Building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Schools
Building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Schools
Virginia Forcucci, English Teacher, Sussex Tech High School (DE), 2018 Delaware Teacher of the Year @ForcucciJinni
Annie Holmes, Chief Equity Officer, Council of Chief State School Officers @TheAnnieHolmes
Jack Smith, PhD, Superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) @MCPS
Kenneth Shelton, Keynote Speaker, Educational Strategist, Equity and Inclusion Consultant, @k_shelton
Winsome Waite, PhD, Vice President of Practice, Alliance for Excellent Education @wwaite2007
On September 17, 2019, the Alliance for Excellent Education held a webinar as part of its #OurChallengeOurHope equity campaign to honor the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. More than half of public school students are students of color and yet only 18 percent of public school teachers and 20 percent of public school principals are individuals of color. In a survey of 1,400 superintendents, nearly 90 percent self-reported as white.
This disparity is amplified when paired with the finding that white principals are more likely than nonwhite principals to report that their preparation programs did not equip them to meet the needs of diverse learners. The response among white teachers is similar—they are less likely than nonwhite teachers to say their preservice program prepared them to support black, Latino, and students from low-income families.
With an educator workforce that largely does not represent the students it serves, how can schools support the needs of diverse learners who walk their halls each day? What are strategies that teachers, schools, districts, and states can employ to ground policies and practices in diversity, equity, and inclusion?
In this webinar, panelists shared their experiences as leaders committed to equity and tips to foster conversations about race and inclusion that break down walls and strengthen school communities. They shared promising practices for:
- culturally responsive educator training;
- professional learning to address implicit biases;
- recruiting and hiring faculty and staff of color; and
- supporting equitable changes at the school, district, and state levels.
Panelists also responded to questions submitted by viewers from across the nation.
The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship. all4ed.org
If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.
Winsome Waite: Hello, and welcome to today’s webinar on building diverse, equitable and inclusive environments for students. I’m Winsome Waite, Vice President of Practice here at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Today’s webinar is part of All4Ed’s Our Challenge, Our Hope Campaign. The campaign honors the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case, and it focuses on the continuing challenges facing so many of our most underserved students, 65 years after Brown was decided.
We’ll be hearing from educators and leaders who are addressing many of these challenges in classrooms and in schools today. I’m honored to be joined by an all-star panel for today’s discussion.
Next to me in the studio is Annie Holmes. She is currently the Chief Equity Officer at the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO. Annie is tasked with leading the Council’s internal efforts to achieve its goal, becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization. She also supports the state chiefs to deliver on CCSSO’s ten equity commitments, and Annie will talk more about those. Welcome, Annie, and thanks for joining me here in person.
Annie Holmes: Thank you.
Winsome Waite: We also have a few guests joining us remotely. First, I want to welcome Dr. Jack Smith, the Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. Dr. Smith is leading the district’s diversity initiative, grounded in their equity accountability model. We’ll be hearing from Dr. Smith in just a bit about all the great work happening in his school district.
Next, we’ll head over to California to say hi to Mr. Ken Shelton. Ken is an educational strategist, and an equity and inclusion consultant. Ken is a champion of this work who supports education leaders across the country in their efforts. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts on today’s topic, Ken.
Last, but certainly not least, we’re joined by Miss Virginia Forcucci. She’s an English teacher at Sussex Tech High School in Delaware, and she was also the 2018 Delaware Teacher of the Year. Congratulations on that honor, Virginia. Virginia has been driving her school’s equity work and leading conversations with her colleagues and her students about racial equity and social justice. And, we’re so excited to hear from two of her students, Melisande, who is a junior, and Kaya, who is a senior at Sussex Tech. Welcome to you both, students.
Before we dive into today’s conversation, a few details. If you’re following the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #OurChallengeOurHope to join the conversation and to share your thoughts and questions. You can also submit questions on today’s panel using the box below this video window. We’ll get to your questions later in the webinar. And to our panelists, I’ll be directing questions to each of you directly. But each should feel free to let me know when you want to weigh in.
We know that more than half of the students in our public schools are students of color. But only 18% of public school teachers and 20% of the principals are individuals of color. With an educator workforce that largely does not reflect the backgrounds of the students it serves, how can schools create environments to support diverse learners?
We will dive right into this topic, starting with you, Annie. You’ve been dealing, or leading, sorry, you’ve been leading this work with state chiefs across the country. Tell us about CCSSO’s equity approach. Annie?
Annie Holmes: Great, thank you, Winsome. I’m really excited to share with you all about the work that we’re doing at the state level with superintendents and commissioners of education. And so I’ve put together a few slides, just to help talk through how I got to where I am today at CCSSO. But also how CCSSO has gone through its journey regarding equity.
Just a bit about myself. I started in K-12 education just out of college. But then I spent about 15 years in higher education, primarily working in the diversity, equity and inclusion space. After that, I was able to spend a few years in the finance industry, where I led equity work for a national organization, national membership organization, working with community development financing. And so it’s great to be able to use all of my experience to bring that back to a national organization such as CCSSO to move the needle on leading for equity.
So just a bit about CCSSO’s journey. Around the ‘80’s, CCSSO has actually been in the educational equity space for quite some time. From the ‘80’s up until the early 2000’s, CCSSO housed a resource center on educational equity. This resource center focused on low-performing schools and low-performing students. And so, CCSSO through this center would provide technical assistance to state education agencies, education departments around how to support low-performing schools and low-performing students.
But then, several years later, in 2017, now Governor Tony Evers, who was the Chief of Education for the state of Wisconsin, was on our board. He was actually our board president. And he stated that we really needed to be a bit more explicit about how we were going to address educational equity and how we were going to support chiefs in addressing educational equity.
And so then, that started the trajectory to developing a Chief Equity Officer position. And a year later I started in 2018. And so of course we wanted to continue to move the work forward. But we knew that we needed to identify our definition. How were we actually defining educational equity? And we wanted to be very intentional. To recognize that we were going to look beyond just the low-performing students, but recognizing that diversity exists throughout all of our education system.
