Over the past few weeks, I have conducted several end-of-the-year virtual sessions for schools and school districts. The most requested topic has been on Fostering HOPE. You might wonder why hope is the topic that is connecting with so many educators right now, and I believe that I know why. Hope is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you have a role to play in making it better. (Casey Gwinn, J. D., & Hellman, C. 2018) Specifically, how to foster hope and promote learning spaces that address and confront issues of inequality and racism. I have hope as I see the movement of my fellow educators demonstrating a willingness to be bold and direct about racism’s existence and the trauma that it has caused.
I am also slightly concerned. For many, there is a desire for a quick answer to “fix” the problem. Specifically, in a recent workshop, a participant asked me, “Shauna, what do we do now?” While some definitive actions can be done at the personal, school, and district levels, I would offer that one of the first steps should be to ask questions. We need to ask ourselves individually and collectively some hard questions. To make it easier, I’ve compiled some important first step questions that can be used to determine your next steps.
- How do I view people that are different than me, the same as me, and how do they influence the way I interact with students, families, and their communities?
- How am I intentional about examining what biases I may unconsciously hold?
- What have I learned from my culture of origin that informs my values and behaviors? How is this different from what other people may have learned in their culture?
- To what extent are my actions displaying to my students that I value their language, culture, and identities?
- How am I actively seeking knowledge to address social justice?
- Where is a safe space, system, or resource that will allow me to engage in conversations on how to better serve students of color?
- If someone asked my students what they liked best about me, would they respond with comments centered around my values of equity and inclusivity?
- What articles or books have I read on culturally responsive teaching, anti-racism, and equity?
- Have I missed opportunities to speak up about injustices? What could I do to prepare to respond if inequities take place?
- Who can serve as accountability partners in pursuit of an anti-racist and equitable school and community?
It is okay to say that you “do not know” something…YET. Be intentional about listening and learning from others who have different experiences than your own. The good news is that neuroscience shows that the human brain has a tremendous ability for neuroplasticity, the ability for our brains to change and reprogram itself throughout our lives. This reprogramming can happen because of new levels of awareness and new experiences that replace previous ways of deep-seated thinking. It is essential to take the initiative and demonstrate that you want to know more. Then as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”
Beyond learning, there is also the call to action. Challenge yourself to step up, address, and tackle racial adversity when you see it. According to Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist, nobody, regardless of race, is simply racist or anti-racist in a static way. “What we say and do about race in each moment determines what, not who, we are.” It isn’t helpful to fall into essentialist categories around race, because we all have the ability to change our behavior as we gain awareness,and we have the ability to admit when we’ve made mistakes.” Know that it is not the responsibility of those of color to challenge inequality for your school and community; it is the responsibility of all who strive to be anti-racist.
The time to have courageous conversations surrounding race and equality is NOW. We must not be afraid to tackle hard questions, and certainly not afraid of appearing as though we do not know something. I am hopeful about our tomorrow, not because of our leaders or our current situation, but because of people like you who commit to self-reflection, speaking out and taking action. For we all must know that the time is always right to do what is right!!
Casey Gwinn, J. D., & Hellman, C. (2018). Hope rising: How the science of hope can change your life. Morgan James Publishing.
Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One world.
This school year has been one for the history books. Congratulate yourself on all that you have done to support students during this time. Wishing all of you an amazing and restful summer!!!!
On Another Note…
If it is of interest to you, I recently released a faith-based e-Book entitled fearLESS: A 21 Day Devotional to Feed Your Faith and it is available now on Amazon.