“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!
“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein
So, 4 weeks into our new normal where our worlds were turned upside down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It began with district meetings being held to discuss the possibility of being released after Friday for at least a week. As the world frantically watched the news praying that we were not embarking on what many of us were used to seeing in movies or television shows, reality began to sink in that we may be out for longer than a few days. I remember having a faculty meeting with my staff that week. During this time, we did not know much about the virus other than the fact that it allegedly started in a different country and could possibly hit the United States. I even recalled a comment being made that African Americans could not get the virus, which I quickly rejected. As we sat with a lot of questions and uncertainty, the one thing we knew for certain was that we needed to make sure our students were safe. We trained all of the staff one last time to ensure they knew what to expect and how to set up classes online. It was my job to lead the staff in a plan of action that would involve making sure our students remained safe in the midst of these uncertain times and ensure that we had lessons to send home for our students to access. We rushed to make sure all students K-5th could claim their Google accounts and access Google Meets. For some of my teachers, this was uncharted waters for them as well. I remember, thinking to myself, “How will we pull this off?” “Will my students be okay?” “Will my staff be okay?” “Heck! Will I be okay?” Friday, March 13th came and we did everything in our power to ensure that this was a normal day for our students. Little did we know that this virus would impact everything we previously knew as schooling for our students.
In The Beginning
“It was an epic FAIL”
Fast forward to the first week of virtual teaching and learning. The meetings, the meetings, the MEETINGS! I quickly realized that this would be more challenging than I had anticipated. Not only am I attempting to lead 75 plus staff members and 640 students (with their parents) from home, I have 4 children (high school, middle school, PK and Daycare) of my own that are going to require my attention. I quickly found myself assisting my staff via meetings, checking on students and families, running to the school to make packets and holding parent meetings on how to support their students at home. All of the things I am sure other schools and districts were doing. As for my own house, it was an epic FAIL! With the exception of the older 2 who are pretty self sufficient, my younger 2 did not care that mommy and daddy had meetings online from the time we got up, to the evening before and sometimes through dinner. The best I could do was squeeze in time between meetings to get a quick puzzle, sight words, lunch, then naps. I guiltily found myself looking forward to nap times. Why? Not so I could get a quick nap in to restart MYSELF and change the scenery from sitting at a dining room table for 9 hours straight. Nap times were the only time, I had uninterrupted time to squeeze in my meetings, check emails and make phone calls. I thought I had it all figured out. Except, I didn’t! What I quickly realized is that not only was I pouring more into my work as a school principal than ever before, I was doing it and sacrificing the ease, feeling of security and consistency of having mommy all in one fail swoop.
“My Motherhood was being tested more than ever.”
As I attended district meetings and my own staff meetings, I wanted to be clear that I understood the challenges of being at home and wanted to make sure everyone else knew my position. “Compassion” and “Grace” became my mantra any time I had the opportunity to say it. Whether it was to advocate for my teachers to those outside of the school building or to advocate for my parents when speaking to staff. But what about me? Was I being hypocritical because I did not extend the same for myself? Who was advocating for the principals who have children at home while working virtually? Why did I feel guilty for wanting to say no or needing a day off to get my own household in order? Here I was preaching to my staff about taking full advantage of the time you have with your family while the true testament to how I was doing was being reflected in my 2 year old walking around the house with a cell phone between her cheek and shoulder as she modeled what she had been seeing from mommy for the past few weeks. My motherhood was being tested more than ever.
Taking Advantage of Opportunity
“Needless to say, I now had an opportunity to think outside of the box and create opportunities for my staff and students that I might not have otherwise taken under normal circumstances.”
At last the end of school arrived, planning was under way for staff to check out and the next phase of planning kicked into high gear. This was my time to exhale, this was my time to re-calibrate. I believe the end of the school year is much like child birth, you forget how hard it is until you face it again. I think that is divine intervention. (smile). My mothers out there understand (smile). Needless to say, I now had an opportunity to think outside of the box and create opportunities for my staff and students that I might not have otherwise taken under normal circumstances. Most importantly, I now had time to reflect on my own leadership practices. Evaluating your own leadership style, and its attendant strengths and weaknesses, is crucial to getting the most out of your leadership.