So through that we developed this definition, where we talk about every student having access to educational resources and rigor that they need at the right moment in their educational career. And that we want to make sure that we do this across identity and recognize the intersectionality of identities that students bring into the classroom.
So then when I came on board, I recognized that we needed to do a better job. We have 58 members. So we work with all of the states, all of the territories, as well as entities such as the Bureau of Indian Education and the Department of Defense Educational Agency. And so in doing so, we wanted to spend some time getting a better understanding of what states are doing, where they are, and where some of their challenges are with moving educational equity forward.
So December 2018 I announced our Aligning Equity for Impact two-year equity plan. And the three pillars of this plan, which ground everything that we do from our educational equity space, is to build our organizational capacity. So that’s our internal work, where we continue to engage in learnings. We continue to take deeper dives, do the introspective work to better understand our own identities. But then also, understand how we interact across identities. And then to help inform our work, so that it’s embedded through an equity lens.
The second pillar is to support states. And as you can see, it’s the largest on here. But it really does detail us leaning in a but, to understand where states are on their journey, and then helping to identify the roadmaps to help them move their equity initiatives forward. We recognize that not every state is alike. Not every state is the same, and so we are not addressing it through a canned approach. We really are walking alongside of each state to support them in the work that they’re doing.
And then of course the third is to leverage partnerships. There are a lot of folks who are in the educational equity space, and so we recognize that the education system actually connects with so many other systems. It connects with the economy. It connects with post-secondary education. And so we want to make sure that we are in conversation with all of our partners in this space, to help strengthen the experiences that all of our children have when they walk into a school setting and a school environment, and that they see themselves in those school environments.
And so, right before I came on board, CCSSO worked alongside the Aspen Institute to identify how can chiefs very specifically and explicitly identify ways to address educational equity at their level within the education system. And so, the ten equity commitments were identified. And annually we do tell the stories, and we do highlight and elevate the work that’s happening across the states in regards to these ten equity commitments. And we’re excited to hear from our states, and to understand what some of their challenges are, for states to be able to share best practices and promising practices across so that they can learn from one another to make an impact in educational system within their states.
And then lastly, I’ll just share very quickly just a few examples that were in our most recent publication that was released in February, I’m sorry, in April 2019. Earlier this year, we highlighted a few states, and some of the work that they’re doing. So you can see here that Utah has actually identified an advisory committee on equity and educational services for students. And students are actually at the table at the state level, from diverse backgrounds, helping to inform educational policy.
And so if we’re going to inform policy that’s going to impact students, it is of huge value to have those voices at the decision-making table. Wisconsin has really focused internally to continue to do the work that Governor Evers started while he was there, leading the efforts. And so they’ve engaged in several tools and training series to have the explicit conversations internally, with their staff at the state education agency to help inform and embed equity in their work.
Hawaii has an amazing effort, Our Languages, Our Future, where they are really explicitly looking at some of the native languages across the state to ensure that students once again see themselves and are valued and validated for their culture, and how that shows up in the work. And so wanting to make sure that intentionally these cultures, through their language, are also brought into the classroom.
And then lastly is Alabama. Alabama has really identified, especially through ESSA and some of the requirements through there to really address subgroup student achievement. And so they are looking into and really working alongside of the low-performing schools in their state. And so they’re not just sending communication, they are actually going into these schools from the state level to make sure that they are on the ground, understand the grassroots efforts that are happening, so that they can help to inform decisions that need to be made at the state level in order to ensure that the students at these low-performing schools can be successful. So that’s just a bit of an introduction of some of the work that we’re doing at CCSSO, and how we’re approaching educational equity.
Winsome Waite: Thank you so much, Annie.
Annie Holmes: Thank you.
Winsome Waite: So I wonder if I could follow up and just ask you to talk a bit about the internal work you’re doing at CCSSO, and how that translates in supporting the State Chiefs.
Annie Holmes: Sure, so, some of the internal work has begun with a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force that started prior to my arrival. That group actually was starting some of the internal learnings, trainings and professional development. But they were also integral in defining diversity, equity and inclusion for our work internally. Since then, we have actually institutionalized an Equity Committee. And this committee is representative of staff from throughout the organization to help inform our internal practices and policies as well as our learnings.
So we’ve expanded their reach a little bit more, to really be intentional and to address capacity, because I am only one person. And so as we build out what the equity office looks like, it’s great to have diverse and inclusive perspectives into our policies. And so one example is that when we updated our employee handbook last year, there was a subcommittee of the equity committee that actually helped to apply an equity lens to our handbook. And really offered some valuable insights into some of the language and how we can update that to be more inclusive even in that process.
And so, that’s one example. Another is in January, I’m really excited, we’ll hold our first internal equity summit. And it will be a two-day meeting where we’ll bring all staff together. We’ll continue with some of our deeper learnings, but we’ll also get our hands in a bit in understanding how to actively apply an equity lens to our day-to-day jobs. So we’re really excited about the continued movement that we’re doing internally at CCSSM.
Winsome Waite: Wow. Thank you, your hands are full.
Annie Holmes: Yes. [Laughter]
Winsome Waite: So we’ve heard the state perspective. Thank you again, Annie. Now, let’s turn to Dr. Smith to learn what it looks like to drive these equitable practices at the district level. So Jack, over to you.
Jack Smith: So at the district level, it’s particularly important that we understand how we’re taking care of students in school and what the experience of students is in a school building. And that we know and understand their levels of learning. So we ask some critical questions here. Are students learning? Are they learning enough? Meaning learning at or above the curricular standard level.
How do we know? And if we know they’re not, why not, and most importantly by far is, what are we going to do about it? Over the last three years, we’ve built a system we call evidence of learning. And it helps us answer the question, are students learning? Are they learning enough? We can know at the student level. We can know by student population, by grade level, by aggregate. What’s happening in literacy and mathematics for our students, and their experience in school around learning levels.
