Ted Talk: The Consciousness Gap In Education

Yesterday, I wrote about my current experience addressing race and equity with teachers. Today, after watching this Ted Talk, I was reminded why I do this important work.

When you do work that is resisted by others, it’s easy to wonder what’s the point. I’m always grateful for those who have done this work longer than me, and who are around the corner affirming those of us following their trail.

“The Consciousness Gap in Education – An Equity Imperative: Dorinda Carter Andrews at TEDxLansingED”

On Going THERE with Teachers: Discussing Race & Equity in the Classroom

It’s been six months since transitioning from the classroom to administration, and its been a welcomed challenge. One of my responsibilities as the Director of School Culture is providing training for teachers on culturally relevant pedagogy. As a nation, we lack the ability to address race responsibly, and this is also terribly true in the field of education.

Brown and Black students make up 50% of students enrolled in public schools, while more than 80% of teachers are white (National Study for Education Statistics). The culture gap is intense, and while some people try to act like it doesn’t matter (kids are kids, right?), some folks are trying to respond to the varying cultures that coexist within the classroom, and the disconnections that take place because the cultural differences aren’t usually addressed. I’m one of the educators trying to address the culture gap, and I’m currently doing so with the teachers I work with. While I love this work, am dedicated to this work, and predict it will be a part of my work for a long time, it’s also difficult, and, takes a lot of work. Discussing race is provocative enough to elicit interest, but can also cause a lot of discomfort for people who aren’t willing to go THERE.

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As a teacher, when I’d describe someone as white or Black for the first time, my students would perk up, and without a doubt, someone would say “oooooh that’s raaaacciiiiist.” Of course, I’d unpack that statement, and by the end of the year, we had a shared lexicon when addressing race, but I was always surprised that my nine and ten year olds had already learned to be uncomfortable when simply describing someone’s race.

I experience similar reactions when discussing race with adults. I think this is because of two reasons:

1. Most of us haven’t been supported with how to discuss race responsibly and        authentically (political correctness has altered our authentic voice).

2. Because of America’s history, discussing race requires that we go THERE, and going THERE is not always a welcomed destination.

Where is THERE, you ask? You know, THERE—that frightening place where we must confront, own, and shift our own biases. Whether you have a nuanced perspective on the politics of race, or have never thought about race, going THERE with a mixed group of people with different perspectives on and experiences with race is tough. Going THERE may result in people feeling uncomfortable at best, but defensive and angry at worst. I say uncomfortable at best, because even if discomfort isn’t an easy feeling to sit in, it is a learning feeling. When we’re most uncomfortable, we’re experiencing the potential to learn, and, hopefully, shift our practice.

Discomfort, however, must be followed with reflection. Otherwise we fall into simply feeling uncomfortable and defensive, and those feelings don’t shift perspectives. When I’m most uncomfortable, I try to question my discomfort and dig deeper- why am I feeling uncomfortable? Do I feel uneasy because I need to confront and/or change something within myself? Am I uncomfortable due to my own ignorance on something? It takes work to go THERE with yourself, but if we don’t, we rob ourselves from the potential to grow.

So…. I’ve been going THERE with teachers, and it has been a challenge that I’m trying to welcome with open arms. I was first met with eagerness. Immediately, teachers acknowledged the existing culture gap, and agreed that it needed to be discussed and dealt with. But, during our last meeting, things got real, which means things got uncomfortable. I think some people were frustrated, definitely defensive, and I felt bad. The training was planned in a way that caused deep self-reflection, and it didn’t feel great for some people. I felt uncomfortable for putting teachers in that position, but, in reflection, I know it needed to happen. I’ve been a part of this work before, I’ve led this work before, and it’s never been neat. It’s messy, emotional, and intense. But these are the necessary emotions that come with the work of going THERE.