I also had the opportunity to work on me. I could think about taking additional courses, graduate school or even starting a new business aligned with my personal passions. Most importantly, I could get my own house in order. My children needed mommy back and hubby needed wifey back.
Here we are in July facing similar, but new challenges. Too many to name on this post, but worth sharing on a later post. The point is, I now face the task of minimizing the fears and anxiety of staff, parents and students as we gear up to return to our “new normal.” So much planning, so little time all while feeling like we are running in place. I have met with various district leaders, teacher groups, parents, school leadership team and even my own family. Yet, I still feel uncertain, and worried that I am not doing enough or have enough to make the necessary adjustments that will anticipate every possible scenario. Is it fair to place such pressure on something that we are all trying to figure out? Is it even possible to address every possible scenario? Important decisions have to be made to ensure everyone is entering into a safe learning environment. Leadership 101! The plan is beautiful on paper, however, the self-doubt begins to creep in as you receive more questions and uncertainty of the COVID-19 numbers. Not to mention the important decision I have to make as a parent for my own children.
Leading with Balance
“I am taking responsibility for my own work-life balance.”
So here we are at the start of the new year. I have learned from the spring and from my personal reflections. I recently came across an article from the Chicago Tribune on “5 Things High-Powered Women Need to Know About Work Life.” In the article, they interview, Aimee Cohen, co-founder of Women on Point, who provides 5 tips for having a work-life balance. They are as follows:
Define it for yourself
Think of work-life balance from a calendar-year review
Remember: You are not an emergency room doctor (unless you really are, LOL)
Talk about your family
No one will provide work-life balance. You will need to seek it.
Interestingly enough, all of these resonate with me and I have found to be true. Work-life balance looks differently for everyone. As I sit hear and after learning about the “Miracle Morning” strategies, I am following through with one of the strategies of reflection via scribing. I am not on social media, however, I am in my quiet, cozy living room with access to the sun making sure to not awake the masses in my household. I am learning to give myself grace and not feeling guilty when I cannot get to something right away. Not only am I talking about my family, I am checking on them more in the middle of the day. I even updated the photos of my family in my school office. Besides, my 5 year old kept wondering why his brothers had more pictures up than him. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was much better at capturing moments before I became a school leader (That is another mommy story for another day). Finally, Cohen, made a statement that I found to be one-hundred percent true, “You teach people how to treat you.” If you are responding to email 24 hours a day, for example, “That’s going to be the expectation.” So take responsibility for creating a work life that works for you.” If she knocked this one out of the ball park! Just the like any other school leader, you want to be responsive to your staff and parents when they email or call with concerns or questions, however, that quickly turns into, if Principal Hud-Kirk is up sending emails at 10 pm, surely she is by her phone. I have decided today, that Google is my friend, so emails will be scheduled and unless their is an emergency or a call from my boss, 7 pm is the cut off for phone and email responses. I am taking responsibility for my own work-life balance.
“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” ~Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of the United States
This article is dedicated to my great-grandmother Ivery Blanton Cook. Affectionately known as grandma Ivery by family and friends, passed away in July of 2009, two weeks weeks shy of her 100th birthday. Eleven years later, she is still an important part of my journey and an important part of my why. I am truly blessed to have known and learned from an incredible individual who exmplified what it meant to be courageous, unapologetic and nurturing to her family and community. I just pray that I become half the person she left this earth being and still is in spirit. Love you grandma!!
Great leaders lead from the inside out. – Lee Colan
Written By Guest Blogger: Dr. Dira D. Harris
In other words, “Leading with Faith” is not about who we say that we are, it is about who we SHOW that we are. Leading with faith is an outward display of leadership determined by an inward development of character. We have all heard character identified as those things we do when no one is watching. Character is rooted in our integrity or moral compass. Webster’s dictionary defines integrity as a state of “wholeness.” The question then becomes: how can we lead, if we ourselves are not whole? The answer, though rhetorical, is we cannot! Well, at least not effectively.
Effectively, leading with faith requires that we are first, whole. Wholeness doesn’t mean that we are perfect; it simply means that we have clear understanding of who we are in our hearts. This identification is guided by a clear set of standards, values, and beliefs that form the principles of our leadership and even more importantly, our humanity. When leading with faith, our principles become the central compass of determining our whole selves. These are the doctrines we live by. Thus, we can with integrity, hold those we lead accountable to as well.
“For we wrestle notagainstfleshandblood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
When we have guiding principles, it makes it much easier for us to be consistent and impactful when making leadership decisions. This idea of guiding principles that determine our consistent actions as leaders, is echoed in the Biblical scripture Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Simply put, our fight is not against the school board, administrators, parents, teachers, stakeholders or students. Instead our focus should be on principles. These principles include ideals such as right versus wrong, advocacy versus opposition, activism versus politicisms, and inclusion versus relegation.
“Nonetheless, without a compass directing us on where to go, there would be nowhere to lead them.”
It is not always easy to focus on the ideals because they are abstract. It is much easier to pinpoint the people who present the antithesis of the principles that you support. However, this is what I believe Colan meant when he said great leaders lead from the inside out. The focus is not on the who (people-on the outside) but instead the what and why (principles-on the inside). Why are we fighting? What do we want our outcomes to be? Years will pass and the who (students, parents, teachers, stakeholders, and administrators) may change, but the reason why we continue to lead with integrity remains the same. The why and the what are the driving forces behind the decisions that we make as we are leading with faith. Don’t be mistaken; without people, there would of course be no one to lead. Nonetheless, without a compass directing us on where to go, there would be nowhere to lead them.
So as I encourage myself, I also encourage each one of you in your perspective realms of leadership, to lead with faith. Remember that leading by faith means standing on your principles!
Dr. Dira D. Harris is an educator, public speaker, and author who has had practice ministering to individuals from the Baby Boomer Generation to Generation Y! Her unique background and life experiences make her literature both mature and yet still relatable. She is a wife and mother, sister, friend and a forever hopeful romantic who believes in the idea of leading in love in all areas of her love.
As an Elementary School Principal, there is no way to survive the demands of each day without intentionally taking care of yourself. I had to learn this. Even after learning the importance of self-care, I had to force myself to simply take the time to care for me. My focus has always been on caring for those who serve with me, my faculty and staff, as well as putting emphasis on making sure my students, parents, and my community are better than good. Then leaves any care that I provide/focus on for me somewhere on “the back burner” …the place where leaders find other leaders on a sure path to physical and emotional destruction. I am a wife and I am a mother FIRST, after the time I dedicate to God. So once again, this would definitely push any time for me way back or at the end of the symbolic serving line.
There is a quote by John Maxwell that says, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.” This quote is the truth, as I had to change my attitude or loss my peace of mind and give away lump sums of time that I could never get back. As the years progress for me and my role as a building leader, I have come to the realization that if I don’t love me first, it is impossible for me to fully love others. I understand the importance of demonstrating self-love and self-care, because no one, including me…can pour from an empty cup. I have to be a full, healthy willing vessel in order to support others at the level that will be beneficial to them. And by intentionally making sure my personal and professional lives are balanced, I am able to proactively eliminate any feelings of bitterness, anxiety, or trepidation which will build up over time like a filmy residue that abides in the heart. And you surely don’t want that! As we know, shaping school culture is vitally important, but you have to start with your heart. This comes before assembling teams and making any plans…so your heart has to be healthy, this makes it where you are ready for the work at hand! So, the plan is for me to thrive, not just survive in leadership and in my personal life. I have always loved what I do as a Principal, but I truly love how the adjustments I made with how I do things related to my position have truly made it even better.
So, my message or my clarion call to all leaders would be to love yourself FIRST, so you are able to love others. Self-love is an action not a state of feeling good. Self-love is one of key ingredients to living a wonderful life with balance. It influences the image you project at work, how you treat people, and how you deal with the various situations in your life.
“I have come to notice that once the team(s) you lead know you care about them and their well-being, they will do what it takes to ensure the team (family) is better than good, they will be “all-in!” And as a leader, I am a firm a believer, that is just what family does.”
