May 31, 2020

Every Single Meeting

One of the reasons I was most excited to get the job I have now was the research project we're working on. It's focused on building teacher capacity and increasing the number of underrepresented students in upper level mathematics. [Fun fact, it's funded by Biogen. Yea, that Biogen. No one on my team was at that conference so I wasn't exposed to the virus due to that event, and they have been generous in broadening our funding as we scrambled to support teachers in the transition to emergency remote teaching.]

When I started my new job last September I didn't know how to describe my role. Sometimes I'd lead professional development. Other times I'd coach teachers. Still other times I'd work on a grant with an ed tech company. At first it felt like I was a lot of different people doing very different things, but as the year went on, and most especially as I transitioned to working from home and switched hats from hour to hour rather than from day to day, I realized that I'm the same person doing largely the same thing in all those spaces. I'm a coach. And I'm living the dream where the values I hold close are also the ones that I'm supposed to focus the majority of my effort on at work!

Whether I'm working through the research project or not, I'm always focused on equity and building up teachers. Even though this is my personal passion project as well as a stated focus of both the center and the university at large, it's still an anxious moment as I start to broach the subject of equity with new people. Where is this teacher/administrator in their equity journey? Sometimes districts call me because they want to eliminate tracking, other times that's not what they were looking for but I'm going to bring it up anyway. Sometimes I'm in a room full of teachers I would have described as traditional and it turns out they're eager to adopt new practices to better engage all learners. Other times I'm at a school that prides itself on its up to date technology, but they're referring to students as high kids and low kids. But here's the thing, the whole reason why I gave you nearly 1500 words of context in the previous post: I strive to bring up equity in every single meeting.

We cannot solve a problem like racism by retweeting the pretty quote in an image on MLK day and saying "I can't believe it." when another police shooting occurs. Inequity is a systemic and cultural problem that requires large scale efforts to counter. I'm lucky to be in a position where I can do system level thinking (whether that be department, school, or district), but system level change only happens if all the stakeholders buy in. Which means talking about it at every single meeting.
Being the lone person bringing up equity is hard, and if you're in a position like a classroom teacher it can get you into the kind of trouble I found in both schools I taught at. When I enter a new school I'm looking for the people who are already doing this work, and then I work with them. It's so much less exhausting when you can tag team or even just catch someone's eye to know we're on the same page and will debrief that moment later. In other cases I've read and discussed Catalyzing Change with people. Thank you NCTM for creating this resource so we can develop shared language and I can point to an external authority. Find your community wherever you can, hopefully someday it will be within your school, but while you wait for more people to step forward know that there's a long list of authors to keep you company, and a lot more people on Twitter ready to collaborate. Because here's the thing, if you can find the energy and support you need to do this enough times, things happen. When people meet with me they know that I'll push back if a proposal isn't going to support students adequately. Eventually that gets internalized and they push back on their own ideas before I get a chance. 

I've evolved from the new teacher who wants to change everything yesterday. And I'm continuing to grow. There are still books to read, conversations to have, and things to do. The more I learn the more I realize my (largely fantastic fancy suburban public school) education was filled with glaring holes. But I know enough to ask questions and invite people to consider alternatives. I know enough to seek out experts because I don't have to have all the answers.

The only way to see systemic change is ongoing effort. It cannot just be people of color putting in this effort, systems are made of many parts and all of them have to be working in sync. It is hard (I do this all the time and it's still nerve wracking). It is a risk (administrations at both my schools didn't appreciate my methods of advocacy). It feels small (I'm literally just bringing up ideas in meetings). It is essential. I know you can do it.

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