Do You Want to Go Back?

Reading Time: About 3 Minutes

The return to school is on educators’, parents’* and students’ minds. Lots of adults are weighing in on back to school plans after our spring shutdown and in the midst of a global pandemic.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I asked my teenage niece how she would want to return to school. Would she rather a full return or part time (in Ministry of Education speak, that would be conventional or adaptive), if our public health experts give the green light. She didn’t hesitate, “Every other day would be way better.” The adults in her life, including me, were surprised. I just made the assumption that all kids want to be back full time. Good thing I actually asked her.

While many of us miss seeing friends or colleagues at the office or at school, some of us just aren’t “every day – all day” into it. And that includes children and youth.

Some kids and young people really like school. They’re the ones who belong to whatever culture the staff and school community create and nurture within the building. The ones who excel in athletics. The extroverts. The ones who learn quickly and easily. The ones who look like our societal norms. The ones who act in ways that those in power deem acceptable.

We so-called leaders in education say school is for students. We talk about “in the best interests of students”. We mention “student voice”. Mission statements and goals include references to students.

Yet there are so many who don’t thrive there. Youth like my niece who enjoy the activities and friend connections but find in class activities tiresome, boring and irrelevant. Kids who don’t see themselves in their white, cisgender, middle class teachers. Students who don’t think like the status quo that so many of us represent. Young people who question perceived wisdom. Those who are activists.

I used to think that schooling was for the benefit of everyone, that kids just needed to comply – it was the “real world” after all. Now I think that deep change is needed within the educational systems in this province and in our country. Status quo isn’t good enough. Doing things the same way as the dominant culture decides is right doesn’t cut it. Spurred by reading and colleagues, I’m asking these questions:

  • Who benefits from the way we’ve been doing things?
  • How can the voices of all students be amplified?
  • What does it mean to use an anti-racist lens when working on early reading and progress towards graduation?

And…

How might I use my position and influence for change?

I want my niece to look forward to her classes. I want all students to be excited to return to school, every day, all day and not just because they will see their friends. I want them to see themselves in their schools.

Please share this post with any young people you know. Maybe they might want to contribute their voice to this space.

*means parents, guardians, caregivers

Black Lives Matter

Reading Time: About 1 Minute

It’s past time.

We must do better.

I must do better.

Thank you to all the Black creators, authors, filmmakers and thinkers who are teaching me how the systems and structures in our society have benefitted me, as a white woman. As I read, listen, view and think, the scales are falling from my eyes.

As a leader – however you define that word – in our educational system, I have a moral imperative to move beyond reading and performative activism. I need to use whatever influence and power I have to make change, including donating, questioning, supporting, sharing, and advocating. I welcome feedback and ideas so please contact me or share in the comments.

Some additional resources to learn more:

12 Books for Adults about Anti-Racism and Activism from Huffingtonpost.ca

Black Lives Matter Book List from Epic Books (independent Hamilton Bookstore)

Anti-Black Racism Reading List – University of Toronto Library

What’s the Point of Being a Leader?

Reading Time: About 3 Minutes

Events and people confront my thinking. I feel a prickle of recognition, and the moment of discomfort grows when I realize that how I think or act needs to change. That’s a moment I always need to lean into, even if I’d rather ignore it, because that’s where learning is.

These moments often arrive when I least expect them. I might be feeling complacent about my privileged life and then a check comes to my thinking. It can be small – a friend challenges me on what I wrote in a blog post; or it can be monstrous – a racist murder spurs a long overdue cataclysm.

Hard questions persist when I think about my response:

  • What are my biases, conscious or unconscious?
  • How do I perpetuate systemic racism or toxic authority?
  • Do my words and actions hurt or help?
  • What’s the point of being a leader?
Image by photosforyou from Pixabay 

I recently listened to Simon Sinek talk about leaders who make a difference. They are the first to take responsibility, the first to ask for forgiveness, the first to admit what they don’t know and what they did wrong. By doing so, they lead the way for others to admit vulnerability and wrongdoing and to move towards change. It reminded me of the thinking on servant leadership where a leader’s first goal is to serve staff.

This is what I can do right now. I live with tremendous privilege every day – white, middle class, pandemic privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to be racialized. I don’t experience racism and have no idea what it means to never be good enough for authorities or governments in America or Canada. I do know that this shouldn’t be normal. And I know it starts with me.

Besides continuing my personal anti-racism unlearning and relearning through reading, listening, and sharing, I work in a system where change needs to happen. As Senator Murray Sinclair said, “Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out.” Although he was speaking about Canada’s cultural genocide of indigenous peoples, it applies for all types of racism and inequity. Besides influencing policy development and our system direction, I can also influence those I work with directly, especially principals and vice principals. It seems to me that I can ask this question: “What are you doing to learn more about systemic racism, equity and inclusion?” It’s direct, yet open enough to jumpstart a conversation that we can all learn from.

If you have more suggestions, please let me know. I have lots to learn and unlearn.

There’s an excellent open resource I posted on Twitter: Anti-Racism Resources for White People by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein. We can all read more black authors and diversify our social media streams. This resource is a good place to start. Please share your resource lists and I will post.

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