Dr. Wakea Brown
Self-love and self-care are one in the same. Self-care just means that you are willing to revamp your way of life and your way of thinking to take care of YOU! Self-care is how we react or what we do to our physical, emotional, relational, professional, personal, and spiritual well-being that reflects the way we take care of ourselves on the most essential levels. As leader, I am an exemplar and a role model, so it is important that I behave like one, even in how I care for myself. Being sick or ill all the time due to a lack of self-care is not a good look. I am one who believes in being at work and having an exemplary attendance record (as leaders we tend to burn the midnight oil coming in early and staying late, weekends, etc.), but I am a proponent of teachers and staff members taking “mental health” days when needed. I encourage it. I have come to notice that once the team(s) you lead know you care about them and their well-being, they will do what it takes to ensure the team (family) is better than good, they will be “all-in!” And as a leader, I am a firm a believer, that is just what family does.
As I reflect on the changes I have made (realizing I am still a work in progress), to my schedule, taking time to partake in what makes me happy, whether with loved ones or alone, and not being afraid to say, “no” without feeling selfish or guilty- for saying, “no” can equal a “yes” in terms of adding on to my longevity; time spent rejuvenating myself is so refreshing. When I am intentional about gifting myself with the self-care I deserve, everyone around me benefits. I am diligently working to place myself at the top of my, “to-do” list, fully knowing everything else will fall into place accordingly.
Dr. Wakea N. Brown
Dr. Wakea Brown is an elementary principal in Clayton County Public Schools. Dr. Brown has served as a District Coordinator of Performance Management and Assistant Principal among other district roles. As a consultant in various schools and school systems, Dr. Brown has conducted workshops and staff development sessions in the areas of classroom management, Differentiated Instruction, Assessment, Cultural Diversity, Critical Thinking, Time Management, Leadership Training, and Effective Communication, etc. Dr. Brown’s most notable accomplishment is being the wife of Mr. Keith L. Brown “Mr. I’Mpossible ”, empowerment coach, educational consultant, motivational speaker and mother to one sensational son, Keon Brown, Graduate of Savannah State University.
WrittenBy Guest Blogger: Rochelle Harris, Principal
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” Confucius
So the hiring season is upon us and it is time to fill vacant positions with effective, caring, passionate, dedicated individuals. Now that we are in the crux of a pandemic, how in the world do you prepare for virtual interviews? This was the very question that went through my mind as I realized my “normal” had drastically changed and I would have to explore the virtual world. Yes, I have conducted virtual interviews in the past, but they were few and far between. Even then, I had the luxury of conducting the interviews while at my school with the other panel members sitting with me around a conference table. So now having to do all the interviews virtually would be a new area to explore.
My mind began to race as I thought about how I would pull it all together. You see, I hate to admit it, but I’m still a paper/pencil kind of principal. I know it’s hard to believe in this day and age where technology reigns supreme. So, this was going to be a challenge, but one I was willing to face. In my office, conducting interviews would not be a challenge at all. I would have all my color coded folders and each document sitting nicely inside. Markers on hand to label each folder for the various candidates. Using my printer to produce more copies than one could ever want. I was the queen of interview preparation, so I thought. How could a person this organized and prepared now feel stress and anxiety over something I’ve done a million times? Simple, I hadn’t made the shift, the shift to relying heavily on technology. This was going to be my chance to finally transfer all my hard copies into digital documents stored neatly in Google folders and easily accessible.
Let’s fast forward a bit and detail what this looked like for me as I transitioned and turned things around quickly. I realized I was not digitally organized at all. I had to search every folder on my computer and track down old emails to locate the items I needed. This had to change. I was driving myself crazy and I hadn’t scheduled not one interview. So, I decide to get myself together and conquer this new challenge. I did the following things and I must say, I have been transformed:
Organize/prepare interview questions. Determine the questions you will ask and for which positions. Standardized questions work best so you can see how each candidate’s response compares to the others.
Create folders that will house the documents that you need and clearly label them. I happen to use my Google drive for this. My main folder is labeled Standardized Interview Questions. Within that folder, I created additional folders for the various positions. Of course I have them color coded too.
Select your interview panel and share the process with them prior to the interviews being conducted. Provide them with a digital copy of the interview questions and determine which panel member will ask which question.
Select a place in your home in which you will set up your technology. Ensure the background is not distracting and gives a professional look.
Test your technology. Make sure your camera is in working condition and the sound quality is good.
