Featured Guest Organization: Chrysalis Consulting
In our service to educators, we have found that individuals who listen to each other sharing personal experiences say they “had no idea that a group had those types of discriminatory experiences.” We have also heard people make increased commitments to fight against the discrimination they learned about. When participants engage in learning (Illuminate), building relationships (Bridge), and taking actions to create change (Transform), they are better able to increase their understanding of others.
In this article, we focus on the usefulness of these strategies for educational leaders to enhance their effectiveness at creating equitable environments for students and staff, where all voices are heard and all perspectives are valued (Senn, 2021).
Foundational to increasing the awareness, knowledge and skills needed to live in a diverse world is understanding our history. Knowledge of history, both nationally and globally, is key to understanding identity, oppression, and systems of inequity that have been created and are potentially impacting students daily. This can have a profound impact on students’ learning both inside the classroom and out. Understanding our history is foundational to engaging in advocacy for all students. When we have a better understanding of historical events and their impact we are less likely to engage in oppressive and harmful behavior. Educators can benefit from engaging in academic courses, community events, reading books, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts and connecting with organizations such as the Racial Equity Institute (REI). REI focuses on increasing knowledge about the history and impact of racism in the U.S.
If you have few interactions with people from different backgrounds or individuals who do not share your life experiences, it is time to Bridge. To bridge is to build relationships within our own communities and with individuals of different identities. Bridging is making connections, as discussed in The Little Book of Racial Healing: “Racial healing relies on then building relationships with people we have thought of as the ‘other,..’” (DeWolf & Geddes, 2019, p. 41) It has been consistently reported that what divides us most is our lack of understanding of one another.
Key skills in bridging are listening, perspective-taking, and risk-taking. Listening is key in building relationships and this is listening without judgment, input, or jumping to solutions. It is listening in such a way that you simply are trying to understand what it might be like to have that person’s experience. Perspective-taking is opening up your mind to a different experience that others may have on a daily basis. Educators who seek to bridge will recognize it involves risk-taking, getting out of your comfort zone, and opening up to possibilities unknown.
The book Leading Diverse Communities, co-authored by the founder of the National Coalition Building Institute, shares several principles for making connections. One of these principles is that one-on-one relationship building is at the heart of intergroup relations. (Brown & Mazza, 2005) When educators make connections, they gain perspective and with this renewed perspective, they can be ready to transform.
To transform ourselves, our communities, and our environments, we need to engage in healing work, related to our social identities. This can take many different forms and will look different to different people. There are a variety of resources and modalities. Possibilities include affinity group work, dialogue circles, mindfulness meditation, therapy, yoga, creative arts, prayer, and much more. It is important to choose the approach that is right for you and your community.
Another component of transformation is taking action based on new understanding and perspectives. Important actions to consider include developing ally relationships, looking for accountability partners, ongoing training for staff, and reviewing current practices to identify the changes needed to create an equitable learning environment.
Although illuminate, bridge and transform are seemingly small words, they can lead to tremendous change. This work requires lifelong and ongoing commitment to growth and development. It is challenging, fulfilling and will truly transform the educational environment.
Brown, C., & Mazza, G. (2005). Leading Diverse Communities: A How-To Guide for Moving from Healing into Action. Jossey-Bass.
DeWolf, T. N., & Geddes, J. (2019) The Little Book of Racial Healing. Good Books – Skyhorse Publishing.
Senn, D. (2021, March). What is an Equitable Learning Environment? Learning Sciences International. https://www.learningsciences.com/blog/equitable-learning-environment/