Adding Strength and Accountability to Back-to-School-Messages


September 18, 2017


Dear Oregon; the nine federally recognized tribes; the Native American tribes that had traditional and customary boundaries in parts of the state of Oregon or had ceded or reserved lands within the state of Oregon; folks from other indigenous nations; and visitors (temporary, seasonal, or soon to be permanent) from other lands and nations:

There is never a more important time than now to center solidarity, love, and relationships, but I would be wrong. It is always the time to center solidarity, love, and relationships. I have been reading many back-to-school messages from school leaders across the state. They range from an urgent and unwavering commitment to social justice to acknowledgements of our current challenges—but few offer concrete solutions, and some are silent about critical issues. I asked a group of folks what they would most like to hear from state leaders.

The inundation and depth of responses reminded me that we don’t need to wait for leaders to speak our truth. This is not to say we don’t have to hold leaders to high standards, but we are the leaders we have been waiting for. We need to continue to strengthen and hold one another accountable.

Below are those messages of strength and accountability. To that end, I invite you to stand with one another and share these messages. Try the following: Educators stand in front of another educator today (and every day). It can be a paraprofessional to a teacher, a teacher to a principal, a teacher to a custodian, an administrator to a cafeteria cook, principal to a teacher, a mom to a teacher, a student to a student, a student to a nonstudent, a school psychologist to a school nurse, a bus driver to an assistant principal, etc., and repeat any of statements:

  • I am committed to supporting students and families from all nations.
  • I am committed to amplifying the strength we find in diversity as an investment in our state’s shared future.
  • Sanctuaries matter.
  • I am present to fight and defend the rights of all students and those pushed out of the system.
  • I am committed to learning the questions to ask that separate truth from lies.
  • I will listen to you and hope you will listen to me because our experience can mutually inform how schools should be run.
  • I will tell the truth and work to foster respectful interactions when we disagree and work to investigate deeply with each other.
  • I will teach critically and lovingly.
  • Your unique talents will enrich this student population as we learn daily and share in the joy of discovery. It is my goal to support you in learning and to be available for your questions and concerns, as this is your school.
  • I will work to decenter standardized tests; I will teach from my heart and teach what students love.
  • I will work to support an elimination of salary disparities so that the wages of state leaders, building administrators, and teachers reflect our values of non-hierarchy and social justice.
  • You are awesome, and let’s have faith in each other by listening to each other.
  • Collective education requires administrators, policymakers, teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and students to value the learner and learn each other’s perspectives. We cannot afford to work in a pyramid supremacist culture. Let’s flatten and join the circle to act together on behalf of our students.
  • Let’s remain open-minded and practice listening twice as much as we normally do.
  • Let’s trust in each other. Let’s believe in each other. Let’s learn and hear what's really happening in our schools. Let’s act on that information rather than automatically countering with data that may or may not be relevant. Let’s thank each other and promise to support each other and students with our words, our actions, and our votes.
  • Let’s earn each other’s trust—the trust needed to educate students. Let’s treat each other as competent partners and begin a new era of mutual respect.
  • Let’s always love and support each other instead of waiting for it from the “highest” level.
  • Let’s focus on teaching skills students need to be successful global citizens, scholars, artists, and activists in their own lives and communities.
  • Let’s have great fondness and respect for each student. They will know. Love their questions. Let’s bring something vibrant to the system that’s worthy of their attention—like an exciting, challenging year.

And a final message from me to state equity leaders:

Social justice is not a metaphor; it is tangible and real. Co-constructing communities with families and educators that actively decolonize education systems and center love, solidarity, and relationships is the only answer. It is not ethereal. It is not abstract. It is not a vision. It is your work plan for the year—every minute of every hour of every day. Our school year requires that of us. It also requires a work plan that is a worthy journey filled with humility, sweat, laughter, and profound growth. So stand in front of your school’s educators (all of them) and tell them: “I have your back.”

As my dear friend often says to me, and as I say to you now, from my family to yours:

We stand with you, we fight with you, we love you.

In solidarity,

Messages courtesy of Amanda G., Cyndi T., Teresa L., Cynthia H., Michelle S., Lizette R., Juliana M., Laura S., Joel L., Jeff Y., Janet W., Leah D., Mike S., Daniel R., Allison C., Rena D., and Beth G.