Sunday, February 17, 2019

SCHOOL & CLASSROOM EQUITY…A Reflection of Your Humanity and a Window to Your Soul

Over the past few years, I have pondered deeply over this term, “equity” because it sort of came out of nowhere as a part of a long litany of education “buzzwords.” Because of the widespread usage (and misuse) of this word and the passion that so many exhibited when discussing it, I paid attention. I listened…I read…I studied…I participated in the discussions…and most importantly, I observed. My conclusion was very simple. I concluded (at the time) that this new idea called “equity” relative to the school and the classroom was not something new for me to “learn.” Instead, this new idea (at the time) called “equity” relative to the school and the classroom was the embodiment of who I am as an educator and as a human being.

What exactly is equity? The short and simple answer is to be “fair”….to meet every learner in the classroom where they are. To avoid at all costs giving all students the same thing toward meeting their needs in the name of equality when in reality, students in any given classroom are in different places and therefore have varied needs including their social, emotional and academic needs. Equality will fail toward meeting the needs of diverse learners but equity stands a much greater probability for success. Resultantly, schools and school districts all over America are making the attempt to infuse professional development for their staffs toward creating an awareness about classroom equity and ultimately creating equitable learning environments in their classrooms. This is certainly to be applauded, commended and sustained forever!

Here’s the problem, however. You can teach “equity” but you cannot teach “humanity.” They are two separate entities and they are not synonymous. To be clear, equity in the classroom not only makes sense; it is common sense. For some, equity is a “no-brainer.” It just makes sense to these individuals because it is a part of their DNA…it’s the way they are wired. But there are others out there who see equity as a burden to be avoided. Their position is that “I teach my content area(s) and it is up to the student to grasp them” (which is an “equality mindset”), whereas the equity teacher will retort with, “I teach children and therefore have to make regular and ongoing adaptations to meet their individual needs” (which is an “equity mindset”). In other words, there’s a humanity in the second teacher’s assertion that is evident, but completely absent in the first teacher’s assertion.

As the title of this blog post states, school and classroom equity are not only effective practice…school and classroom equity are a reflection of the educator’s humanity toward the children they serve and a window to the educator’s soul relative to those same children! Yes, those are strong words and hopefully discomforting to those who may be working too comfortably within an “equality mindset” of teaching. Equity doesn’t solely speak to your equitable practices in your classroom. Equity speaks directly to who you are as an individual. It’s a reflection of your humanity toward all of your students. It’s a window to your soul relative to your care and concern for all of your students. Equity can be taught to anyone but can only be “received” and embraced according to one’s humanity for their students. That requires not only an “equity mindset,” but a “humanity mindset” as well.

Let’s go further… I feel strongly that there is no true discussion on school "equity" if it doesn't include discussion on implicit / explicit bias and culturally responsive pedagogy in the classroom. Bias in the classroom is real and in 2019, there continues to be many who are not even aware of their biases. I have experienced it my entire life. Toward effectively infusing equity into all of our practices in the classroom, as staffs, we must simultaneously have the courage and the willingness to engage in open and honest discussions about implicit and explicit biases in our classrooms. Moreover, toward effectively infusing equity into all of our practices in our classrooms, culturally responsive pedagogy must be the norm. When I say cultural responsive pedagogy, I mean, we are children driven. We therefore take into consideration who’s sitting in those classrooms culturally and meet them where they are. In order to know them culturally, one has to be willing to forge relationship with them and be committed to learning who they are culturally toward making solid connections with them and becoming “culturally competent practitioners.”

Again, professional development in equitable practices is vital. But how one receives and embraces it is personal. You can be taught all the equity that has ever been written but whether or not you will receive and embrace it and make it the reality and the norm in your classroom speaks to your own humanity toward all of the learners in your classroom. If you truly want and desire for each of them to maximize their God-given potential regardless of the circumstances upon which they were born, your humanity toward your children will play a vital role relative to how you make equity the foundation for teaching and learning in your classroom learning environment.

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hey Teacher...But I Don't Need You...

Note - If you are a teacher or a parent of at least one Black child, I wrote this short piece for you...from the perspective of the child. Check it out and share with someone who could benefit.

Hey teacher…I’m a young Black boy living in inner-city USA. Statistically, the odds are stacked against me and the challenges I face toward living my dream are REAL…

…but I don’t need you feeling sorry for me though. You feeling sorry for me is not going to get me to where I want to be. I just need you to understand me.

…but I don’t need you getting angry with me when I make decisions that are not consistent with your expectations of me though. I just need you to steer me in the right direction. If I’m not moving at your pace, I just need you to be patient with me. Some of us take longer than others.

…but I don’t need you quitting or giving up on me when the task of working with children from “my world” seems overwhelming though. I just need you to understand that many of us lack the “privileges” that many of our peers from wealthier communities were born with.

…but I don’t need you teaching me as if all of the students in my class learn alike though. Although I am quite young, I am smart enough to know that children learn differently…we do not all learn the same way. I just need you to make sure that you teach me according to how I learn.

…but I don’t need you to judge me based upon my home environment which may be very different from your own though. My environment is my environment. I just need you to appreciate and respect what I call home.

…but I don’t need you assuming that kids from my neighborhood aren’t Ivy League material though. We are and I was born brilliant! I may not show it all the time, but I am truly intelligent. If I fall, I just need you to either pick me up or teach me how to get up on my own. I just need you to maintain very high expectations of me and if you do so, I will meet them eventually.

…but I don’t need you thinking that you know me because you know my name, address and telephone number though. There’s more to me. I have my own experiences, reality, challenges, obstacles, needs, interests, goals and dreams. I just need you to make getting to know the fullness of me your priority.

…but I don’t need you lacking knowledge of my history though. You can’t teach me at a high level if you don’t know me historically. You will see me through the wrong set of lenses. I just need you to know that my story begins in Africa. I don’t know where in Africa, but I know it starts on the African continent. My African past includes discoveries and contributions in science, medicine, technology, mathematics, engineering, architecture, carpentry, agriculture, writing, astronomy and astrology just to name a few. My story does not begin as a slave. My story begins in Africa…the cradle of civilization.

Copyright © Baruti K. Kafele

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Black History, Black Children, White Children and Equity

As I begin to write this essay, it is 7:00 a.m. (CST) on a Saturday morning and I am scheduled to speak in a 3600 seat room at the National ESEA (Title I) Conference at 11:30 but before I do, I woke up with this topic burning on my mind and needed to share it with you immediately.

Today is February 2, 2019 – the 2nd day of Black History Month….my all time favorite month of the year because of the richness in history that it has to offer. I recall vividly (everyday) that for a ten-year period of my life, beginning in my freshman year of high school, I was on a trajectory of destruction. I hated school while having no career ambitions outside of the unrealistic goal of becoming a professional basketball player. I attended four high schools over a five year period and graduated with a 1.5 GPA. I subsequently enrolled in a junior college and stayed there for 5 years as a full time student (while seldom attending classes) and never graduated. Ten years wasted!

In 1984, I decided to give “life” a try and enrolled at Kean University in NJ. I had no major in mind – I just felt that I needed to be in a four-year institution, given the fact that my friends now had their undergraduate degrees with me having nothing to show for my wasted ten years. Making the decision to go to that school was the best thing that could have ever happened to me because as soon as I got there, I literally stumbled on Black history…on Day 1! It was like I tripped over it! I literally stumbled upon a book about the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X entitled, To Kill a Black Man and my life transformed before my own eyes and everyone’s eyes that knew me. I was so inspired that from that point, I read every book on Black History that was humanly possible to consume while carrying a full load at Kean University. I was immediately a 4.0 student and graduated from there Summa Cum Laude! What happened? In a nutshell, the Black history I was reading was the mechanism I needed to unleash the God-given potential that I had within me toward completely altering my trajectory. The academics of Kean became so easy for me because the history made me aware that I was much more than I previously thought I was. I have been riding that wave ever since.

When I think of American classrooms, which is literally a 24/7 thought, I think of my aforementioned story. I think of the role Black history played as a tool toward my growth, development and success. Well, it works the same way with children. Here, I want to focus on the Black child. When a Black child winds up in a classroom with a teacher who does not understand the “power” in Black history, that child is immediately placed at a deficit. Said differently, when a Black child winds up in a classroom with a teacher who isn’t knowledgeable of Black history, that child is immediately placed at a disadvantage. Black history has been one of America’s best kept secrets throughout the history of the country and the consequences of this deprivation of viable information are visible and well documented. Black history serves as a mirror for Black children. It tells them exactly who they are both historically and culturally. It tells them whose shoulders they stand upon and what their responsibilities and obligations are moving forward. It informs them of their greatness. It gives them a much more accurate view and picture of the world upon which they were born into and exist within. As a teacher, it is absolutely imperative then that throughout Black History Month and BEYOND, in an interdisciplinary fashion, you introduce your children to their history. Said differently, you introduce them to themselves.

This task is somewhat easier in America’s all-Black schools but all Black students do not attend all Black schools. But there’s an advantage here as well. White children and children of all other racial / ethnic backgrounds need to know the history of their Black peers too. Given the inundation of depictions of Black people in the media and pop culture, there has to be something to counteract this barrage of negative and destruction portrayals which in part formulate how the Black community in America is perceived worldwide. Well there is something….Black history and Black History Month for all of your students. Everyone benefits in this regard. The greatest challenge however is you the teacher. You have to be conversant in this subject matter. You have to be able to take you curriculum and “breathe Black history” into it across content areas. In other words, you have to make it relevant for all children.

Lastly, one of the biggest buzz words in education today is the word, equity. I use it daily. Equity is being fair (not equal) to all children. Equity is meeting children where they are. Well in the context of this essay, there is no equity when there is an absence or marginalization of Black history in the classroom. When this viable tool of the empowerment of your Black children is absent from the classroom, despite all of the strategies that have been implemented to bring about equity, the absence of Black history negates them all. Black history must be an inherent part of the existence of your classroom.

For additional reading, I thought I would provide a link to my suggested reading list for teachers of Black students which include some historical books that I recommend.

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Reflecting on 4 Years of the AP & New Principals Academy

  It’s practically surreal that a project I started on May 2, 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic is still going strong 4 years later and...