‘Alright’: Anthem for 2015 & 2016

alright

Though many beautiful things happened in 2015 (most notably, career changes for both me and my husband), there are also some challenges that we’ve been forced to face. Personal obstacles, as well as the ongoing challenges of communities of color (my mind hurts trying to think of all of the names of Black people whose justice have been rejected), have caused me to reach deep into myself to seek faith and strength. I’ve been forced to find peace in what’s most important. I’ve been brought to my knees with humility. And when the tunnel looks dark and intimidating, I’ve been challenged to peel back the film of my own fear and seek a layer of strength I never knew existed.

As I enter 2016, I’m carried by the power of love, friendship, the words of my ancestors, faith and music that serve its purpose to empower.

Because, in the end, I know that everything is going to be “Alright.”

 

 

What I’m Dancing To… Thanks Missy!

This blog was supposed to be a woman’s perspective on Hip Hop. I usually begin my, now, rare posts on Hip Hop with this sentence, to remind myself where ShesGottheMic began. It’s now morphed into many things since then– partly because of my boredom with the current state of Hip Hop, but mostly because my thoughts, which were once focused on the representations of women in Hip Hop, has shifted, and become more layered and complicated, to put it simply. But, there are still moments when a Hip Hop artist inspires me to geek out on the culture that defines much of my adolescence and college years, and I’m reminded why I wanted to start a blog that entirely focused on Hip Hop.

A couple of months ago, it was  Kendrick Lamar who inspired me to go back to my Hip Hop roots. This time, it’s Missy Elliot’s newest song, “WTF (Where They From)” featuring Pharrell Williams. While Kendrick’s, “Blacker the Berry” reminded me that one of Hip Hop’s most powerful tool is its ability to document the times and produce a message, Missy’s “WTF,” reminds us of Hip Hop’s roots– to make people dance and have fun.

Now that she’s back (we missed you Miiiisssyyyy!!!), she’s brought us a song that can’t be listened to sitting down (I’m listening to it right now as I type at a coffee shop, and my booty is definitely moving). And the video… Missy Magnificence! Aside from reminding us that she’s still got it on the dance floor (you make 44 look glorious), her Afrofuturism/ comic book-esque/ Roundtheway Gurl style remind us that her creative energy doesn’t stop at beat making, but is carried out into the details of her videos (I once read that the ideas of her music videos were replicas of dreams she had). And did you see the Missy and Pharrell marionettes?  Magic and creepiness at its finest.

Thank you Missy Misdemeanor for your  return!

Its been 7 years since you left us with one of your jams. I’m sure in that time, you’ve changed, I know that I’ve changed, but one thing remains the same. When I finish watching one of your videos, my only goal is to hit ‘da club.

Learner. Educator: New Job/New Lessons

old.job.newjob

Because this blog often reflects my day job, I thought it might be important to update my change of employment.  For the past five years, I’ve worked as a teacher, and grown as an educator, a professional, and an, overall, human being because of my work in the classroom. I learned valuable lessons from fellow educators, from students, and from my students’ families. For multiple reasons, however, I felt it was time for me to move forward by taking a break from the classroom. After three months in my new position, I’m relieved to say there are no regrets.

My official title is Director of School Culture/ Vice Principal (long story for my long title), and I now work at an elementary school in Richmond, which is about 20 minutes from Oakland. My role allows for me to wear multiple hats (but what person in education doesn’t?) When students have behavioral challenges that can’t be handled in the classroom, I’m called. I’m in charge of dishing out the consequences, but, more importantly, I’m also responsible for creating preventive measures for disruptive behavior. Some of the ways I’ve done this so far is implementing a school wide incentive program, supporting classes with implementing conflict/resolution strategies for students, and what’s close to my heart is hosting a girls group for girls who are struggling with social relationships. I also support with ensuring that our attendance numbers maintain high percentages, and facilitate parent leadership within the school.

Another hat I wear is supporting efforts to ensure that our students receive an education that is culturally relevant to their experiences. This may be one of the more challenging roles in this position, because discussing race/ culturally relevant teaching and cross-cultural relationships is challenging. It’s sticky and confrontational. But, when done correctly, it can shift the way we approach lesson design, as well as academic results. I’m trying to figure out how to do this effectively so that my teachers’ hearts are listening and motivating shifts in teaching practices.

