Equity in Action: An Educator's View on Learning, Teaching, and Leading

Equity in Action: An Educator's View on Learning, Teaching, and Leading

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Somebody’s Somebody

I smiled to myself because of similar June experiences in three other districts. There I was in a high school library breathing in stagnant air that only an educator or former prisoner-of-war could comprehend. District office representation, principals, and administrative interns were gathered for the end-or-the-year Principal Academy, as no fewer than seven fans buzzed to draw in fresh air through open doors.  Over 70 of us, seated around circular tables, basked in the knowledge that the school-year was coming to a close, as only state reports, final evaluations, and administrative check-outs remained. Informal conversation topics included how few open positions remained in each building and upcoming vacation destinations.  The smiles came easy as we broke bread tortillas with one another and enjoyed the coma inducing “lightness” of catered Mexican food.  

The line-item agendas on each table included time to address the “big rocks” (initiatives) for the coming year, professional learning structures for administrators, and a plan to address House Bill 1240. We were ready to begin as Principal Kim stood to introduce a young lady in attendance. What happen next would trump any professional learning that would take place over the next three hours.

The former student from Principal Kim’s elementary school took the microphone and sang beautifully.  Her emotion, the power of her voice, and the words of the song touched our hearts and brought tears to the eyes of many. After finishing, the student looked at the ground and stated, “I’m a very shy person, but I know that Ms. Kim loves me. She pushes me...she believes in me, and now I believe in myself.” She then went on to share her dreams and the goals for her future and thanked "Ms. Kim" for her love and support. 

The moment reminded me that, while we can’t choose which small act or moment may alter the life of a student, we can be cognizant of our words and actions. I believe the words of that statement and know that the best way to interact with students is to follow the counsel of Lakeside High School football coach, Frank Hall, who stated the following:

“Every kid is someone’s pride and joy, or wants to be someone’s pride and joy, and it’s my responsibility to be that someone for him. I keep thinking, How would I want my kid to be treated?—and then I treat ‘em that way.”

Coach Hall's words affirm those of John C. Maxwell, who professed, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  
That self-proclaimed "timid" student in a sweltering high school library reaffirmed to me that personal connections are paramount in all that we do.   We can agonize over test scores, senate bills, and instruction; however, positive relationships are the catalyst for improvement.  Every day we make a difference, as our interactions with students can be positive and lasting, indifferent and forgettable, or negative and damaging.  Every day we can be somebody's somebody.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Place To Be

“What would make you want to live and work in Burien?”

This off-script question was asked as I sat in on an interview conducted via Skype with a credentialed candidate in another country.  While I would like to believe that the purpose may have been to determine if the individual had done her research about the area, I knew by the intonation of the question and knowledge of the panel member, that he wondered why someone would want to work with a diverse population, comprised of over 75 languages, in an area of increasing poverty.  The intent of the question made my heart sink.

Instantly I reflected upon my move last year to the Seattle area.  My wife and I had limited time to find a home and had no knowledge of the different communities up and down the I-5 corridor from Tacoma to Seattle.  I asked many people, all in education or with children attending local schools, to recommend a community where we could raise our four children.  To my surprise, my inquiries yielded, instead, a list of areas to avoid.

“Stay away from Tacoma.” 

“You don’t want to live in Kent.”

“I wouldn’t recommend Federal Way.” 

“What ever you do, don’t live in White Center.”

What would happen if I, as an educator, shared the same perception of students that some people do about where these same students come from and the communities that they represent?  It seems to me that the best teachers and leaders don’t derogate someone else’s school and community or waste time complaining about their own.  Instead, they take action, as the grass is always greener where it’s watered.  Instead of admiring the problem, they become part of the solution.  Actions express priority, and top educators make where they are the place to be!

What I appreciate about every community that I’ve come to know is the common denominator that they share – students who need equity driven champions in the form of positive, caring, instructionally sound teachers and administrators.  Why would someone want to work in an area of increasing poverty and high diversity?  I answer that question by sharing that poverty is not a sickness and being diverse is not a challenge to overcome.  Champions don’t operate from a deficit perspective, and, instead, they recognize that there are profound strengths and extensive intellectual potential in all students, especially when it comes to those who live in generational poverty or experience cultural trauma.

As an educator, it’s my charge to be a keeper of hope, without relying on hope as a strategy for success. I must be positive, showing love and concern to all students, without lowering expectations or loving them to mediocrity.  I must exercise the power to change lives and impact futures through what I believe and do.  All means all, whether I live in Burien, Tacoma, Kent, Federal Way, or White Center, and I owe it to all students to make where I am the place to be.