Racial Equity … One Place to Start

Racial Equity … One Place to Start

Robert Iger says he was named, improbably, CEO of Disney because of three key priorities.

Three Only

“This is a battle for the soul of the brand,” he was told by a friend. “Talk about the brand, how to grow its value, how to protect it.” Then he added, “You’re going to need some strategic priorities.” “Stop talking [at three priorities]. Priorities are the few things that you’re going to spend a lot of time and a lot of capital on. Not only do you undermine their significance by having too many, but nobody is going to remember them all … you only get three.”

Internal First

Robert Iger then says, “I quickly landed on three clear strategic priorities. They have guided the company since the moment I was named CEO: 1) high-quality branded content; 2) technology; and 3) we needed to become a truly global company. My goal is for Disney to be the most admired company in the world, by our consumers and our shareholders and by our employees. That last part is key. We’ll never get the admiration of the public unless we get it from our own people first.”

In regard to racial equity, I used to think…


Since 1992 when Peter Senge published The Fifth Discipline, I have advocated for clarity of vision and alignment. See arrows diagram.

Four-Times Rule

I have preached the four-time rule. If you want to change something, you have to say it four times, in four different ways, before anyone starts to hear it.


I have preached the 30-times rule. Even after thirty times and you are sick of saying it, many in your organization are just hearing it for the first time.

Educational Justice

Over 30 years I have consistently and persistently advocated for educational justice, sometimes to the point of jeopardizing my tenure due to backlash.

The Issue of Our Time

Over 20 years I have advocated for and taught Teachable Point of View. Honing and refining my messages of equity. Using every opportunity, written and oral, to say and share the issue of racial equity as “The Issue of Our Time.”


In so doing, according to research, I have given cover to school leaders who are leading the way. And shut down many of the naysayers that might otherwise have spoken more forcibly in defense of institutional barriers and racism.


AND I have promoted and supported changes that made a difference: equitable graduations, Algebra for All, universal preschool, 3rd-grade reading, ethnic studies, identity safety, and more.

BUT now I see …

how much more I could have done to create an educational justice movement. 

Now I believe …


This is a great place to start. Seattle was one of the first in the nation to adopt an equity policy. It gives cover for you and your staff to do equity work.

Listening to Understand

Our non-dominant families and students have much to tell us. Academics say “counterstories” help us “see” inequity with new eyes. This is our informal assessment system. How is our system working for those farthest from educational justice? Our non-dominant families and students have deep wells of knowledge to share.


Disaggregated data paint a compelling picture of the job that lies before us. Data also tells a story about how our systems are perfectly designed for the results they create.


Although I shared, and taught, Teachable Point of View, I never followed through with the expectation that each leader develop their own TPOV. Each and every leader in Mabton (WA) has developed, shared, refined, and posted their TPOV in regard to equity.

Opportunity Statements

My language, I find, evolves slowly.  I used to talk about achievement gaps until I realized that implied the need to fix kids. The term “opportunity gap” was better, trying to put the focus on us – the system – not the student, but was still deficit-based. “Ensuring Opportunities for Greatness” is my latest attempt. Many now talk about serving those farthest from educational justice. What do you as an education leader, and your entire leadership team, believe and say about educational justice?

[An Aside:

We all know remote learning penalizes those farthest from educational justice. And we try desperately to overcome the technology gaps only to find other barriers more difficult to overcome. Have we built educational justice into our pros and cons for considering when to reopen?]

Core Beliefs

I have long advocated, taught, shared, and used core belief statements to put equity issues front and center. But again, I did too little to follow through. North Mason (WA) regularly puts their core beliefs in front of faculty and asks for examples of evidence. A great way to keep beliefs current and diagnose areas that need work.

Equity Lens

Who benefits, who loses? What equity questions do you ask in EVERY decision? Seattle (WA) now requires every board decision to include an equity impact statement. Federal Way (WA) asks, before every decision, What does race have to do with this? See my earlier blog for other examples.

Small Wins

Where are the positive outliers – the schools that are making gains? What are they doing? How are you sharing those messages?  In Seattle, those stories were shared in monthly PD sessions and were the most popular part of administrative retreats. Thanks to Gates Foundation funding, CEE (Center for Educational Effectiveness) is now researching positive outliers statewide. See their preliminary findings here.

Principal Networks

Principals are on the front lines. Where do they get to share, get support, and get coaching to calibrate their equity messages? Giving principals regular opportunity and responsibility to come, share, and get feedback from colleagues builds capacity, competence, and capacity.


What does your calendar say? What does your agenda say? What does your newsletter say? Does every meeting begin with equity? Does every newsletter share small wins? Do you regularly ask for feedback on how you are doing? Every board meeting in Seattle included recognition of one school or CBO that was leading the way in regard to learning and equity.


Change fails most often, according to John Kotter, due to a lack of urgency. Each of the above steps can increase understanding and urgency. Finally, for school boards or cabinet or school leadership teams, focus groups can do more than anything else to build urgency.  Invite panels of parents, students, or CBOs to come share perspectives on what is working and what needs to be addressed. Seeing the need up close and personalized does much to change minds and hearts. See recent student voices shared with the Washington State Board of Education.


Robert Iger, at the end of his book, says: “If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly, then the people around them don’t know what their own priorities should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted. You can do a lot for the morale of the people around you (and therefore the people around them) just by taking the guesswork out of their day-to-day life.”


AASA reported recently that 77% of superintendents felt it was their responsibility to lead the conversation on equity.  And only 20% of white superintendents felt very well prepared to do so. Keep learning. Keep growing. As never before, each and every one of us must step to lead.


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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