April 5, 2017

Starting Small: Civil Rights

After writing my plan last week I shared the ideas with a few people. We decided that if I didn’t trust people to ask productive questions (and others agreed this was a justified concern) we weren’t really ready to jump all the way to a privilege survey. I was at a loss of how to start a conversation on equity if people couldn’t even acknowledge their privilege, but then I learned that the attorney general’s office was scheduled to give a presentation on Friday. The whole school attended (half at a time) and I went in armed with a pen and notebook, ready to gather some ideas. Luckily one of the district staff members who ran last year’s professional development on cultural competency was there. She’s really enthusiastic and does great work, but that session went poorly because they overestimated people’s comfort and readiness to have conversations on cultural competency. She was excited that I was pushing administration forward but having learned from her experience last year said the privilege checklist was way too much to do this week.

The presentation was on discrimination and how the attorney general’s office works. The speakers were not the most dynamic but the information was useful and the students clapped for the civil rights section. They posed a few sample scenarios where someone’s rights were violated and so I thought that would be a good place to start – we could have students discuss whether different situations were illegal. I proposed this new plan to the principal and he wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose the interactive aspect of the plan so I decided to have students do the agree/disagree by walking to a side of the room activity with scenarios. I shared this idea with the district staff member and she agreed to come visit on Monday to make a detailed plan with me (the assembly was Friday). When we met on Monday we spent the majority of the time getting her caught up with the whole story and my ideas. One thing she said stuck with me – yes, having people add things to our bulletin board was frustrating, but there was a conversation happening and there were no racial slurs or other seriously concerning comments. While the community isn’t educated on equity, at least we’re not battling hate speech! Then she had some helpful thoughts on how to focus the limited time we have (45 minutes with staff to prep for 30 minutes with students the next day). Most importantly – for this first activity we should be focused entirely on the law. No one is sharing opinions, the teacher’s job is to say, “this is what the law says.” She headed out and I spent my evening making slides

Aside: At this point I feel like I’ve had the same conversation 500 times. There are two reasons for this – first, it’s the biggest thing on my mind and second, all the conversations are happening in isolation. I have an idea and run it past my student teacher. I send an email to administration and people who have offered to help plan. My principal stops by to discuss. I’m working while the independent study students are in my room and I ask them a question. I update my lunch group on the newest iteration of feedback and ideas. This seemingly small task (plan a 30 minute advisory activity) has taken over my entire week. I talked to my therapist about this – it’s not news to either of us that I don’t know how to do anything without giving it my absolute best effort even if it interferes with other things I have going on. My new year’s resolution was “just say no” for exactly this reason. However, she also notes that I am obviously passionate about this and if I want to continue working on equity at school I could decide to make it a priority (aka drop something else or otherwise set limits). This week I was able to drop everything to have meetings, talk to my principal whenever he stopped by and spend my evenings making plans because I have an awesome student teacher who has picked up my full schedule. Each time I have to scrap an idea to come up with a new one I thought, “This isn’t my job! I wrote that email last week because I was mad they hadn’t followed through.” But then I have a new idea and I’m excited about it and if feels great when other people are excited about it too. I’m going to need to decide where to draw the line soon because there’s a lot more work to do and I need to decide if my next email will say “Great! We’ve completed step one, let’s meet to make a long term plan and get to work!” or “Great! We’ve completed step one. I’m willing to attend a meeting to brainstorm next steps but I can’t be the one doing the rest of the work.”

Tuesday morning (yesterday? Wow!) I had a great meeting with three (white male) administrators. They were really excited about the plan and were willing to hear what I had to say as well as what the district staff thought. They gave some good feedback on tweaks to make on the slides, asked some clarifying questions and started thinking bigger picture. It was interesting to realize just how comfortable I felt talking about privilege, equity and rights. I have certainly recognized that I have many privileged identities for a long time, but it’s only in the last year or two that I learned about intersectionality (an idea admin was hinting at but didn’t have the vocabulary for) or the extent of my privilege. Apparently the attorney general’s office said something about discrimination against white people in the second presentation (I went to the first one). I wish I’d been there to hear exactly what it was because based on what I’ve read I don’t want anyone (especially our people in power!) to entertain the idea of reverse racism. I didn’t engage them in that debate on Tuesday but I also didn’t include anything about it being a possibility in the slides. I had to leave to catch my flight before the staff training this afternoon (I’m actually typing this on the plane) so I’m curious to hear how it went and how the implementation with students goes tomorrow.

The Final Plan:
Use the Wednesday staff meeting to train staff by running the activity before they run it with students on Thursday.

Divide staff up into groups of 20-30 (easily done by telling them to separate based on the grade level they have for advisory). Have a teacher facilitator, an administrator and a district staff member in each room. (District staff decided not to run it so it didn’t seem like “here comes the district to tell us what to do!” Teacher facilitators were chosen from a group who had attended a training on cultural competency recently.)

For each slide, have participants walk to one side of the room to show their vote. Allow them to share with the group why they made their choice. Go to the next slide to show the correct choice and explain why. For the staff training – make sure that everyone is comfortable with the vocabulary for that question. Also remind them that they should allow productive discussion but they can avoid any uncomfortable discussion by saying “today we’re just talking about what the law says.” 

Acknowledge that all staff will have varying degrees of confidence facilitating these discussions but hopefully this feels manageable (and remember that staff are paired in advisory).

Know that if there is good discussion thirty minutes is not long enough to run this activity. Not to worry! It’s better to have an engaged group learn some of the things than to make them feel like they aren’t heard.

I wish it weren't so late at home now that I'm off the plane, I really want to text someone to ask how the staff trainings went! Tomorrow...

1 comment: