Thanks to those of you who joined the webinar on equity. This is a complicated topic that has the potential to drive a wedge when it should compel us to build community in new ways.
Instead of being afraid to talk about race and culture and privilege and opportunity, what if we were to embrace these things, to see these conversations as opportunities to practice courage, bravery, grace and mercy - all qualities we hope our students will embrace throughout their K-12 journeys.
I talk about equity as NOT equality. Equity is not giving every student or staff member the same thing, NOR is it expecting every student or staff person to get to the same place or operate in the same manner. Equity is what happens when we have taken down barriers and provided the supports necessary for EVERYONE to be their best self.
EQUITY is HARD WORK.
There is not one path. There is not one end game. Success for each student may look different. There are not 5 or 10 simple steps to get you to EQUITY.
Equity is at the nexus of your personal story, understanding the story of those you serve and serve with and a willingness to interrogate the many systems at play in the lives of those around you.
Your personal story includes understanding how you move (and have moved) in the world and in education spaces, how you understand your own racial, ethnic and cultural narratives and experiences, and how all of these things cause you to experience the work you do and the roles you play in education.
Understanding your community involves knowing the identities of all those who are being served and who are serving alongside you. Are there groups you are serving well in your setting? Are there groups you struggle to authentically connect with? Are there communities with behaviors and attitudes that baffle you? Do you know who the leaders are in those communities? Who could serve as your culture brokers to bridge the gap for both their children and others like them? Are there staff members with whom you struggle to connect or build authentic relationship?
Interrogating the systems requires a recognition of the many systems, practices and policies that are at play within and outside the schoolhouse. Here are some of those systems/programs within the school or district that need to be investigated - special education, gifted education, English Language Learners, advanced programs (IB, AP, etc), Who is being disciplined, how often and for what? Who is missing class? Who is failing? What are the patterns you notice? How are outside systems - housing, food, health (mental and physical), transportation - impacting how students are able to show up at school?
This journey is a difficult one. You are on a marathon. Training for a marathon is not “fun”. As someone who hated running without a ball for 40 years and has only recently become a long-distance runner, I have noticed many parallels between training for half-marathons and doing equity work. As you begin training, especially if you are not a runner, the first mile and then the second are not easy. Your body will want to quit. Your body will hurt. Your body will scream at you to stop. If you can build up stamina, once you hit mile three and find your stride, your body may still not feel comfortable, but you will be less uncomfortable. Your body will be more willing to take that next step and the one after that. Working towards EQUITY is like that.
For those who are looking for resources to unpack their own stories, I provided a list in the PowerPoint I shared during the Webinar. However, I would offer several additional resources. A great book to assist in your own identity work is This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell. How to Raise Anit-Racist Kids by Rebekah Gienapp is my recommendation for White parents to talk race with their children or students (please don’t wait until they are in high school or college to have these conversations). I would also recommend White people listen to anything by Tim Wise or the talk by Ali Michael called “How Can I Have a Positive Racial Identity? I’m White”. For Black and Brown folks, I would recommend the TEDx by Brittany Barron called “What Beyoncé Taught Me About Race”, although if you Google “TED Talks about race”, you will find quite a few.
Thank you to each one of you who is running this race with me. After 3 years of long-distance running, I have learned that running is much more fun when there are other runners on the same path. Let’s cheer one another on in this journey to creating great spaces for everyone.
Erin Jones has been involved in and around schools for the past 26 years. She has taught in a variety of environments, and in some of the most diverse communities in the nation. Last fall she was a candidate for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Erin received an award as the Most Innovative Foreign Language Teacher in 2007, while working at Stewart Middle School in Tacoma and was the Washington State Milken Educator of the Year in 2008, while teaching at Rogers High School in Spokane. She received recognition at the White House in March of 2013 as a "Champion of Change” and was Washington State PTA’s “Outstanding Educator” in 2015. After serving as a classroom teacher and instructional coach, Erin worked as an executive for two State Superintendents. Erin left the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction 5 years ago to work in college-access at the school district level. She left her job to run as a candidate for State Superintendent and was the first Black woman to run for any state office in Washington state, a race she lost by a mere 1%. Erin has two children in college, one who works full-time and plays rugby, and a husband, James, who is a teacher in North Thurston School District.