We take that information and we’ve created a system we call the equity accountability model. It looks at five student populations. African American students in poverty, African American students not in poverty, Hispanic Latino students in poverty, Hispanic Latino students not in poverty, and finally, our White, Asian, multiple race students who are in poverty. We look at those five student populations, because they’re the populations who experience disparities in our school system, with their White and Asian non-poverty peers. It’s particularly important, we think 90% is an appropriate target for the entire system.
And when we look at those students across Montgomery County, 164,000 pre-K through 12th graders, what we see is that White and Asian students and students of multiple races not in poverty don’t experience much below and mostly above that 90% of meeting the targets. So they become the monitoring group. So we have the standard of 90%, with a monitoring group that is meeting or exceeding that target. And then we look at those five student populations.
And that really helps us know and understand what it is that we need to do and especially what is the impact of a school building on the learning of its students. On diminishing the disparities, elimination the disparities, and creating access and opportunity for all students. That’s critically important. That helps us get to the point of saying, what are we going to do about this, when these disparities exist.
And then over the last year, we have spent time looking at a resource study that looks at the equitable allocation of resources. That talks about what happens within schools. Teacher assignment, access to the most rigorous programming. Novice principals, experienced principals. Resource allocation. All of those things. And across schools, and that’s a district issue that can be affected by policies. It can be affected by our practices. By our budgets. By our contracts with our associations. It can be affected by so many different things. And so we’ve spent the last year looking at that equitable allocation of resources.
These three tools come together to look at the learning levels of all students in the aggregate as individuals, and we think most importantly by student population, based on race, culture, and the services we provide for students in poverty, English language learners, and students receiving special education services. All of this is undergirded by what we have termed Be Well 365, and that is a framework that we’re building out right now and that we launched last May that looks at the physical, social and psychological wellbeing of students in our schools and talks about what should we do consistently at every grade level and for every group of students.
And, our Board of Education is completely committed to this and they work through their Strategic Planning Committee of the Board. And they follow all of this information about the wellbeing of students, the learning levels of students, the disparities that exist. We know that when we provide information, we build the awareness of our educators, our families, our community, our elected officials. That information builds awareness.
And as we build awareness, we can create urgency to address those areas that need addressing, like disparities or gaps that exist. And urgency to maintain the high level of success we’ve had for so many students for so long. And urgency creates action. So it’s critically important that we not only know and understand and are aware and feel urgent, we actually act upon the problem in ways that will change the circumstance. And especially change the levels of learning and the experience of students in our schools.
Winsome Waite: Thank you, Jack. And this is really remarkable and robust work going on there in Montgomery County schools. Thank you. I just have a follow-up question for you, Jack, based on your observations or evidence, if you have that. Is this approach making a difference in your district?
Jack Smith: Well, as we’ve built out this framework, we’ve also been taking actions that we can take within schools and across schools. We’ve added additional resources to our Title I schools and our focus schools. And we do show a very big difference in allocation there. Is it enough? We don’t know. We’ve also looked at those gatekeeper programs, like accelerated math in the elementary school, algebra one in the middle school, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in the high school. Dual enrollment in the high school.
As we’ve worked in those areas we’ve seen some pretty significant shifts in the positive direction for students. And it’s been critically important that we follow that. We report it out to our community. We work with our schools on it. They work with us. We’ve built a really I think solid framework around schools knowing and understanding data, and how to use that data on behalf of students.
Because when we talk about access, opportunity and achievement, it’s important to remember that you never get higher levels of achievement until you get access or participation. And, the performance, that achievement level, that performance comes when you have access and then you build very real, significant opportunities for students in schools. They create a sense of belonging, you give them the foundational skills and knowledge they need. You teach them how to think about it.
And you work with educators to really understand how to invite students in and create an environment that makes everyone welcome. And we’ve seen significant increases in both the participation and the performance. The number of students doing well in algebra one. We’ve seen significant increasements in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. And we’ve seen real shifts in belief systems and actions taken by our schools to support student learning and wellbeing.
Winsome Waite: Virginia, you’ve been championing equity work at Sussex Tech. can you tell us a bit more about your school’s commitment to equity and the formation of the equity team that you co-lead?
Virginia Forcucci: Sure. I think it’s really important before I do that to give you a little bit of a demographic of our school. We’re in a pretty rural area, so when I, and I’ve been at the same exact school for over 20 years. So I’ve really gotten to watch as we’ve grown and evolved in the equity work. It’s the only school I’ve ever taught in. It’s the only space I’ve really existed in as an equity leader, outside of some other roles that I have. So I really this sort of clear perspective from the position of an English teacher.
Early in my career, we recognized that explicit racism was a problem in our building. And there were some pretty significant acts against our black children specifically. Our demographic then was significantly different than it is now. We have more Latinx students now in our building, so we’re more diverse. But at the time, when I was a young teacher over 20 years ago, we had about 65% of our population was white and the other 35% of our population was black. And there was a whites only sign put up over a water fountain one day by a young person, a confederate flag pulled into the parking lot one day with a noose hanging on the bumper of one of the vehicles.
And we knew as a staff, obviously, that there were issues. The problem was, there were punishments in place, but there wasn’t a space for kids to uncover and unpack and digest and deal with the emotions and the stress and the horror and the fatigue that comes with a situation like that. That space didn’t exist for young people, and it didn’t exist for teachers either. And so, we as a staff, a couple of us decided to create a team. At the time it was called a diversity team. And we really started to work toward change. And we created workshops and full day professional development opportunities. And then we switched. We had a complete switch of district leadership. And they did not appreciate the work that we were doing. And the diversity team was taken away.
I kept doing the work in a pretty hearty way in my classroom through curriculum and relationship building. I was also a coach at the time, so my work with the community was really powerful in my evolution as someone working toward equity. And then this Teacher of the Year thing happened. And I got Teacher of the Year, and CCSSO was instrumental in making me feel like I could lead from a space _____. And my platform when I won was racial equity. And CCSSO was really excited to support that. And I started talking a little bit more loudly outside of my classroom on a state level.
We also, simultaneous to this, which has been really magical, got a brand new superintendent. And he is incredibly supportive of equity work. Knowing that, I reached out to another staff member and just said, it’s time. It’s really time in a nation that is incredibly divided right now. And in the language I’m hearing kids use really freely in the hallways and in classrooms. It’s time. We need to do something. We can’t just idly sit by. Nothing changes without action. And we talk about hope. But hope without action doesn’t yield many results. And so what we did, two of us, went to administration and they said go for it.
And so, every Thursday morning we began to meet with, we invited the entire staff. Some people came to the first interest meeting, and then about 17 people since that time have been coming consistently. And we meet, we do book chats. We started with DiAngelo’s White Fragility. We’re reading Zaretta Hammond right now, Culturally Responsive Practices in the Brain. And the conversations we have in there are tremendous, in yielding an awareness and a growth that I’m really proud of. I’m growing constantly. I’m watching staff members grow. And because of al the work that we’re doing, our administration recently asked us to be an advisory board. And so we now get to weigh in on policies and procedures surrounding equity issues. And that is what I am incredibly, incredibly proud of.
Winsome Waite: Thank you. That’s such excellent work. Now we know from research that during adolescence, young people are becoming more aware of the cultural differences and inequities around them. They also seek answers as to why these inequities exist, and how to resolve them. I’m sure you may be seeing a lot of that in your new social justice class. Melisande and Kaya, can you tell us about why you chose to take this class, and how you think it will impact your life?
Kaya: Yeah, so it’s actually really interesting taking this class. I’m a senior this year, and this is the first time I’ve ever had Miss Forcucci. All the way from my freshman year, up until now, I felt like high school is not really the place to bring your culture, to bring your experiences. Any like adversities that you face at home. It’s just an academic setting and that’s it.
But taking this class so far, only being a couple of weeks in, has been a complete change of my mindset. We come into this class, and there’s about 20 kids. And before we start discussing any issues, we unpack who we are ourselves, how we identify and how we share those identities. And it’s grown a community already, even from the beginning of the school year.
Just talking about what we stand for individually, what we face every day and how other people perceive that and what we can do to not only perceive those adversities but understand them for each other. And then talk about what we can do from that point. How we can change those things, and if not change those things, get an understanding for people to realize what can be done in any sense.
So, being in this class, we talk a lot about what we experience by ourselves. What we advocate, what we ally for. And we see a lot of common connections between us. we’ve also learned a lot about progressive conversation, and how to yield things from conversation. A lot of the time you see high schoolers have one opinion and one opinion only, are not able to jump from that or to understand any other perspective.
So learning that in a classroom setting, how to have a progressive conversation and then being able to use that to come to a conclusion or an understanding or a solution, has been really, really helpful. Not only in school, but out of school, taking that into social kind of places and places that I can use that with dealing with other people. So it’s been a really changed, a really good change in academics for me. And I’m looking forward to all the things we’re going to be doing and the things we’re going to be changing.
Melisande: Well for me, I did not, I was not able to take the social justice class because of my schedule. But I do plan on taking it my senior year. And I had Miss Forcucci 10th grade year, and that’s been like cultural awareness, like really spelled out to me. Because that was like the only teacher that I know that really started to talk about cultural awareness. Like ever since I’ve been in school.
So what we did, we had like a little unit about social justice. And we read The Hate U Give and reading that book, it just like opened, I feel like it opened up everybody’s eyes in the classroom, because everybody was aware about what is really going on in the world. And that, it was like, it just felt like a safe place where you could actually be honest and say how you feel about what’s going on in the world.
And you were like actually being aware about everything that’s happening in the main cultural awareness, like being in high school, like Kaya said, you feel like, you feel like you shouldn’t be talking about this stuff. But you really should. Because you don’t know what people go through at home, and you don’t know what they’re going through outside.
But during that unit, I learned to like use my voice, because I remembered when I was in like fifth grade, and younger, I would always hold my tongue, bite my tongue. I wouldn’t say anything if somebody would try to say something that like really hurt me. But it just encouraged me to use my voice and to like be heard, because we need to be heard.
Winsome Waite: Thanks so much for sharing that, _____. Ken, you’ve been so patient. Thank you for being here with us. I want to turn to you for your thoughts on this conversation. In your experience working with equity issues in education, have you seen specific training, professional learning opportunities or other approaches that you think are most effective in driving change around equity?
Kenneth Shelton: Yeah, so first of all, I want to thank you all for having me as a guest on this webinar. It is certainly, I’m getting goose bumps as I’m listening to the other panelists talking about _____ they’re doing. And it really emphasizes the importance of approaching this work from a multitude of perspectives and strategies. In the work that I’ve seen, consulted with and supported in this area, it really boils down to the most effective ways of doing it are just in fact what I’m sharing, with what you’re hearing here, is a multi-tiered approach to it.
There are so many components that we all could mutually agree upon that perpetuate the inequities that exist in education, that also perpetuate predictability of success, that sadly have been in existence even when I was back in school. And so some of the most effective things that I’ve seen are in the following areas, where school district leadership, they look at the schools as institutions and they look at how are the individuals driving the you know, the systems within the institutions. And what can we do to either dismantle systems that perpetuate inequities? Or what can we do to augment the support mechanisms that are already in place.
So one, like on a lower level example, is for example are the schools that I know where the leaders at the schools have said okay, one of the things we’re going to do is we’re going to get rid of gifted and talented programs. Because gifted and talented programs create segregation in integrated schools. And it rewards the families and the parents that have both human and financial resources to ensure that their child is given access that many of our most marginalized and most vulnerable student populations do not have access to. So by removing that type of a label, what you’re doing is you’re saying I’m now going to create much more a level playing field that all the students are going to be supported. That all the students are going to be encouraged. And we’re not going to have this stratification within our school that is usually drawn on race and also socioeconomic lines.
The other areas where I’ve seen it be really effective are things where schools are looking at equity from an anti-racism perspective. So they’re looking at the curriculum. How does the curriculum perpetuate the messaging that tells certain students, especially students that look like me as well, that you know, you’re inadequate. You’re not capable of doing more. You’re not capable of excellence. You’re not capable of the things that school wants you to be able to do. But yet, in the texts that you’re reading, in the histories that you’re studying, in the sciences, in the representations in general, if you’re not seeing it, if you don’t see it in yourself, then how can you, if you don’t see it then how can you be it? So that’s one area.
