In this guest post, George Guy, principal of Rosa International Middle School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, reflects on how school leaders can move from managing to eradicating inequality in their school environments.
As school and district leaders enter the 2021–2022 school year, now is a good time to assess what has and has not worked for students and families during the pandemic. Across the board, educators have learned a few things this past academic year: that most schools and school districts can engage in some form of fully remote instruction; and that the most marginalized students have struggled academically, socially, and emotionally.
School districts might be assessing how to use federal funds to ensure that every home should be outfitted with a hotspot and a device or whether they should provide all students with free meals—even if the families who receive them don’t qualify for free and reduced lunch. Schools and school districts are assessing what unfinished learning means for PreK–12 students. There is a lot school and district leadership need to assess as they transition into the new school year, one that will hopefully move the entire education community closer to a post-pandemic state of being.
During this time of transition, school leaders might be asking themselves, “Where do we go from here?” I am reminded of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 book Where do we go from here: Chaos of Community. In it, Dr. King calls upon the United States to support just and equitable outcomes for all its citizens. A quote that holds a powerful juxtaposition, which schools and school districts need to consider when they assess what is and isn’t working, is “Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.” (King 1967) Meaning, although this country has strong aspirations about what is supposed to be just and equitable, it also needs to consistently follow through with behaviors to enact a more just and equitable society.
As educators, we have said since 2020 that we cannot go back to schools with a “retrofitted” understanding of educational practices—to borrow a term from Dr. Khalid Mustafa. In other words, we cannot go back to schools the way they were prior to March 2020. We cannot go back to schools and districts where the digital divide gets wider and; where childhood hunger impacts how students learn; where African American, Latinx, and students with Individual Education Plans are over-disciplined. We cannot go back to schools where social-emotional learning is not integrated into every content area of PreK–12 education, and we cannot forget about all the innovation and reimagining that schools and school districts underwent during the pandemic (albeit out of pure necessity).
If we cannot go back to the way schooling was enacted prior to the pandemic, where do schools and school districts go from here? Dr. Bettina Love, author and University of Georgia College of Education Professor, offers a sage piece of advice for a starting point. She said, “We can no longer be in positions to just manage inequality…we must eradicate inequality.” Let us apply that advice to schools and school districts.
How do we move from managing inequality to eradicating inequality? Here are some questions for reflection for all educators to consider this school year:
- Knowing that the pandemic has caused trauma and increased Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in all students, what will I do to lessen the effects of the aforementioned?
- How will I prioritize social-emotional learning in PreK–12 educational spaces?
- Instead of focusing on “learning loss” how can I “accelerate learning” by having PreK–12 start with grade level standards and look to intervene and enrich where appropriate?
- How can I invite student, family and community voices into conversations about revising or revolutionizing rules that have shaped the school environment (e.g. dress codes and codes of conduct)?
We can no longer afford to manage inequality. We must find the collective will to eradicate inequality in schools.
King Jr., Martin Luther. 1967, 2010. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
Love, Bettina. “Abolitionist Teaching and the Future of School.” YouTube. Haymarket Books. June 23, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJZ3RPJ2rNc.
Sawchuk, Stephen. “Should Schools be Giving so Many Failing Grades This Year?” Education Week. December 11, 2020. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/should-schools-be-giving-so-many-failing-grades-this-year/2020/12
Strauss, Valerie. “Why one school district says it’s ‘most appropriate’ to stop giving kids A-F grades and move to pass/fail.” The Washington Post. April 2, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/02/why-one-school-district-says-its-most-appropriate-stop-giving-kids-a-f-grades-move-passfail/
Reeves, Douglas B. 2008. “Leading to Change/Effective Grading Practices.” ASCD: Educational Leadership, 65, no. 5. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb08/vol65/num05/Effective-Grading-Practices.aspx
Wiggins, Grant. 2008. “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.” ASCD: Educational Leadership, 70. no. 1. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx