Racial Equity Teams and Improved Practice

Deliberate Practice Makes Racial Equity Teams Better

Learning by doing is key to getting better.  Deep practice, according to Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code) is operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes. This is what makes you smarter/better.

Using school based racial equity teams to advance racial equity

Practice 1:

This was my first attempt.  Teacher/principal teams came together monthly for half day sessions.  We focused on respect and growth mindset.  Teams planned – and shared – their ideas for reaching their colleagues.  In time we began to learn which plans worked better.  Looking back, we were not focused enough on racial equity and specific plans.

Practice 2:

In my next district, we had 10 racial equity teams (out of 100 schools).  These were volunteers,  early adopters, and eager participants.  Our district team was prescriptive around background knowledge and how racism works.  Looking back, we were not as clear about what practices might be most effective.

Practice 3:

We agreed in bargaining to add 10 schools per year. That stretched our capacity to support teams.  There was less time for in-school coaching.  Saturday PD sessions were so popular they soon grew to overcapacity.  The early teams had heard the background content before and began to launch projects.  Looking back, we had little alignment between racial equity teams, building leadership teams, and district goals.

Practice 4: 

As I left the district, we had 40 racial equity teams.  District leaders and union leaders renewed collaboration efforts. They created a handbook for racial equity teams.  Racial equity team goals were aligned with the district goals. District goals focused on closing opportunity caps for students of color, especially African American students.  The local university joined as a RPP – Research Practice Partner.  Looking back, the research team found that participating schools with supportive administrators were more effective and less fearful in addressing racism.

Practice 5: 

Racial equity teams will soon number 60.  A district/union “partnership committee” now approves the grants to schools.  School plans must be aligned with school/district equity goals and focus on one of three areas:

  • Capacity development; developing racial literacy
  • Embedding ethnic studies in classrooms
  • Anti-racism; dismantling institutional racism

Practice 6: 

Checking back with the district, I interviewed Manal Al-ansi, Director of Integrated Department of Curriculum and Racial Equity Advancement.  Some of her lessons learned:

  • Narrow the focus to do well at 3 things, don’t try to do 10 things poorly.
  • De-silo district supports. Use district work and staff to support RETs in SEL, parent engagement, ethnic/Black studies.
  • Relationships and partnerships are key. Partnerships with the unions. Research partners.  Partners across silos.
  • Community of practice. Going to a cohort model will help teams learn from each other
  • Grow coaching. Set up common expectations for coaching. Make sure coaches have scheduled time with each team.
  • Common focus. Tie accountability to district SMART goals. Goals like, creating a safe/welcoming environment for all students.

If you were to start over tomorrow …

Final lessons learned from Manal Al-ansi:

  • Start with definitions. Social justice and education justice are too nebulous. Vague terms allow many to marginalize matters of race.
  • Lead with racial justice. It is clearer and more accurate in framing the focus.
  • Be clear from the outset. Changing language later leads to lost time and traction.
  • Emphasize, more and earlier, that the answers and solutions we seek are within BIPOC communities and the people the community recognize as credible leaders for racial justice.
  • Focus on developing specific skills and practices before encouraging teams to move to a place of action.

Deliberate Practice

Cycles of learning work.  Listen to BIPOC communities. Do good research.  Grow capacity.  Move to action.  Keep pushing the edge of your practice. Stretch into growth areas. Keep learning by doing. Reflect and improve. Deliberate practice helps overcome obstacles.  Mistakes make us smarter and create the pathway to success.

Many thanks to Manal Al-ansi, Dr. Concie Pedroza, Dr. Keisha Scarlett and others who have continued to lead the way on this journey to keep learning through deliberate practice.






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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