Editor’s Note: Our team at the Northwest Progressive Institute is pleased to welcome our friend Erin Jones back to the Cascadia Advocate to share a letter she has written to education leaders in Washington State that proposes a set of extensively discussed, worthy ideas for implementing racial equity in classrooms and beyond. Erin is a trusted leader on issues related to equity and social justice, funding and galvanizing community leaders and partners.
Erin has over twenty-five years of experience in education, and vied with Chris Reykdal for the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2016. She now advises school districts to help them serve their students better.
Dear Education Leaders:
For eighty-three weekdays between March 6th and July 1st, 2020, I met on Zoom and Facebook Live with educators from across the State of Washington – para-educators, classroom teachers, college access program leaders, agency staff and administrators. These educators joined me initially for a free course in racial equity. What began as instruction developed into a community of practitioners learning together about how to implement racial equity at the staff level, in classrooms and for both family and community.
After all these days and dozens of hours of conversations, we wanted to share some of our most important learning we’ve gleaned with you, hoping to point you in the direction of racial justice for your classroom, facility, school district or organization, after one of the most difficult seasons in our nation’s recent history.
Here are ten recommendations:
- Center the needs and voices of your most marginalized community members (consider staff, students and families) as you make decisions about the future.
- Prioritize relationships before academic standards — staff — staff; staff — family; staff — student.
- Regarding racial equity; practice the three Hs: show humility in your own process of learning, humanize those you serve and historicize the institution in which you work.
- BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students and staff need to know they are seen and heard — they must see themselves in the curriculum and practices of the institution.
- Become the kind of person who is able to lead conversations about race and equity and be prepared for the backlash that will inevitably come from some on staff and in community.
- Reimagine building and classroom disciplinary practices to eliminate harm and address the biases that lead to dis-proportionality.
- At every opportunity, consider representation in hiring practices and in which community-based organizations are engaged in the work of supporting students.
- Prioritize support for social-emotional learning (with a racial justice lens) and self-care up front as the new school year begins, not academic learning loss.
- Involve everyone in the building in professional development, including support staff.
- Leaders must be present on the ground [where their constituents are], starting Day One, to know what is happening in communities, classrooms and campuses. Your physical presence sets the tone.
The Equity Fishbowl is planning a virtual un-conference for the beginning of August to address the above topics. Information will be posted on my Facebook page — Erin Jones LLC, or reach out through my Facebook page for details.
There were also be a virtual event — Back to School: An Equity Centered Conversation with Parents, Providers, Teachers, Educators, and Students — on July 21st from noon to 1:30 PM (please register in advance using this link).
Until that time, we encourage you to spend the summer preparing for a completely different return to a new school year.
Staff and students cannot afford to return to business as “usual”.
This is the first opportunity in the thirty years I have been in the United States working in education for us to reimagine what school could and should look like, particularly for staff and students who have not experienced school as an empowering, affirming, safe place. For now, take time to do your own work.
- Read books: anything by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi or Dr. Beverly Tatum.
- Engage in online learning — Teaching Tolerance and The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge are great places to start.
- Watch films: The Hate U Give, 13th, Cracking the Codes.
We are ready to run with you, alongside you. Please reach out for support. This task is so great, none of us can take it on alone. Thank you!