Messy, Courageous, Vulnerable, Powerful, Emotional, Essential…


April 5, 2016


These are the words that come to mind when I think of the equity work we are trying to bring about in our schools. The work is not straightforward. It can become controversial. In a society that is not always safe, equitable, or welcoming for everyone, trying to change that in schools for our students is more than challenging; it is both daunting and essential.

Yet we take it on because we work with children who do not deserve to be overlooked, discriminated against, or hated because of the color of their skin, their gender identity, their family, or their heritage, and we recognize that they are all just kids. We take it on because it is the law. We take it on because we can imagine a future world without discrimination and hate. We take it on because we are accountable for the success of all our students. And we take it on because, put plainly, it is just the right thing to do.

To paraphrase Author Robert Fulghum, school is where we learn to share, play fair, not hit others, and say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. It is also the place where we learn to clean up our own messes.

We have a mess on our hands. Our kids are witnesses to and victims of racist and homophobic statements and violence on a nearly daily basis, whether it is on a TV screen or on their way to school. Regardless of one's political affiliation there is an impact on our children when our leaders make statements with exclusionary or stereotyped tone. These statements are heard by our children as they are repeated on TV or in social media:

"We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
—Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, March 22, 2016

“ does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well. ....most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
—Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, December 9, 2015

“The committee listened to a lot of testimony on the ‘perceived’ idea that discrimination is rampant in North Dakota, but did not receive any testimony that showed any outright discrimination going on. If we’re going to add this [sexual orientation] as a protected class, we need to be sure that we’re solving a problem.”
—Representative Robin Weisz, North Dakota Legislative Branch, April 2, 2015

“The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yamakas every day.”

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. ...And some, I assume, are good people."

“Total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”
—Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, during the 2016 campaign

If we are to clean up our own mess, schools must provide a safe haven for our children. A place where all students feel welcome and respected. A place where they are protected from discriminatory statements or violence. A place where they can gain knowledge, skills, and deeper understanding. Reaching this goal is complex as schools are microcosms of our greater society where discrimination exists. We can keep equity at the center of our work, but there are many invested stakeholders with wide-ranging interests.

How do we genuinely engage our stakeholders and move our equity work forward?

Let’s learn together and from one another. I hope you can join us at the OLN Spring Leadership Institute on April 13 in Eugene. We know you are committed to equity in our schools. Let’s open up and share our vulnerability in this work. Let’s take time together to embrace the messiness and the emotions. Let’s develop our awareness, our knowledge, and our skills. Let’s strengthen our courage and our determination to focus on this work in a society that has not fully embraced it. Where else can we practice the skills needed to lead in today’s schools?

Welcome to the Oregon Leadership Network's monthly 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.