both teachers and leaders to coaching Olympic athletes: you can’t run the 100 meter dash for them, you can’t practice the race for them. The teacher or leader has to drive their own performance through reflection and practice. The coach is there to share strategies and feedback to improve their performance, for example, by suggesting that they shorten their stride or pick up their pace.

LE: What have you tried to help coachees land on a clear path forward?

KM: The most important first step to moving the needle is building trust with people.  I try to deeply listen to words, of course, but also body language and gestures, so that I can hear and understand everything the person means. So that means, I need to allow time for the person to speak and then ask questions to probe their thinking more deeply. Driving people forward in reaching goals is a baseline for a coach.  However, I think one of my most important realizations from many years of coaching is this: what sets a great coach apart from a mediocre one is the ability to see the leader’s “best self” and to help them access that “self”. Getting them there might be hard work, but a strong foundation of personal growth and discovery will make success more likely.

LE: You’ve mentioned a passion for educational equity.  How does that lens influence your approach to coaching?

KM: Elena Aguilar wrote in Education Week, “Coaching with an equity lens means that we pay attention to the social and historic forces which create and maintain systems in which children are treated differently based on who they are.”  In coaching, it's imperative to keep in mind my own identity and the bias that I bring to the table.  I have to do the work of unpacking my perspective, while also listening to and lifting up biases that may live within the work that teacher leaders do.  Also, building deep content knowledge with the teacher leaders I coach allows for a focus on instruction that is rigorous for all students.

LE: I know you love New Orleans! What keeps you so invested in serving New Orleans schools?

KM: New Orleans is, in my opinion, the best city on the planet. It has so many amazing bright spots that you can only experience in the Crescent City, and I believe the people who live here are its greatest asset. Still, our city has experienced generations of inequity and we individually and collectively have so much to do to change that. It's this injustice that keeps me here to prove what’s possible to achieve with our amazing students.

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