“As teachers of culturally diverse students, we need to eduacate ourselves about the realities in society and recognizing how colorblindness is just another form of implicit bias” ~ Zaretta Hammond in Education Week Teacher
I remember THE day, my first day as principal, leader, captain of the ship at a beautiful school. When I entered through the doors, I instantly felt at home, my heart felt the warmth in the atmosphere. The school was vibrant and brightly colored throughout the building. The bulletin boards were clean and neat with earth tone themes and colors displaying the season of fall with a back to school twist. The office staff were welcoming with their bubbly personalities. They strived to be accommodating to parents. The school in its entirety was inviting and just downright perfect. I was pleased with the climate of the building and I was content. It had a very heighten positive family feel. The school population was culturally diverse, with 52% of the students White, 29% African American, 18% Hispanic and 1% Asian American.
A school with this type of diversity should have adopted a vision that meet the needs of all students. The school’s vision was focused on high expectations for all students. But as time went on, I observed that the student population were all treated the same, they moved the same, they even responded the same and much to my surprise they all started looking the same…believe it or not! It was weird, it reminded me of the movie, “Stepford Wives”. I know I know, Google it! The identity of what I thought was the perfect school changed. I thought, “How can we be a family, if we don’t really know one another, meaning culturally?”
“Even their pedagogy was the same for all.”
The teachers were proud to say that they didn’t see color, they treated all students the same and had the same expectations of teaching them. Even their pedagogy was the same for all. They were proud to convey that to me, as if that was the fix it pill to the educational gaps. It was good to hear that their beliefs were “all students can learn” but did they really? I found that so many students were struggling academically, and who’s to blame?
I don’t see color, was something I often heard. But, if you don’t see color, you don’t see the student you are educating. It’s okay to see color. I felt that the teachers were afraid to verbalize race and to see “color” within their culturally diverse student. Afraid to say what they really see in our black and brown students, but they know the right words to say to me. This provided a disservice to our babies. But I knew that I had to make this right!
“However, a great and highly effective culturally aware and responsive leader is more important to a school’s climate and culture.”
Having a great and highly effective school leader is vital to a school’s success. However, a great and highly effective culturally aware and responsive leader is more important to a school’s climate and culture. The Glossary of Education Reform describes Culture as the term that generally refers to the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school function. However, the term also encompasses more concrete issues such as the physical and emotional safety of students. Also including the orderliness of the classroom and public spaces. The degree to which a school embraces and celebrates racial, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural diversity. In many schools, we often forget about the part that states “embraces and celebrates racial, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural diversity”.
Muhammad Khalifa, Professor at University of Minnesota has written several books that explores three basic premises with the focus on how school leaders can effectively serve minoritized students. The goal as a culturally responsive leader is to lead the path of engagement for the staff, students, parents and the community in ways that positively impact learning by honoring indigenous heritages and local cultural practices.
Society has now been aware of the importance of “Black Lives Matter” and it seems to be a new thing for them, but it has been a concern for “black lives” as well as our brown children for many years. We have to stop “tip toeing” around the issues because society has been “dancing” around these issues as if a problem doesn’t exist…evasiveness is powerful!
As leaders, we must become intentional with our practices, beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and the written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of our school. The change doesn’t only start with us, THE CHANGE IS WITHIN US! We have work to do.
Wendy Fitzpatrick is an experienced and passionate instructional, culturally responsive leader. Most of her 30 years of experiences has been in a Title 1, urban setting. As a leader, her vision has always been focused on the equity for all students. Her mantra is that her work is never done!