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136 Degrees of Separation? Not Really!

Date 

February 17, 2015

Social 

two event participants talking to each other during a working session
Participants at this year's convening

At the beginning of our second annual Northwest and Pacific Equity Convening, I asked participants to shout out the temperature it had been at home the day before they arrived at our meeting in Honolulu. I wanted to see who came from the hottest and coldest location—to give folks a sense of the range of participants we had at the meeting.

Several residents from the Pacific islands shouted out temperatures, mostly in the 80’s. However, the winner was 90.1 degrees in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (aka CNMI). Everyone knew that the winner for the coldest temperature was going to be from Alaska. And, indeed, the two participants from Fairbanks reported that it had been 46 degrees below zero the day before. So, between the two sets of participants there were 136 degrees of separation.

But, were they really that different? As it turned out, not really. Whether it is six degrees of separation or 136, our convening demonstrated how much educators who care about equity are connected.

At the end of January, Education Northwest working in partnership with the Pacific Comprehensive Center at PREL, and with the participation of the REL Pacific at McREL International, held a two-day gathering for nearly 50 representatives from 16 governmental entities, ranging from U.S. states (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington), to unincorporated U.S. territories (American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam), to sovereign nations (Federated States of Micronesia, including Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap; Palau; and the Republic of the Marshall Islands).

With such variety in backgrounds, challenges, and experiences, what did the participants have in common? What could this group accomplish by meeting together? These were the questions that the Education Northwest planning team, including staff from our Region X Equity Assistance Center, Northwest Comprehensive Center, and REL Northwest and our partners at PREL worked on together. We had something to go on—the priorities identified by participants who attended the first convening, held in December 2013. We also were guided by feedback provided by last year’s participants that we should expand the scope of the meeting and focus it on sharing knowledge on promising approaches that promote educational equity.

Our theme this year was “Networking to Promote Positive School Environments.” The meeting focused on three major goals:

  1. Increasing parent and community engagement
  2. Reducing bullying, harassment, and discipline disparities
  3. Strengthening welcoming environments

Through a variety of large- and small-group activities, we exchanged information on ways that we are addressing these goals. Participants also committed to joining professional networks to be managed by the Region X Equity Assistance Center that will promote learning and action.

What did we learn from this convening? First, regardless of our differences, the participants share a deep commitment to making sure that every student receives an excellent and caring education. This commitment, shared by individuals working in educational systems spanning nine time zones, was inspiring and will help each of us address the challenges we confront. A second learning was the significance of language and culture in promoting educational equity. Numerous examples were provided by participants regarding the importance of attending to native language as a way to honor home cultures and to transmit important equity values. We also discussed the challenges that sometimes emerge when certain actions that are acceptable in a home culture, for example “roughhousing” or teasing, may not be appropriate within school settings. This learning reinforced the importance of having deep cultural knowledge and roots in communities when promoting outcomes such as the reduction of bullying and harassment.

Stay tuned as we share some of the learning and resources that emerge from our equity networks. Are there practices or policies you would like share that are promising ways to promote equity in your communities? Let us know, and we will share them with the network.