Welcome to the Oregon Leadership Network's blog series. Topics relate to building the capacity of education leaders to sustain research-based equitable practices across Oregon’s P–20 education system. Learn more about the Oregon Leadership Network.
Last spring, two students at Forest Grove High School hung a banner that stated “Build a wall” in a common area during the school’s Unity Week. In response, hundreds of other students came together to take this negative event and turn it into a unity march to support inclusiveness.
These events provided a constructive learning opportunity not only for the students involved but also for educational and community leaders. And as advocates for equity in schools, not only can Oregon Leadership Network (OLN) members learn from this experience, we should start planning for how we will respond if similar events occur in our communities.
Given the rhetorical flashpoints that have dominated our presidential election discourse for months (“Build a wall!” “Muslims, go home!” White lives matter!”), it is especially important that we be proactive and prepare educational strategies to support every student, especially with the school year starting.
Imagine a high school gym filled with students for their upcoming mock presidential election. The potential for legitimized and racially charged language at this sort of event specifically (and within schools generally) may threaten specific groups of students—and challenge our civic responsibilities to educate students in a safe and democratic environment.
Mediating free speech in a racialized context requires all of us to provide thoughtful and powerful learning opportunities for educators, community members, and students. Members of the OLN state steering committee are actively engaged in addressing this challenge as we consider:
- How can we effectively support student psychological and emotional safety?
- What guidance and assistance can we provide teachers for navigating classroom discourse while supporting students who feel threatened or experience harm?
- How can we prepare students to have respectful and thoughtful conversations and debates?
- For those OLN members who do not directly work with students, what can we do to assist school staff members?
As leaders, we can support students with age-appropriate and actionable strategies that help them build their capacity to navigate racialized events. Working together with school and community members, we can find ways to advance meaningful solutions and promote both equity and civility. I invite you to add comments on this blog and tweet your ideas and strategies to @OLNOregon.
- To create safe and supportive environments in the context of this year’s presidential election, visit Election 2016 Resources, which is part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project.
- The American Reading Company called on teachers, principals, superintendents, and administrators to share social justice and literacy resources that can be helpful when addressing free speech in the context of offensive and racialized issues.
- In a guest blog post titled “Anti-Racist School System Leadership,” Josh Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International and former teacher and superintendent, provides practical steps for education leaders to confront institutional racism.
- In Oregon, the Classroom Law Project: Teaching Youth Participation in Democracy is again offering statewide, school-based election season workshops.
- Earlier this year, the Region X Equity Assistance Center published two guides for that can be used to advance equitable practices to support all students: