I hope all of you are safe and sound in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
This month I have been deeply immersed in our work to support two clients who are advancing racial equity in the US education system: The Raikes Foundation’s Building Equitable Learning Environments Network and the Sonoma County Office of Education’s Empathy, Equity, and Engagement Project aka the “Rooster Fellowship.”
For the Raikes Foundation, I am interviewing 36 experts in the fields of equity and education to capture their best ideas about what the purpose and function of the US education system would ideally be, why it’s not currently like that, and what needs to be done to move things in the right direction. Later this year, I’ll have the privilege of facilitating key stakeholders in learning from these 36 interviews and crafting strategies for what’s next. I promise you this: I am glued to the zoom on my computer screen for every one of these interviews. I am committed to keeping an open mind and being deeply present with these luminaries as they share their wisdom and insights.
As a parent and someone who cares deeply about education and justice, I wish everyone could hear what is being shared with me. Please know there is zero debate among any of these experts I’m interviewing that our current education system is out of date and reproducing oppression, right now, at a school down the street from each of us. Their consensus on this is sobering and a real wake up call for me personally.
One of the people I will interview – haven’t quite gotten to him yet – is Jeff Duncan Andrade. In my research I discovered the Deeper Learning conference. I heard from friends who were in the audience that it was scheduled to last 45 minutes. It’s an hour and fifteen. I also heard that not a person budged from their seats the entire time. Since it was the last keynote of the conference many people missed their flights, and I don’t think a single person regretted it. Christine and I watched this together the other night the same way you would watch a TV show. Absolutely gripping and important. She sat across from me on the couch, scribbling down notes, and she doesn’t even work in the education field. It is that good. I had the thought that everyone I know needs to see this keynote. Even if you’re not in education. It’s that good.
Another big adventure I’m on: Last week I traveled to Sonoma County to kick off a second year of working with Chuck Wade, Jessica Progulske (the dynamic duo otherwise known as “Chuckica”) and Elizabeth Najmabadi, and Amanda Snook. We’re doing a “wedge and spread” initiative to improve equity and engagement. The “wedge” teams from seven of the forty districts in the county. Each team is comprised of a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, and a classified person like a school counselor or special ed teacher. Each of the seven teams will be working to measurably improve student responses – across all demographic sub-populations – to these three questions:
- What we worked on in class is important to me.
- Class today was so interesting that I didn’t want to leave.
- My teacher thinks I can succeed.
I don’t know about you, but as a parent I care way more about what my kids answer to those questions than I do about any test score. I want them to love their teachers, their classmates, their community, their school. I want them to love learning and love learning how to learn. Because someday they will be all grown up and inherit some really gnarly problems our generations are going to dump on them, and we will look to them to solve them. And we need all the talent of all the kids to do that.
Here’s the kicker, though: As a result of these conversations I’m having and the work I’m doing, I’m clear that I want that for every kid, not just our own.
If I could share one big takeaway from all my work in education and equity it is this: we must show up for all the babies. Not just our own. I do believe that is the challenge in front of us and that it’s way easier said than done.
And I wonder for other large-scale change initiatives in other sectors – how much that mindset shift – from “mine/me” to “ours/we” – is essential for creating the change we seek.
P.s. If all of this interests you, you simply must subscribe to STARZ for a month and watch all 10 episodes of America to Me. Then we can talk some more. It highlights the vastly different experiences that kids have in the same school. Eye opening.