The other area is looking at you know, as far as the hiring practices go. I know quite a few of my friends that are school leaders, that have said we need to do a better job of having a more diverse representation amongst the teacher population. And what I’ve advised them to do, is then you should actively recruit. And don’t actively recruit individuals. Actively recruit groups. Because I’ve been in the position to share with them my experience in the classroom, which is one of the many reasons why I’m no longer in the classroom. What it feels like to work in isolation. Especially if you go through the lens of what we are talking about in this discussion around dismantling the systems that are in place that essentially maintain the status quo.
And then lastly, is actually looking at the overall culture of your schools. And I know of several school districts that have conducted, you know, school wide surveys to find out things just like, asking students you know, is there an adult on campus that knows you beyond your name and your number? And the data that I’ve seen around that sadly is quite alarming. It’s quite alarming. And then you couple that with things like the discipline race. Why is there a disproportionate representation of who gets suspended or expelled from school? Why is it constantly the top two identifiers I see around it are usually disruption and defiance?
And of course, when you delve a little bit deeper into those numbers, you find out that there seems to be a cultural disconnect you know, in that area as well, that oftentimes the reaction is punitive rather than you know, what I would say affirmative in okay, this is a cultural difference. Help me understand more how to utilize our cultural differences as a benefit in our learning environments, not as a mechanism for punitive measure. So, that’s why I’m sharing that there’s multiple ways of looking at it. Again, I think the most effective and quite honestly, and that’s why I love hearing what Annie and Dr. Smith shared, is looking at the internal as well as the external and how do you, how do you approach both of those simultaneously.
And then lastly, I will share that, for your listeners, I do think at some point and I’ve heard it so far in this webinar, which is why like I said, I’m getting goose bumps. I’m really excited about being on here. We can’t wait. I mean, it’s 65 years since Brown v. Board of Education. How many things exist now that existed right after the decision was made? And quite frankly, I mean I, we just can’t wait. I mean, the predictability of success has been around even back when I was in high school in the 80’s. And at what point do we recognize that we’re losing out on a significant volume of human potential every time we funnel who gets access and who doesn’t?
Winsome Waite: Thank you, Ken. And thank you for the real, urgent call to action for all our listeners and all of us in this community of education. I do want to follow up with you too on a specific area, and you pointed at it already. But you know, we talked quite a bit about the needs of our students, and what we need to do to address the equity issues with our students. But we recognize it’s a whole community. Can you speak to what you have seen, or what you know works well with helping educators themselves, or the adults, the other adults in terms of equity itself and the kinds of supports that are in place or should be in place to ensure that equity is really in the environment of schools holistically?
Kenneth Shelton: I usually, so in addressing that, one of the things that I’ve noticed now is a much more heightened awareness around our sort of practices and social and emotional learning. Every time I’ve had conversations with school leadership, I always ask, okay, so we’re going to do these things for the students. But what about the adults? Because ultimately if I can’t be my whole self as an educator, then my students are not getting, they’re not getting the benefits of all of me.
And in the context of this particular webinar, what I think we should be looking at and what I’m hoping we’ll start to see some movement around are things like being responsive to the needs of the teachers with regards to professional learning opportunities that are provided. Gravitating away from the tools, the tips and tricks, and more into the individual identity that applies to the educational lens, within the educational institution itself. A lot of ties I’ve had conversations with educators that, you know, look, I’ll even share with you all a personal story along these lines. My graduate school program for both my teaching credential and my master’s did not prepare me for what we are discussing now at all.
And in fact, I’ll even go one step further. I remember asking several of my professors, why we were not reading Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings or Dr. Beverly Tatum. Because those were not assigned books. Yet, my graduate school program is one of the top feeders into, in my case, the Los Angeles Unified School District. So one would think that if you’re feeding into a K-12 urban district, you should be provided with learning opportunities that are aligned with an urban education, a culturally responsive urban education.
Now I have several professors that were responsive when I said look, these are some things that I know will be beneficial. Because ultimately, I have to take the initiative myself to do those readings, because I knew that they were going to be beneficial for me in a classroom. So, I think there is, you know again, going back to a multi-tiered approach, there is, what is going on at the policy level that sets the standards for the teachers that, the next generation of teachers that they’re going to be provided with the access and support for culturally responsive learning.
Then, what’s going on in the school districts and the school sites that provides ongoing professional learning support and _____ _____ I’ll add the social and emotional needs of the teachers as well. And the administrators. You know again, I go back to my statement, if you can’t be your whole self then your students are not going to get all of you. And then ultimately we all lose out. So there’s the idea around what needs can be met that are not just on a professional growth level. What needs can be met for our teachers and our school leaders that are on a personal level, that we can apply to the professional? So. That was really just some thoughts that I have to share.
Winsome Waite: Great thoughts. Thank you, Ken. And thank you for the personal reflections within that response. I think it resonates quite a bit with many of us in the field again of education. As we move into our discussion today, I want to throw a few questions out to the panel. And again, panelists, this is time for you to also put your personal stories in, if you’d like. I do want to turn back to Montgomery County Schools, Dr. Smith, with the first question. And then others can chime in. Dr. Smith, what has your experience been in engaging the community at large, and what responses have you received from the parents and the community based organizations about your work?
Jack Smith: We started, when we started developing over three years ago, the evidence of learning framework, sharing that with our community. With our parent teacher association. With our special education advocacy group. With our different advocacy groups around different student populations around the Hispanic Latino student population, around the African American population. So we’ve been showing them this work, and interacting with them and asking them questions and asking them to vet it with us all along the way.