On this blog, posts that used to reflect my experience as a teacher, will now reflect my new role as a school administrator. I’ve been in this position for only three months, but I’ve had many questions that I’d like to explore and track on this blog:

What is effective discipline? How do I facilitate culturally responsive practices with a school wide lens? How do I support teachers in their own practice with culturally responsive teaching practices? How do I facilitate tough, but productive conversations? What does strong school leadership look like? I’ve taught in a traditional classroom for five years, which is solid, but not extensive. How do I stay relevant as an educator and leader, while being out of the classroom?

Whether you’re an educator, or not, I hope I can engage you as a reader, and if you’re willing, even seek out your thoughts as I explore education from a new lens. In between education posts, I’ll continue to post about race and pop culture, art, travel, music videos, etc…

21 Years Ago: The “I Wanna Be Down” Remix Was Everything to Me

                                                      

It’s been extra heavy on my page.  I’ve been wanting to lighten the mood, so, when “I Wanna Be Down” with Brandy featuring Yoyo, Mc Lyte, AND Queen Latifah blasted from my iPod, I knew I had to pay homage to one of my favorite collaborations of all time. In 1994, I was 10 years old, loved Brandy, Hip Hop, and myself. So, when I saw a music video with four Black women rockin’ the MIC, it was everything to me. I don’t even know if there was anyone I wanted to be down with at that time (except for Batman from Immature), but I sang and rapped these lyrics like I was grown.

Janelle Monae and Her Wondaland Crew March Against Police Brutality in San Francisco

Janelle Monae, and her Wondaland crew have been touring the U.S., marching against police brutality. I’ve been following their endeavors on Instagram, and at the very last minute decided to join them when they went to San Francisco. When I found out they were marching in San Francisco, I wondered why San Francisco, and not Oakland? But once I walked out of the 24th and Mission BART station, and stood amongst the mixed crowd in the gentrifying Mission, it made sense. The Mission needed to be reclaimed.

Activists and families of victims of police brutality shared their truths. Alex Nieto’s family had a big presence. Alex Nieto, is a man who was gunned down in the Bernal Heights neighborhood by San Francisco police in 2014. Someone called and reported that he had a tazor gun. He was about to report to his job as a Security Guard, and was gunned down by police. His family is seeking justice.

Alex Nieto's family speak their truth.
Alex Nieto’s family speak their truth.

Oscar Grant’s family was also present. Oscar Grant was gunned down in 2009 at Fruitvale BART station in East Oakland in the early morning of New Years day. Someone reported there was a fight on BART. BART police pulled Oscar Grant off of the train, and though video recordings showed that he didn’t resist arrest, he was shot and killed. The officer claims he meant to taze him.

Oscar Grant's family speak for justice.
Oscar Grant’s family speak for justice.

The afternoon focused on the families of victims who have lost their lives to police brutality. People shared their truths, along with activists, speaking and rapping about their experiences. There was also much needed focus on the many trans women’s lives that have been taken, but not spoken about enough.

translives.matter

Later, Janelle Monae, Jidenna and the rest of the Wondaland Crew came on stage with the families of victims and sang a song, “Hell You Talmabout,” naming the many people who have died because of police brutality. They then led us on a march to the San Francisco Police Station where we continued to sing.

janelleand families

Police were prepared for a riot, with their head gear on, but Janelle Monae and her crew led us in song, and played the trombone, New Orleans style. People sang and danced. Jidenna, a singer from the Wondaland crew, said they didn’t want this to be a gathering of mourning, but a gathering of celebrating that we will move forward. That we will fight and survive.

janelle.monae

Many people are fighting this fight, and overall, the Black Lives Matter response to police brutality has been led by women. It was powerful to see a woman celebrity not only use her celebrity, but lead other artists in using their talents to support the fight against police brutality.  It was very Nina Simone of her to organize a tour that specifically is in support of people of color’s lives, and I hope other celebrities follow.

(Below is a link to a performance of the song Janelle Monae sang with families as we marched. The recording below is from another performance in Philadelphia)