Sunday, May 19, 2019
Saturday, May 5, 2018
In full transparency, I am unsure if I heard the term "invisible majority" at any point throughout my life, and it has been merely buried in my subconscious. However, it is clear to me that the concept popped into my head recently as I observed and listened to educators and elected officials discuss an amazing program that clearly had inequitable outcomes for a school population. In my opinion, the discussion passively addressed the inequitable impact on the majority of students, while intentionally highlighting the benefits of the program which disproportionately benefits the minority of the students. As amazing as the program may be, as an educator with a social justice lens, all I could focus on was the significant disproportionate representation in the students who were able to access and benefit from the program -- the "invisible majority". In fairness, the presenter briefly highlighted the disproportionate data and introduced a proposal to expand the program in hopes of addressing the gap, but the presentation and questions that followed quickly shifted the conversation to the "program" and not the systemic root cause(s) that allowed for the disproportionate student representation. I understand a discussion about the program was the easier conversation. Nonetheless, it is my principled and professional stance that educators and elected officials have a fiduciary duty to prioritize the latter.
Although this was one presentation about one program, the concept of the "invisible majority" permeates through many systems, especially education. I propose it is a widely understood concept and the real reason education struggles to achieve equitable outcomes that result in a quality education and experience for all students. I am not pointing the finger or placing blame. The reality is until we focus efforts on what is not working for the majority of students, instead of simply scaling up what is working for the minority of students, desired results will remain out of our grasp. Efforts have to move beyond courageous conversations to actions and accountability. If I am honest, at this point, as an educational leader, I am exhausted by the number courageous conversations I either initiate or participate in daily. Courageous conversation alone will not change the experiences of the invisible majority. Conversations must be followed up with clear expectation, actions, and accountability.
Earlier this week, I suggested education adopt the business sector's concept and view students and parents as customers or clients. If we viewed students and parents as customers or clients, we would focus our efforts on maintaining or attaining their business. I am not naive to the fact that the issues that plague education are complicated and entrenched, and will not be remedied by one mental model shift. That being said, there still remains the need for the shift. Using the business model, maintaining or attaining the invisible majority as customers or clients requires intentionality. According to Forbes , the four key areas to focus on for increasing revenue are: strategy, structure, people and process. It is important to have a clear sales strategy that aligns with your revenue goals. The structure must support your strategic efforts. Making sure you have right people in the right roles is critical. Lastly, to ensure velocity and efficiency and to avoid wasting time and effort, killer processes have to be in place. (Keenan, The Four Key Areas of Increasing Sales Revenue, (2014), www.forbes.com)
Clearly education's goal is not to increase revenue; but, instead, to improve educational outcomes and experiences for students. For the purpose of this blog entry, the focus is the invisible majority. How does education strategically identify areas of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the system that will directly impact educational outcomes and experiences for the invisible majority? Is there a structure in place that allows the right pieces, people, and processes to be in place to implement the strategies? These are not new questions to be posed by educators. I have worked and continue to work with phenomenal educational leaders and educators who pose these questions and solutions daily in meetings, at lunch, and over adult beverages at happy hour. What I would question, is the degree of intentionality of conversations, and how the conversations then move to intentional actions and accountability. To assume a conversation about "all students" would trigger intentional efforts that substantially impact the invisible majority is idealistic and unrealistic. General and broad conversations about "all students" only perpetuate and widen the achievement and access gaps, not narrow them. The right people in the right positions will lead conversations away from what is best for "all students" and begin to have critical, courageous conversations around the educational outcomes and experiences of specific groups of students. The conversations should address inequities; adverse impacts of people, policies and practices; vertical and horizontal accountability, and intentionality.
The invisible majority deserves educational leaders and educators that will hold critical, courageous conversations, with the goal of moving to actions and accountability. There is no compromise.
Educational Leader and Social Justice Advocate,
Saturday, April 28, 2018
As I return from the Equal Justice Initiative's Peace and Justice Summit and grand opening of the Legacy Museum and the Peace and Justice Memorial, I am reflecting on the entire experience and I am full. I feel as if I am ready to birth a new movement, but it is not new-- more like revived, renewed, recycled. This movement is to champion educational justice through the lens of humanity and equity. Although the physical journey through the museum and memorial was short in distance, it was a long journey in time, spanning back over 200 years. The journey shined light on how far we have come and how far we still need to go.
As I walked through the memorial and read the reasons men, women and children were lynched, it became apparent the lynch mobs' goals were not merely to kill an individual, but, instead, to kill the seeds of equality, justice, fairness, prosperity and humanity. Some of the reasons individuals were lynched ranged from refusing to vacate their own property, organizing sharecropers, writing a note, testifying against a white man, registering Blacks to vote, and complaining about being discriminated against. As I reflect on the past and present state of and experiences in many communities of color, it could be argued, the mobs in part achieved their goals. Today, in 2018, there still remains remnants of the terror that lynchings imparted on an entire race. The remnants of inequality, injustice, greed, and inhumanity are embedded in many of our institutions and structures.
