The task itself was simple. Create one presentation slide about what you’ve learned in the past few months. Then, take 3-4 minutes to elaborate about the content on the slide. The challenge? The task came in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest for Black lives, and political upheaval in a nation struggling to collectively regain a sense of decency for its citizens. As if that weren’t enough, professionally, I am part of a team of educational leaders responsible to support teachers in returning to a kind of school that has never before existed. The urgency to restore humanity in all areas of my life is profoundly palpable.
Despite feeling oppressed in ways that I never knew I could, I channeled the energy needed to present to my colleagues a glimpse into some of what I’ve learned and continue to sort through in my mind and spirit since March of 2020. And it is with the momentum of this same energy that I now share with you my presentation in an effort to reignite my flow of creativity. May we all break the barriers of silence in whatever ways they take hold in our lives.
Presented on August 14, 2020 to a team of Elementary Instructional Coaches
What I have learned in the past few months is too grand for the span of three minutes; just as the scope of my identity is too grand for this space. I show up as a Black and Japanese woman, mother, wife, daughter, educator, meditator, friend, writer, advocate, artist, learner, teammate, and so much more. However, in the backdrop of all my identities, and all your identities, looms a power structure made up of policymakers who do not know life in the ways that I do. They either don’t know or don’t care that most of their policies harm many of the ways I identify myself.
Policymakers create policies from their own lens of reality then use those policies to judge, punish, condemn, and even destroy those whose realities are profoundly different. Policymakers make their view right. Policymakers set the criteria for success and acceptance. Policymakers determine the consequences for those who fail to meet their standards.
Yet policymakers are not limited to our state Capitol and our nation’s Capitol. Landlords are policymakers for tenants. Banks are policymakers for loan applicants. Parents are policymakers in a home. Do you see where I’m going with this? Right. We, the educators, are policymakers in our schools and classrooms. What policies have we made that caused harm to students in the many ways that they identify themselves?
For most educators, it’s because they simply don’t know. They don’t know that a shared experience can only be determined by truly allowing every student to enter with their full identities, cultures, beliefs, family values, and individual assets. They don’t know that the looming power structure impacts all of us in all these areas. It informs how we view ourselves, our students and their families. The looming power structure normalizes and empowers some while minimizing and disenfranchising others.
But the fact is, there are some educators who just don’t care. Unfortunately, sharing what I’ve learned would not be enough to make a difference for those few. But for those who realize that now is the time to pioneer antiracist policymaking, here are a few ways to demonstrate equity and lifelong learning.
1. Study methods of Culturally Responsive Teaching to inform an asset-based mindset in instruction.
2. Examine rules and policies for equity and access for all students. Remove those rules and policies that do not serve all students.
3. Enhance the four C’s of 21st Century Teaching practices: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.
4. Make room for social justice lessons and discussions in all content areas to offer context and relevance for every student.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that having an antiracist mindset is not only critically important for the students we serve, but also for the colleagues that serve with us. Silence is no longer an option. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. And inaction is no longer acceptable.