As we celebrate Black History Month, we see many headlines celebrating black lives past and present. While it seems that more and more of society has become aware and even involved in issues that face black Americans, we are simultaneously faced with many inequities in the education system. So what is the best way for schools to approach Black History Month? How do we as education leaders ensure that all students have access to what they need in order to learn?
In several recent articles that I have read, the concept that black history is American history (and actually world history) stood out to me. Yes, of course it is, and yet there are actually many schools that only highlight the contributions of important black people in February (In fact, one school had parents attempt to opt out of Black History Month activities. Really? Because that should NOT be an option. The incidents of the past year should be evidence of that.). But what about the rest of the year? Do we commit to teaching the truth about the lives of black people in the past and in the present? Are we willing to reveal the disparities that exist in discussions as a staff and with our students?
Take A Deep Dive
If you said YES to any of the above questions, then the first step is to take a really hard look at what’s going on in your school! Take a deep dive into the hiring practices, school culture, curriculum, and instructional practices. Ask hard questions...of your staff, your students and your families. Really commit to wanting to know what’s working and what isn’t.
- What inequalities exist within our school? What have we taken to address them?
- Whose perspective is presented in our curriculum? How can we widen the lens?
- What tangible changes can we make to our hiring practices to focus on diverse populations?
- What is the message sent by our school in terms of culture and climate?
- Are there groups of students (and their families) who are favored by our school?
These questions are just a start to the important conversations that need to happen and, while staff and administrators are overwhelmed with all of the stress of running schools during a pandemic, the inequities that have been revealed by a microscopic virus demand our attention. You can modify our Culture and Climate Survey, and invite feedback from all stakeholders.
Change through Innovation
Why not harness the focus over the past few years on twenty first century skills and innovation?
Let’s task our staff, families and students with thinking about how to address these issues in new and transformative ways:
- Instead of a science fair, why not engage students in an Innovation Fair that focuses on practical solutions to address racial bias?
- Instead of doing a school culture night, why not ask parents to volunteer to make a PSA in their native language for parents in the school (for whatever issues they think are obstacles facing them)?
- Instead of asking staff to join another committee to study an issue, consider inviting them to help interrupt implicit bias in schools by voting on 1 activity per month to implement. Why not ask them to suggest some of these ideas too?
Start by acknowledging that implicit bias is experienced by everyone! But be sure to give students, parents and staff members a voice and choice about HOW to address these issues, and you will have already helped build community.
So this Black History Month and every month, keep reading stories and researching important black people and their amazing contributions. But also dig into the wide range of experiences of black people throughout history and today. Don’t look away from the harsh realities, because we can only make changes if we name them for what they are. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the many systemic issues that plague our society, we must ensure that another group of students is not left behind. Let’s use this Black History Month to honor all those who have given of themselves to further the lives of future generations, and let it be a catalyst for change in our own school communities.