As I walked through the museum, I was overwhelmed by the lack of humanity reflected in photos of those who gathered to bear witness to lynchings and attacks, as if it were entertainment. There were men, women and even children in the crowds. As I looked at the crowds, it became even more evident to me that passive observance is passive consent. Sitting or standing in silence does not make us less guilty of the deplorable acts we witness. Not directly participating is not innocence.
Yes, lynchings are no more, but we continue to grapple with institutions and structures that achieve the same outcomes as lynchings, including, but not limited to: inequality, injustice, unfairness, and dramatically limiting access to education and financial prosperity for people of color. The same agenda with different methods of attainment. There continues to be work to be done!
As an educator, advocate, and social justice warrior, I attended the Equal Justice Initiative's Peace and Justice Summit, as well the museum and memorial grand openings to gain tools and insight to continue working to ensure all students, especially students of color, have access to a high quality, fair and equitable free and public education system. For me, this means educational professional are supported and held accountable to professional standards; policies and practices are monitored to ensure fairness; success for all students is at the center of all decisions; elected officials are held accountable for desired outcomes for all students; best practices become memorialized in policies as the norm and expectation; identified injustices and inequities are directly addressed and remedied; and lastly, the students with the greatest needs receive the appropriate levels of support and services. To do this important work, leaders must be results driven, continuously challenge status quos and mental models, master the critical and hard conversations, set professional expectations with accountability, advocate for resources and services, and invest in capacity building.
I am excited to continue this work with social justice advocates, near and far. I highly recommend a visit to the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial. For those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it!
Committed to the work,
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Some educators have claimed that a career in education is the most rewarding. I would have to agree. Those same folks around March of every year may also be heard saying that working in education is equally as challenging. Helping young people reach their maximum potential - rewarding. Working along side passionate, selfless educators willing to go the extra mile to ensure success for every student - rewarding. However, the nuisances of working in education - major challenge. If you work in education, I do not need to populate the list of challenges for you, chances are you probably have a few running lists of challenges going already. For others, some of the challenge highlights are achievement gap, access gap/inequities, LCAP/LCFF, teacher tenure/evaluations, top-down initiatives, state/local budgeting discrepancies, union demands, staff competencies, culturally relevant pedogogy, community relations, safety and the list could go on and on depending on individual districts.
That being said, it is always my intent to be solution-oriented on my blog, in professional development I facilitate, and personally. Therefore, given the innumerable list of challenges educators face on any given day, my recommendation is to know, stand on, lead with, and make decisions based on your core, guiding professional principles. It is easy, and human nature, to get distracted by challenges such as individual situations, isolated circumstances, and/or temporary variables. I'm not saying ignore the challenges. I am saying refocus your efforts and be dogmatic about the desired outcomes. When you have identified and stand on your principles, even given some of the above-referenced challenges, you continue to make decisions and/or act with the desired outcome in mind. When you stand on principle, the "how" and the "who" may change often, but not the "what".
I worked very closely with an awesome group of passionate, dedicated cross-sector of professionals and community members for three years developing a strategic plan for countywide efforts to reduce the violence youth were exposed to and to create vibrant communities where youth could thrive. This effort used results based accountability to guide our three year planning and implementation process. It was an amazing learning experience.
With results based accountability, the planning begins with first identifying desired outcomes or goals based on guiding principles. In other words, the strategic planning begins with the "what" do we want, not the "how" do we do it. Instead of starting with the problem, and only focusing on finding a narrow solution to the specific problem, results based accountability forces the process to first identify the desired outcome. For example, if truancy is a problem in a school, as a deterrent, having students and parents cited or fined might be an action some schools take in response to the problem of truancy. On the other hand, using results based accountability, given the guiding principle of inclusiveness, leaders may begin with identifying the goal of wanting a school culture where each student is valued and present daily to contribute to the learning experience. If that's the goal, the next step is to identify actions and/or supports that are needed to make that goal happen. The latter example is more than taking the narrow action of citing in response to truancy. With the goal of wanting a school culture where each student is valued and present daily to contribute to the learning experience, the intentional actions taken and/or enacted policy will indeed affect truancy, but will also impact overall student achievement, staff moral, and school culture.
When educators use guiding principles to make decisions that impact students, the thought processes and conversations are more aligned with the latter example. I'm sure we have all gone to planning committee meetings that were derailed and ineffective because they began (and probably ended) with simply stating and restating the problems, instead of thinking big picture goals. Here is my challenge to you transformational leaders: TAKE YOUR MEETING BACK AND REDIRECT THE EFFORTS.
I know it will take planning and strategizing, and will drive you close to the edge....but don't jump! Remember the desired outcomes, and move the group towards it. Keep them focused on intentional actions for desired outcomes. Continue to remind them of the common ground principles and the eutopia that could exist when the outcomes/goals are realized. Acknowledge and validate their concerns, complaints, and endless list of problems, but don't stay there. Bring them back to guiding principles, desired outcomes, and intentional actions. This takes practice, flexibility, tough skin, vision, strategizing, being dogmatic, and most of all patience. This may start as a retreat conversation that spills over to the school year. Get your leadership team around the table to strategize how best to start the conversation, but by all means start it. Our students can't wait. Educators must know, stand on, lead with, and make decisions based on your core, guiding professional principles.