How Can We Change What We Are Doing as Adults?


September 24, 2014


Forest Grove School District Superintendent Yvonne Curtis writes the latest entry in the Oregon Leadership Network's new, monthly blog series.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

In the Forest Grove School District, we’ve been focusing on equity for years. We began with race and equity dialogues, then learned to look at disaggregated data to learn about our achievement gaps.

Now we are seeking to understand why we continue to get disproportionate outcomes in both discipline and student achievement.

I believe that as we change our discipline practices and policies, we will learn about other practices we need to change in order to close the achievement gaps in every one of our schools. We want to learn what other districts are doing, find out what’s working and not, and solve problems through collaboration. (We are looking forward to participating in the OLN subcommittee to learn how we can change our current policies and practices to eliminate discipline disparities.)

As I reflect on our equity work over the past five years during my tenure as the Forest Grove School District Superintendent, I see that we have spent a great deal of time talking about concepts like institutional racism, oppression, and white privilege. When we look at our students, we talk about background and identity. I ask, “How can we foster a strong identity in a student who can’t read, write, speak English, or do math like their successful peers?”

While I see that our leaders are committed to equitable practices, we still lack the knowledge of how to take action in ways that result in equitable practices.

We believe the solution lies with the adults in the system developing a practice of “seeing” the experience of an individual student or groups of students and “acting” differently in the moment to change their experience. We want to provide rigorous and relevant classroom experiences where students are passionately engaged and learning in community.

We don’t want to put students out of the classroom as a discipline strategy when we know from experience and research that students must be in the classroom to access the learning experience. If a classroom learning experience is engaging, rigorous, and relevant to students, and if the classroom environment is collaborative and supportive, every student can learn and reach their highest potential.

We know that equity work requires the adults to see through an equity lens, and understand what students need. Equity work requires the adults to understand and reflect upon our own beliefs and how we came to believe in them. Perhaps some of our beliefs are not adequately serving us, or our students, well. We need to understand the relationship between our beliefs, our practices, and the results we are “seeing” in our students.

We are embarking on a new journey in our equity work that begins with attending to the relationships of the adults because we know that the quality of the adult relationships directly impacts our effectiveness. Parker Palmer says that in education we pay a great deal of attention to the what, the why, and the how, but rarely do we consider the “who” is doing the teaching.

Equity work is deeply personal and relational. We know that we must enter into this realm or we will continue to get the results we are currently getting!