As we have worked this past year on the equitable allocation of resource work, there’s been real excitement in the community in many areas of the community. Thinking about how do we maintain the high level of excellence we’ve had for so many students, but, also look at the resources we have and how we use them to provide that high level of performance for all students. All has to mean all, in our community. And many, many of our stakeholders across the community, our county government officials, our state delegation, you go to Annapolis, have all been engaged in this conversation with us for the past three years. And I think they are very hopeful that they’re going to continue to see the changes that they and we all need very much for our students.
Winsome Waite: Thank you so much, Jack. And we know how important it is that we do engage our community, our full community in terms of, in all the work in terms of equity in our schools and our communities. We have a question from Josh in Washington DC, and _____ Josh asks, “How can culturally responsive teaching practices be incorporated in educator preparation programs and professional development?” And I’ll just turn it over to the panelists and see who would like to chime in here.
Annie Holmes: So I’d like to chime in from a state perspective. So we’ve actually been engaging intentionally with about ten states over the past 18 months or so, in regards to diversifying their educated workforce as well as looking at culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy and practices within the school. And so, states are starting to move some of that work forward at their level, recognizing that through high quality instructional materials, to Ken’s point, right? Are they looking at the actual curriculum and the materials that are being provided to students?
And so we have a network of chief academic officers from the states that participate with us in those conversations, and they’re very attentive to, and very intentional to, address and ensure that the materials that are provided to the students through the curriculum have a culturally relevant perspective to them. And, that the passage or the handing of what materials are provided or curricula is provided also is accompanied by professional development for teachers. So there’s the in service perspective that is occurring there.
But states are also in conversation with education prep programs in their states. And so, they are working very diligently to address for pre-service, for those that are coming out into the teaching field. Whether it be through traditional educational programs or nontraditional educational pathways into the teaching profession, that they are actually looking at and having conversations with them, to ensure that those teachers are recognizing being culturally responsive and relevant.
But we’re also, at CCSSO, really pushing for states to recognize that the onus is not only on the teacher to be culturally responsive. That the onus is actually on all of those who are creating the learning environment for those students. And so, the culture of the actual learning environment should be culturally responsive and relevant for those students, and practices and the pedagogy doesn’t just lie on the shoulders of the teachers. And that everyone is responsible.
Because we also want to make sure that we don’t tokenize our teachers of color when they come into the school building, right? So that they don’t show up and then other teachers say oh great, we now have a black or brown teacher. They can relate to all of the black and brown students. That it’s a recognition that everyone is responsible for the learning, culture, and environment for all of the students that are there, and that they’re all responsible whether they’re in the math class, whether they’re in the English/language arts, or whether they’re in physical education. That every single educator in that building is aware of the students that they have.
And so I appreciate what Ken pointed out, about his own personal experience, because my experience actually differed. So in my bachelor’s as well as in my master’s, very, very intentional. I went to Temple University for my undergraduate, and they were very intentional that when we did our practicum, that we were situated at different schools throughout the city of Philadelphia. And Philly is an extremely diverse city. Somewhat segregated. It has certain communities that have high populations. But I learned so much just by being placed in those schools.
And then we were cultivated, it was fostered for us, to come back into the classroom and talk about those experiences. So before we you know, we’re offered our first full time employment, we were engaged through our educator prep program around the differences in how we show up, doing the work for how we show up in the classroom for those students, and truly being there for them. And so it is now a passion of mine that we implement this work as well at the state level. So states are doing their part in addressing the policy as well as the practice to ensure that this happens.
Winsome Waite: I can see the passion. [Laughter]
Kenneth Shelton: May I share, add on to some of what Annie shared?
Annie Holmes: Yeah.
Winsome Waite: Absolutely, Ken.
Kenneth Shelton: I so wholeheartedly agree, I think that in order to drive systemic and institutional change in these areas, it does have to come at the policy level. I just believe that. You know, I know, like for example here in California, we have the, they’re called the CSTPs, which are the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. And they are the standards that drive what occurs in all credential programs among other things. So in order to align with the question that you just asked, I think one is ensuring that that exists in every single credential program, and then add another tier to that in any administrative certification program as well. so now you’re providing, again I go back to the multi-tiered approach.
One, you know that the next generation of teachers and school district leaders are at minimum being exposed to and required to take coursework that’s aligned with what I would call cultural competencies, and then in turn the systems have to be in place that there’s an ongoing degree of support by the schools themselves and/or the school districts that adds on to what everyone has already gone through in the process of getting their certification. That way the responsibility is not only individuals, as I shared that it was on me.
And then to any point, the last thing you want is one person to be the spokesperson for an entire group of people. We’re not a monolith, and we all are different and have different experiences that even Annie just shared theirs. So I think ultimately it does benefit all of us when we know that certain things at the policy level are implemented that guarantees a minimum threshold. And then additional layers for on point support throughout the subsequent years going forward.
Winsome Waite: Thank you, Ken. I do want to turn to our Superintendent on this in case he has something to add. He has years of leading professional development and capacity building in this work. So Dr. Smith, anything to add?
Jack Smith: Well, first of all I’d like to say that I think Annie and Ken were spot on with what they said. I think it’s got to be at a policy level. I think we’ve got to be working across the states, and across school districts. And I know CCSSO does that. But I think all of us have to stand up together and say to higher ed, you have to change the preparation programs. We can no longer have higher ed doing what they prefer. They have to do what our students need.
Montgomery County has had a long history, I mean literally decades, of looking at equity through a culturally proficient, culturally responsive instructional lens. Until I came, however, it was more optional and more by choice. So what we’ve said in the last three years is that everyone in the system has to have a threshold level of understanding of our students if they want to work in Montgomery County. Especially our building based staff members, teachers, parent educators, assistant principals, teacher leaders. They must engage in this work.
And so we have created a variety of opportunities and we’ve said everyone has to engage in those opportunities. And we have started actually keeping track of who engages. That’s what you have to do. If you want to do something and do it well you have to pay attention to it. We’ve also, you know, obviously asked people to think about their own experience and what their biases are. What are my biases? How do I act on those and how do I gain the information and understanding to change them if they become barriers for students in the way I think about student performance and the way I think about student participation, about student engagement with the school.
I am here as an educator to serve the students in front of me. That has to be the central message. So I think it’s this national, state, local, higher ed, district collaboration that is going to make the difference, and that we actually have to do what we said we would do in this area, every time.
Winsome Waite: That’s great. Thank you, Jack. We do have another question. It’s from Mandy in Iowa City. And Mandy asks, “How do approaches to support white principals change when their staff is all white, compared to a diverse staff or a staff that is majority staff of color?”
Jack Smith: Well, once again I think that you have to address this issue with multiple actions. One would be to really work hard within the context of your school or school system to get a more diverse staff. One of the things we’re doing here is we’re offering intense levels of support to our 9500 support professionals across our system to become teachers. And if they want to become a teacher, we’re going to work with them whether they have a high school diploma, some college, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in another area.
But if they want to become a teacher and they are willing to become qualified and effective and committed to the mission of student learning, we’re going to help them. Because those support professionals look very much like our students across our system. So I think we have to work to change that in our society. While we’re changing it, though, we have to be culturally proficient. We have to use culturally responsive instruction.
We have to look to the resources in our communities and our neighborhoods, to think about how to change the culture and the climate of our school. The culture is critically important. what are our belief systems and how do we act on them? The climate, how do we treat students? How do we invite them in? How do we create a sense of belonging? Students know if we care deeply about them and we have their best interests at heart. That’s not enough, but that’s certainly critical, as we see a change in the workforce of schools.
Winsome Waite: Thank you so much, Jack. Any other thoughts? I do have a follow on question from another educator that might link into this. I’ll just ask it now too. And this educator is from Indiana. And the question asks, “How can a teacher gain acceptance when he or she does not represent the primary demographic within the community in which he or she teaches?”
Kenneth Shelton: That’s a large percentage of our public school teachers.
Winsome Waite: It is, Ken. So do you want to add to that for us?
Kenneth Shelton: A couple of things. One is the approaches to professional learning and professional support, especially when you have a demographic differential. It should start off with, again, starting off with anti-racist training. And then implicit bias training. And then you go into all the other areas that we discussed.
And as far a specific educator that doesn’t, that isn’t in line with the demographic of the community, the first thing that I always encourage educators to do is gain a deeper understanding of the culture of the community itself. That is aligned with being, you know, a culturally responsive educator. Are you validating the experiences and the values of those that you work with, the students? And are you providing a local, contextual framework around the learning experience?
I’ll share with you all a very short story. When I taught, I did a long-term sub math assignment in southeast Los Angeles many, many years ago. And it was eighth grade algebra. And I remember when I started the class, I heard the student already knew who I was because I had subbed there before. So I already had a degree of recognition and credibility with the students. But my first question was always, who in here likes math? And of course no one’s hand goes up. And I’m like no, you don’t understand. Math is a significant part of your life and you don’t even realize it. And to shorten the story, ultimately what I was able to effectively do was incorporate a local context.
So one of the things that I had the students do was an activity around counting the number of steps or blocks that they go from school to home, then counting the number of liquor stores they go past between school and home. And then we applied an algebraic equation to that. And then the social justice lens was going into zoning laws and zip codes, and then comparing zip codes and asking ourselves, why is it that there is a liquor store on every block in my community but not in you know, three communities, you know, north of where we are?
And so ultimately, that was my way of saying here’s how we’re going to learn about math. But being culturally responsive to it, is going to provide a local contextual reference. So in the context of this question, even if a teacher doesn’t necessarily represent the demographic of the community with which they are working in, that is how you can one, gain acceptance but also two, not tokenize and not appropriate the culture. That’s a degree of appreciation for the culture. It’s not for us to pass judgment on where our students live. It’s for us to provide them with a meaningful and responsive learning experience, you know, in the context of the subject matter that we teach.
Winsome Waite: Right. Thank you.
Annie Holmes: I just wanted to add one more thing. I think you know, Ken touched on that introspective piece. And I don’t want this to get lost here. We had a great conversation with our National Teacher of the Year last year, and we talked about White Fragility, the book that she read and she talked about the way in which she as a white educator was able to read that book and recognize, because she was a white female teacher who taught predominantly students of color.
And so, one of the things that she recognized, which also to be honest with you goes back decades to Peggy McIntosh’s work. When she started off talking about the invisible knapsack, and talking about white privilege. She hadn’t taken the time to do the introspective work to recognize how she was showing up in the space. And so I just want to make sure that that is out there. That we all have to do our own work to recognize how we show up. So Ken mentioned implicit bias. Where are our biases? Where do they lie? And do we acknowledge them?
So if we are an educator who is different from the population in which we are educating, we recognize okay, so I may have a lens here that can actually harm my children. And I need to own that, and I need to seek out support so that I don’t put them in harm’s way or so that I can provide them, as Jack pointed out earlier, with access to the opportunities so that they can be successful. So that introspective look, you know, I think a lot of people when we talk about a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective you know, people always think this is going to be the kumbaya moment.
But it’s not about that. It really is better understanding who I am so that when I enter the space, I know how I show up. I know that if I need to step back a little bit to provide space to others so they can be authentically who they are, that that is of huge value. And I don’t know if I would call it gaining acceptance, but just the building community, right? Because you become part of the community. It’s not, it’s no longer that you’re an outsider and gaining acceptance to be brought in. But how do you become part of that community?
Winsome Waite: That’s wonderful. What great feedback and discussion, all three of you, Jack, Ken and Annie. Thank you so much. We’re almost at the end of our time today. But before we close, I want to thank all of our panelists for their insights, and to give each of them a chance for final thoughts. So Annie, I’ll start with you. Brief final thoughts.
Annie Holmes: Thank you. I’ll just start by saying Ken stole my shine. Because I was going to talk about the fact that you know, this work has to be multi-tiered, multifaceted. It has to be strategic. It has to be intentional. And knowing where you are in this space. And so, for CCSSO, we know that we are at the state level. We are at the policy space. And that is the niche, and that is the mark that we can make in this work. And so I’m just excited to have a foundation that was set for me by my predecessors and my colleagues at CCSSO.
