Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Value of the Experiences of Children, Youth and Families in Policy- and Decision-making

Education is the largest system of supports for children, youth and families.  It is the one system where all children and youth are mandated by law to engage. Given the mandate, there is enormous potential to have great impact on the overall well-being and outcomes for the greatest hope of our communities – children and youth.  As we continue to be data-driven to identify outcomes and measure growth, there is a challenge to the system and system players to continuously be concerned also with the lived experiences of children, youth, and families, which is not captured in data.  

In most systems,  when changes are proposed that challenge the status quo, or push professionals out of their comfort zones, the clients' experiences are often overshadowed by adults professional emotions.  Those emotions stem from how adults process change.  They view it as loss: loss of control, loss of comfort, loss of consistency.   Although it is understood as a natural reaction to change, emotions cannot be the primary focus of policy- and decision-makers. Instead, policy- and decision-makers must prioritize positive results for children, youth and families,  as well as reducing the harm that is experienced by those the system is intended to serve.   
The harm experienced by children, youth, and families varies across different communities and districts, but share principle themes of inequality, inequity, discriminatory policies and practices, and disparate outcomes.  Policy- and decision-makers must be bold to intentionally and openly consider the impact on our most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations when implementing and delaying policies and decisions.  They must interject, in the decision-making process, the lived experiences of those whom the system has the obligation to serve, even when it is uncomfortable and unwelcomed.  Although it may be uncomfortable to challenge a policy/practice shift that has the support of colleagues, it is necessary to do so if the policy/practice shift would produce negative outcomes for children, youth, or families.  This also true if the policy/practice shift would produce positive outcomes for children, youth, and families, but was contested by colleagues.  

Most policy/practice shifts are preceded by a lengthy, collaborative process. When it is known that a policy or practice exposes children, youth or families to harm, policy- and decision-makers must operate with a sense of urgency to address the policy or practice, and may elect to forgo a lengthy process. They may consider making an immediate technical shift, while simultaneously supporting the adaptive shift necessary by staff.  When there is no consensus, leaders must be willing to make and stand behind decisions that are aligned with the mission, vision and goals, with intentionality about reducing any harm experienced by those served by the system.  At any point, there is likely to be resistance and opposition to any change, even if the change is in the best interest of those the system serves.  Remember, resistance and opposition are often first driven by emotions about change.  

In closing, leading systems change is both challenging and rewarding. It requires both technical and adaptive skills. The best leaders and change agents will include the experiences of those served by the system as the story behind the data. In addition, they will prioritize addressing any policy or practice that exposes harm to those served by the system. A fair and equitable system has positive macro impact for children, youth, and families. Don't give up, transform education to meet the needs of children, youth and families. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Invisible Majority

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),

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,

ShaKenya Edison

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Fair and Equitable Free and Public Education system for all students.

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,

ShaKenya Edison

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Missouri's New Law: School fights could be a felony?

For purposes of clarity, I differentiate between a mutual student fight and those where students are viciously attacked with no provocation or those where weapons are used to cause serious bodily injury. Also, it is necessary to mention that both causing physical injury and/or emotional distress is serious.This post should be interpreted to make light of violence of any form or bullying, and the effects of them.

Under Missouri's new statute, students caught fighting could face third-degree assault charges and up to four years in prison. For the state, "third-degree assault" means causing injury to another person. It is also reported that if a student experiences "emotional distress" as a result of harassment caused by bullying, the student accused of the harassment may also be charged with a felony. 

The determining factor of "caused injury" is often a subjective conclusion which is influenced by the personal beliefs, biases, and life experiences of the person making the determination.  The arbitrary interpretation of "caused injury" is not the basis of my objection to this law.  My objection is more based on philosophy and pedagogy.   Student fights are often a result of students lacking the capacity to identify and regulate one's emotions, resolve conflict, or seek help.  In addition to academic content, the role of education is also to develop in students the values, attitudes and behaviors that align with those expected in society. With all we know about brain development, to criminalize, with a felony, this natural deficit in adolescent development is unethical.  

As we intentionally work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, new laws such as this cause alarm; especially, given the indisputable data that show students of color are disproportionately penalized by laws such as this.  The disproportionate enforcement of similar laws and practices has lead to the disproportionate representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.   The thought has crossed my mind that the spirit of the law is to be a deterrent. Unfortunately, as a K-12 Administrator tasked with enforcing state law as it pertains to discipline, I am a witness that the spirit of law does not often manifest in the implementation.  In addition, the spirit of the law also does not often calculate the unintended consequences.  

