Leading Racial Equity

Leading Racial Equity

Moving from courageous conversations to courageous leadership.

Much of our equity work in schools has focused on courageous conversations, popularized by Glenn Singleton and others.  As leaders we can and must go much further.  Yes, we should encourage our staff to have courageous conversations about race and equity.  More to the point, people do what they see modeled by their leaders.  How can we use our own voices to lead the way?  And yes, we also need to act on our verbal commitments.

Here is one example (and an assignment) that I wrote this month for my executive leadership course.

To:       Colleagues

From:   Larry

Date:    April 10, 2020

RE:       Leading Courageously: Equity Memos

Equity is much on our minds and hearts these days and the challenges are great.  Our data reveal the brutal truth; we are indeed leaving far too many of our students behind.  Our disaggregated data reveal gaps that are deeply troubling.

One thing we can all do as leaders is communicate courageously.  There should be no doubt by anyone on our team where we stand on creating more equitable systems for the students we have excluded, for far too long, from opportunities they deserve.  Research shows that staff do, in fact, take on the characteristics of their leaders.  If we model the change we wish to see in our part of the organization, staff will notice and follow our lead.

Be clear about what you believe and what you expect.  Then communicate courageously with messages of the heart, head and hands.   My example follows:


Racial equity is THE issue of our time.  This excerpt from my interview with Jim Collins explains why this issue is important:

NYLAND: More than half of our kids in public schools are students of color. We’ve never served them well and soon they will be half of our workforce. It’s both a moral and an economic imperative. Finding our positive outliers and figuring out what that flywheel looks like for the next generation is absolutely essential.

COLLINS: I have a great passion for K-12 education. My fundamental belief is that the only acceptable end game is that a random sample of all 18-year-old kids in this country would show no statistically significant difference in outcomes by zip code. And, until you get to that point, you’re not there yet. As a kid, you don’t get to decide where you’re born or which neighborhood you grow up in. I come at it from that starting point, that ultimate outcome.


My parents would have been ELL kids. I would have been a free-and-reduced lunch kid.  But my Dad went to SPU on the GI Bill and my parents always assumed I would go to college.  My mother made sure I graduated before she went back to school to get her degree.  I certainly benefitted from white privilege.  I also know the huge difference that education made in my life.  As a result, I have spent nearly my entire career in diverse districts working toward the goal of success for every student.


Here is what I am asking you, as educational leaders, to do:  In addition to hiring special speakers and setting gap closing goals, make it a point to communicate weekly about the importance of seeing, knowing and advocating for each and every one of our historically marginalized students.  Write an instructional memo (like this one) to explain the higher purpose, the big WHY (as Simon Sinek calls it).  Describe what it is that you expect from each of your staff. For example:  Know each student by name, interests, strengths and needs.


Then figure out how else you can share your message and keep it fresh.  Put it at the top of every agenda.  Include it in every newsletter.  Interview students and parents to model “knowing students.”  Do focus groups with marginalized parents and report their needs back to staff.  Find ways to share their story. Catch your staff doing what you asked them to do.  Visit classrooms and measure the engagement/inclusion of marginalized students.  Ask your leadership team, “What else can we do to highlight the need, the urgency and the actions needed?”

Thanks for joining me in this so very important endeavor.  – Larry

Be the change you want to see.  – Mahatma Gandhi

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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com