But also, the amazing superintendents and commissioners and secretaries of education that are leading this work at our states to trust me to support them in how we can identify to move this work forward, so that all of our children, so that in ten years when we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, that we are not still talking about the same things. That we have actually been able to mark and identify the achievement gap and disparities and that we’re closing those, so that all of our children can grow up and have access to the world and all that it has for them.
Winsome Waite: That’s a great goal for ten years. Thank you, Annie.
Annie Holmes: Thank you.
Winsome Waite: And Ken, I’ll ask you for your final thoughts.
Kenneth Shelton: So my final, well, first of all thank you all so much for having me as a guest on this panel. And you know, ultimately I would say that my final thoughts are around the following. You know, when it comes to doing this work, as Annie just shared, you have to do the work. There’s no set pathway for any one individual to do it. And there is always going to be resistance when it comes to making change, even if it’s change for the right reasons.
One of the questions that I always ask educators when it comes to reading books like you know, White Fragility or The Invisible Knapsack or a myriad of other books, well I recommend you know, one of my mentors and heroes is also Dr. Pedro Noguera, so I would recommend reading his works as well. Is I always ask educators, you know, who chooses to go into education because you want to cause harm to kids? And of course no one does.
And so ultimately it’s, if you’re placing a higher value of your comfort over the potential trauma that’s going to be caused to kids, and that’s something again you probably look at, you’re internal. You’ve got to hold a mirror up to yourself. And then ultimately when it comes to things like biases that we’ve mentioned previously, my concern is not specifically with just biases. It’s what are the subsequent actions as a result of your biases. And then in turn going back to that, do those potentially cause harm to kids?
And so for us, it’s looking at how can we be mutually supportive of each other, hold a mirror up to ourselves and identify where are the potential thinking gaps that I might have that are leading to the predictability of success that perpetuate the inequities? And what can I do to actively dismantle those? You know, you can’t just say well, I’m neutral in this. There’s no such thing as neutral in this. Dr. Beverly Tatum has it in her book. You know, that life is a moving sidewalk. You’re either going with it or you’ve got to turn around and go against it.
So for me and what I’m thrilled about this webinar is that we’re looking at ways to turn around and go against it. And so I hope that your listeners will gain some valuable insight into what we’ve shared with this as well as to be able to hold a mirror up to say okay, now that I’ve gotten more information, I have a heightened awareness around this, what are my next actionable steps that I’m going to do that are aligned with ensuring equitable access to a meaningful and responsive educational experience.
Winsome Waite: Great. Thank you for that call to action. Thank you, Ken. Dr. Smith, any final thoughts from you?
Jack Smith: I want to go back to the initial questions that I posed. Are students learning? Are they learning enough? Are they meeting or exceeding those curricular standards? Reading on grade level. Knowing and understanding those mathematical concepts so they can reach those higher levels or math, science, technology, engineering. All along the way we have to know, from pre-K to 12th grade, how our students are doing in their learning. Are they learning? Are they learning enough? How do we know?
We cannot go based on anecdotes or feelings. We have to use multiple measures to know and understand if students have the skills, knowledge, understanding, and if we’ve helped them learn how to think about that important content. What does it mean when I read this? How do I use this information? How do I argue against it? How do I make a case in my writing, in my speaking? All of those things.
And so, how do we know? If students are not, most importantly what are we going to do about it? If they’re not learning at the level, we’ve got to do that. And so I think those questions are core, and if they’re undergirded by taking care of students’ wellbeing, their physical, social and psychological wellbeing, and paying attention to that every day, I think we can get there for all students. And all really can mean all in our schools.
Winsome Waite: Thank you to the other panelists. Now Virginia, would you also like to offer a final thought?
Virginia Forcucci: I think it’s really important to recognize that as a white educator, as a white woman and as was noted at the beginning of the program, at the beginning of the webinar, white women make up the majority of educators in the nation. It’s really, really important in our journey toward awareness that we recognize that the journey is never-ending. And that all of this work starts with self. And so the self-reflection often comes as a result from listening.
And that’s how all of my work started. Like I just really needed to listen, because my lived experiences don’t parallel the lived experiences of some of my kiddos because of my whiteness. But it doesn’t mean that there isn’t space for connection and growth. And that’s what’s been really special to me, is kids have opened up to me, and that level of vulnerability of students deserves to be honored in a tremendous way. So that’s why I continue to do this work, because they just, they deserve it.
Kaya: So I’m really excited to see the change in tides in the education system, even from an early childhood perspective. I remember elementary school being something that I may not have always wanted to participate in because of the boundaries and barriers that were put in my way, based on background and things that I couldn’t control and things I still can’t control. It’s amazingly refreshing to come to the school that’s supposed to be preparing me to not only be an adults and a citizen but a change in the world, in our country, in any type of systems that I want to be a part of and I want to change.
And like Ms. Forcucci said, there’s a type of vulnerability and respect that we’re all able to gain from this, sharing with each other and enjoying that vulnerability. It’s eye opening if anything else. It’s really nice to see not this one justice _____ class grow into an entire community throughout the school. And hopefully with this one class and with other classes growing like this, we’ll be able to make that change.
Melisande: Like Kaya had said earlier, I really want to see change in the future because I want to be an educator. I want to be a teacher when I grow up. And like Ms. Forcucci was saying earlier, when you’re walking around the hallways, you see kids say anything that comes to their mind. It doesn’t matter where they are. It’s to the point where they just don’t care. They just say whatever they want. And you see it’s like, they don’t have an outlet. They don’t have nobody to talk to. So they feel like they should, it’s like built-up anger inside them. They just use it anywhere they want. So I agree with Kaya. We do need a lot of change in the educational system.
Winsome Waite: This has been a great discussion. Thank you for joining us today. If you missed any of today’s webinar or you want to share it with your colleagues, you can access it as an archived webinar from the webinar section at All4Ed.org/webinars. Please remember to also visit All4Ed/brownvboard to learn more about All4Ed, our challenge, our whole campaign. And see how you can play a part in your school and in your community in equity. Thanks again, and have a great day.
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