In this post, I write as a Black educator struggling to understand why change is so hard. Over the years, I’ve had many colleagues and administrators who “understand” my position, and yet when it comes to enacting change, the status quo is upheld. If you understand my position and can support me in the private moments when you come to “pick my brain”, why is it so hard to support my position in public? Understanding to me means that you have heard me and are willing to do something about this new knowledge. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting that everyone should change their practice to accommodate my preferences but when real harm is being done in schools and they are voiced, I expect that these voices would not be silenced and dismissed. Here are 2 ways that I think we can do better.
Think Critically to Understand the Why
The old adage, “We’ve always done it this way” is dangerous. Just because something has always been done, doesn’t mean that it needs to continue. Throughout my career, the people I have admired or respected the most have been those who have been reflective on their practice. Years ago, I remember myself and a colleague often popping by our VP’s office to just sit and talk at the end of a day. It became common practice – that probably annoyed our VP at the time – but it was a time to debrief and to think critically about our day and next steps. In speaking aloud and reflecting on lessons or upcoming school events, it became a space where we asked the important question, “why?” In these moments, I learned the value of being intentional in my practice. When there has been no substantial or good answer to the question, I often sit with the origin of the practice and consider how I got started using it. The first way that I think that we can bring about change in our schools for the better is to think critically about why we do what we do. With a clear understanding of “why”, we can choose which practices we continue and which ones we should consider changing or eliminating altogether.
Many may recall my post from months ago on “Crazy Hair Day”. The number of people who messaged publicly and in private was amazing. People taking the time to read, reflect, and reconsider made me think that my moment of vulnerability might possibly bring about some change for the many harmed by this practice that has no place in schools. While I don’t see as many pictures of the days on Social Media, I’m not naive enough to think that they no longer happen. Earlier this month in a meeting, the topic came up again and there were a number of sighs in the room. While sighs are a step up from remaining silent, without a justification for the sigh, there’s no conversation on what evoked the sigh. In that moment, I wished that all the messages around the harm of Crazy Hair Day would have been voiced. I wish that those who mentioned the inequity online and those that mentioned their feelings of uncertainty through messages would have taken the time to speak up, rather than looking to me to say something. One person came to me and asked why I didn’t speak up and I said that I always do and have written on the topic publicly. In that space, every person knew my perspective. As I packed up my bags to leave, I didn’t bother to ask my colleague why they didn’t speak up. The last time I asked them this, they said, “Yes, I should have said something.” My ask is this, please stop relying on that colleague who is seen as the disrupter to always speak up. They’re tired. Use your privilege and voice to do what you so proudly do in private. We need you to talk on these matters when they actually matter. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” If you’ve heard or learned that something is problematic, please turn that learning into action by speaking up. If as a collective we speak up, then there is a greater opportunity for change.
I know that we are all on a journey of learning. My call for change today is that this learning includes action. Think critically about practice. Ask the “why”. Speak up; particularly when you have privilege in a space. Your voice is needed to enact tangible change.