As educators, we must advocate against laws, policies, and practices that criminalize normal adolescent behavior. As an educator, a proponent of social-emotional learning, and a student of the neuroscience of adolescent brain development, I cannot support or enforce any law as this.  In California, there are Education Codes (schools) and Penal Codes (criminal).  The statutes in the Education Codes give school administrators authority over student discipline violations. The Penal Codes are enforced by law enforcement.  The Education Codes are intentional to promote positive and inclusive alternatives and restorative practices, before exclusionary discipline.  The challenge is the behavior violations in the Education Codes are also duplicated in the Penal Codes. This raises a question of jurisdiction. Behavior violations that occur on school campuses should be governed by Education Codes. This is the first step to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.  The Education Codes even give guidance on when law enforcement should be notified.  This mandated notification only involves a handful of serious violations, which does not include fights.  

As I continue to conduct the "Let's Talk School Discipline!" series, in an effort to reform school discipline practices, I will use the Missouri statute as an example of a step in the wrong direction. Criminalizing normal adolescent behavior has two negative consequences: students are referred to the juvenile justice system at higher rates and students have lack of access to quality education.  Both of these consequences have long-lasting negative impacts on student outcomes, family socioeconomic upward mobility, and community.  Education has the potential to change the life trajectory of students.  Any limit to the access of education is detrimental.  Educators must evaluate laws, policies, and practices through the lens of limiting access and potential life outcomes. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Teaching in the Post-Truth Era

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Whole Student

Due to surgery and forced time off for recovery, I have been reflecting on the ‘good ole’ days and heading back to school.  It is timely, as my district started school two weeks ago and most of the surrounding districts returned or will return shortly.  It was while I was subdued by pain medication and could do nothing but think that I began to reminisce about the excitement of heading back to school.  I zeroed in on my high school years and the excitement of shopping for back-to-school clothes and school supplies.  I did not always get exactly the clothes or supplies I wanted, but always everything I needed. 

More than the new things, I remember being excited at the thought of new classes and having a consistent social life again.  After all, that is what middle and high school was for me and continue to be for many other tweens and teens.  It was the place where my social circle expanded beyond family.  It was where I learned to deal with challenges and develop coping skills.  It was where I worked hard to define my social status among peers.   It is where I developed positive relationships with other adults and began to test the boundaries of those relationships.  It was where I learned that I could do the bare minimum and still be above-average (the birth of my academic procrastination that I battled through undergrad and grad school).  Overall, my school experience was positive, including many opportunities to succeed, as well as learn from failures.

Fast forwarding a few decades, and now working in education, it is apparent to me that the start of school triggers similar and very different responses for young people.  I now know the student population is more than genders and ethnicities, but instead, ranges across the whole gamut of demographics (foster, homeless, pregnant/parenting, juvenile justice involved, military family, transgender, low and high socio-economics, English language learners, students with disabilities, etc.). Just as the demographics differ, the specific school experiences also differ greatly. Given this fact, student demographics require educators to be jacks of all trades. This is an unfair industry expectation, but very necessary to ensure the success of ALL students.  Success for ALL students makes it paramount for Instructional Leaders, like myself, to lead educators through transitions that are in the best interest of the profession and student outcomes.  It is equally important to preserve and embellish what is working well, and ensure that all practices be evaluated through an equity lens.  Change is difficult, but necessary. 

In a nutshell, the challenge is for educators to balance instruction and meeting all of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for their students in order to maximize learning. 

Although introduced over 70 years ago, in Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation," many current day frameworks are rooted in this theory, such as social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, and developmental assets.  Before students can be expected to learn, their basic, psychological and self-fulfillment needs must be met.  When vested stakeholders come together, these needs may be met through innovative, collaborative, no-cost/low-cost practices.   For long-term sustainability and impact, any practices must be memorialized in board policies so the changes outlast any individual. Change does not happen overnight.  It has to start with changing beliefs, before changing practices and outcomes.  

Edison Educational Consulting is available to facilitate stakeholder conversations and support planning system change around this shift. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When in doubt, stand on principle!

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.