Communicate to others in the home when and where you will conduct the virtual interviews. This cuts down on distractions.
Schedule the interviews and be sure to communicate the time zone. This is essential, trust me…LOL.
I use my Google calendar to see if panel members are available. This cuts down on the back and forth of seeing when others are available for the interview.
If you are feeling really fancy, create a short video to showcase your school. This is important since candidates will not be able to physically come to the building until a later date. This can be shared with the candidate prior to the interview.
Set a time limit for the interview.
Keep paper/pencil nearby to jot down responses or type them on the document during the interview. I’m still working on typing the responses while conducting the interview.
Lastly, be yourself and enjoy the process!
This in no way is all inclusive. I only wanted to provide a few tips that were helpful to me as I made the transition to conducting virtual interviews. Take what you need from the post and feel free to make it your own. There is no one way of doing things. During challenging times, we must continue to rely on others and support each other as needed. It may seem like a simple task, but it has a great impact. Find what brings you joy and embrace all that is good. Enjoy the process and I wish you the best as you seek effective, caring, passionate, dedicated individuals to join your TEAM!
Rochelle D. Harris, Principal Clayton County Public Schools
Rochelle Harris is an elementary school principal in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Mrs. Harris has served as an educator for over 26 years and held a plethora of positions. Rochelle has been a classroom teacher, Early Intervention Specialist, literacy coach, and school level administrator. Education is her passion and she looks forward to serving in the education field for many years to come.
Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create. ~ Jana Kingsford
#2020Goals! Every year I have attempted to make new year resolutions as it pertains to my life as a school leader and separate resolutions as it pertains to my personal life. I make a plan to create a vision board, write down my goals on sticky notes or share with an accountability partner thinking that this time, I will stick to what I said I would do.
Early in my career as a principal, one of my internal struggles was how to lead effectively while staying present for my family. I remember leaving school on my work phone, pulling in my garage on my work phone, walking in the house on my work phone and eventually falling asleep fully clothed on the couch as I attempted to sit for a second to gather myself before tending to the family. I was lucky if I was able to walk in the door and turn my computer on just to finish the work I did not get to finish at school. This was my poor attempt to leave at a decent time from work because I spent more time in the classrooms than my office. Amongst the 100 things that I wish I knew then that I know now, is how to create the balance between work and home. I constantly felt guilty for not being more in the present with my children, helping my husband prepare for the next day and giving myself permission to let go at times. I had the constant pressure on myself to be the best and do my best because my teachers and students deserved it. I came across a quote from Author, Heather Schuck, ” You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.” Often times as leaders we feel that if we don’t give our all to something, we will fail at it. As a new principal, I thought that the more I put into the work, the higher student achievement would be. What I failed to realize at that time was that my bucket also had to be filled in order to fill the bucket of others. I also learned that I do not have to slack in one area in order to give my all in the other. Balance is key!
So my wiser self began to pull back on sending out emails at 1 a.m. in the morning, leaving my laptop in the car until the kiddos are down. I also began to turn off my cell phone once I leave my office and allowing my leadership team to stay a little later so I may attend my own children’s school events. Finally, creating more impromptu date nights with the hubby on a school night at the Mexican restaurant around the corner from the house has proven to be time well spent. oh, please do not think that this is something that I have mastered (Not by a long shot). I am truly a work in progress. My wonderful and supportive husband and I are working on creating balance in our lives. Also being a leader of others in his career as you can imagine creates a busy and sometimes hectic schedule for our family. I have decided to approach this goal the same way I approach my school improvement plan. Set my goals for work and family (with my spouse), work on 1 goal at a time, revisit and reflect on the status of that goal and make adjustments as needed. I quickly learned that the do as I say, not as I do for my staff and children is no longer acceptable, because they are holding me accountable as well.
So my #2020oneword is “Balance”! My wish for all school leaders is that you truly spend more time on filling your bucket so you are more effective with filling the bucket of others. My wish for you is that you realize your self-worth and how deserving you are to be satisfied in your work and personal life. My wish for you is to have true joy and satisfaction in your work as a mom, wife, daughter, friend or school leader. My final wish for you is to have “BALANCE!” Think of the possibilities!