Leadership for Learning – Leading in the Gap
In recent polls, nearly 90 percent of superintendents say that their biggest challenge is boosting the academic achievement of underprivileged and/or struggling students.
What can school districts do to close gaps?
Some of the most common approaches
Schedule a prominent speaker to talk to the entire staff about equity. This is a good first step and can initiate the conversation about white privilege and institutional racism. But it is not enough.
Constitute a parent/staff committee to review and recommend. Another good first step; one that can build ownership. But it takes time and runs the risk that the committee may recommend too much … or too little.
Write and adopt an equity policy. Another good start but policies alone won’t change much.
Steps you can take to go deeper
Jim Collins says that facing up to the brutal facts is the number one way to get people moving. Look at your data. Disaggregate it. Own it. Share it. Be prepared when you do so. This will indeed put energy, passion, and urgency into moving forward. Your leadership voice in support of closing gaps will eventually build momentum … and silence some of the naysayers.
Meet with community groups. Pull focus groups together. Talk to students. Learn first-hand what students and parents of color are experiencing. Invite representatives of color to talk with your administrative team. Share what you are learning. Steady ownership and coaching from the top will eventually shape the agenda.
Look for those who are making a difference and learn from them. There is, as yet, little by way of proven practices. But there are evidence proofs. Visit these schools and classrooms. Capture their stories. Spread the news: celebrate success, share ideas and create encouragement and hope.
Revise Discipline Codes
Many of our state laws came out of the “three strikes” era. Reviewing those documents with a growth mindset lens can help focus on improved behavior more so than punishment, threats and expulsion.
Positive growth mentors
Having an adult advocate at school – that looks like them – makes a big difference for students of color. Yes, ideally, that is a teacher. But support staff and volunteers can also fill this role. In Seattle, attendance went up, discipline went down and achievement improved when students had a mentor that looked like them and cared about them.
We all know that one shot efforts seldom work. Making major changes in our beliefs and practices takes time. Race and Equity Teams in each building help make that happen by keeping the focus on school improvement goals AND closing gaps. And on-line modules put materials at your fingertips 24/7 and just in time for each faculty meeting.
Virtually all parents have the same aspirations for their children; even if they don’t speak English well and don’t feel welcome at PTA events. Be intentional about going out of the way to invite the parents that have previously been marginalized. Call them. Go the them. Schedule a family fun night. Serve food. Showcase their child’s work.
Improvement Science Networks
Ask schools and departments to set specific gap closing goals. Organize principals into improvement networks (much like teacher PLCs). Meet regularly. Use protocols to exchange information on strategies and progress. Keep learning by doing.
The journey in Seattle moved from …
Excellence for All (with students of color implied in the all) to …
Excellence and Equity for Every Student (without concrete plans to make it so) to …
Ensuring racial equity.
Seattle’s Theory of Action
The headline in Seattle’s new strategic plan, now reads:
WHEN WE FOCUS on ensuring racial equity in our educational system, unapologetically address the needs of students of color who are furthest from educational justice, and work to undo the legacies of racism in our educational system…
Achieving racial equity takes perseverance and focus.
As we do more, we learn more. Each step leads to another next step. We get smarter only by engaging and taking action.