When Change Comes

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” -Ernest Hemingway

When change comes, I’ll tell stories of how the pain led to the love. I’ll be reminded that no matter how deeply things can hurt, the love that can follow can run deeper. I’ll look back and think, we held on to hope, we held on to our faith, and those of us with pure hearts and genuine intentions held on to each other. When change comes, there will be rejoicing where there is unrest, community where there is rioting, and peace where there are protests. When change comes, we will think about how in the midst of pain, there is a story to be told and that we are allowed to control the ending. When change comes, I will no longer feel the pressure that my Black and Brown people feel to be twice as good for a single chance. I will be enough. We will all be enough.

When change comes, the freedom to feel hate, to express it in your bumper sticker, on your website, in your social media feed, will be extinguished. Change will not allow hate to lead the conversation, let alone be a lingering visitor who always overstays his welcome. My friends will love me for who I am and not for what I can do for them. Humanity will be what centers our ability to treat others with dignity and respect instead of money, greed, network, and connection. I will not carry the burden of waiting for my four nieces to experience their own evolution with the pain I have known as racism and prejudice, that my mother has known, or my grandparents knew. Instead, I’ll watch them grow into beautiful, intelligent, young ladies without the trauma of carrying a lifetime of worry about racism and prejudice. There will no need for them to wonder if they will get a fair shot, an equal opportunity, or a chance that they more than deserve.

When change comes, our education system will not highlight turn around principals who pour their hearts and souls into schools of concentrated poverty in hopes that education will be a part of the cocktail of medication needed to change their lives. There will be no more haves and have nots. There will not be people who suffer the consequences of redlining and ecological impacts like chronic asthma and other underlying health conditions because their neighborhoods are built within feet of the city’s landfill. When change comes hunger will not be an issue in the richest and most industrialized nation in the world. People won’t die because they cannot afford medicine because they do not have health insurance or a job that pays a living wage that is less than what they would receive being unemployed. When change comes, an achievement gap, centered in American education’s original sin of segregation, will be healed. Families will choose schools before they choose neighborhoods. Teachers will teach where they are needed and not choose their schools because of a worry that the test scores won’t manifest in a way that demonstrates their sincere efforts and hearts. Educators will be treated like the important people they are and there will be no need to question if public education benefits all of society. When change comes, my sisters and I will not be statistical anomalies. We will forever be examples of the rule and never thought of as an exception.

When change comes, we will feel better. People will be better. Love will be more abundant and present than it ever has before. Peace will be ever present and will be as pervasive as the hate and evil rhetoric that is front and center for the globe to see in America today. When change comes, we will know that justice and mercy, grace and hope, are not for some, but for all. There will be no question as to whether America’s foundations like life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are conditional and only for some, and not all. But change won’t come, unless we will it so. Change is on us. All of us. We have a responsibility-now more than ever before-to be the change we know the world needs. The time for wishing for change has expired. We are well past due. And it won’t be easy. It will require courage and bravery like never before. We cannot operate in our safe circles and keep our intentions and feelings to ourselves. We must carry each other to the other side of this thing. One step, one idea, one person, one relationship, and one conversation at a time. We’ll have to make sure our vulnerability does not turn into vitriol, our longing for love does not turn our hope into hatred, and that the slow tendency of progress does not cause us to lose our persistence in the fight for what we know is not only right, but also desperately needed. And if we can do this, together, change will come. I believe that. I need to believe that. I have to believe that.

Until next time-be you. Be true. Be a hope builder!

Latoya

Pain on Paper: The Murder of George Floyd

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

-Ernest Hemingway

Stop killing us. Stop killing us. Stop murdering us in the open streets of America. Stop strangling us. Stop shooting us. Stop choking us. Stop using your knee to cut off our airways while we are restrained and handcuffed on the ground and begging for our lives. We raise hell every time you raise the price of a Black American’s life.

I cannot watch the video of George Floyd being killed. My psyche cannot take another mental image of a fellow Black American dying in the open streets of this country at the hands of those whose motto is to protect and serve. The fragility of my emotional state is not due to a lack of mental instability, but due to what seems to be a constant loss of Black life due to hatred, racism, and pure evil. Seems I have spent much of my adulthood trying to reconcile why the unwarranted deaths of Black and Brown people in this country continue-whether it’s the way we’ve been disproportionality impacted by COVID-19, the killing of unarmed Black and Brown persons at the hands of authorities, or the infant mortality rate of Black babies-it hasn’t stopped. In the beginning I asked the question, Why?, Why are they killing us?, but I am far beyond this question now. I’ve come to realize that there is no good why, and so it is not the question that needs to be asked, but the demand that needs to be made. Stop killing us.

I often ask my Mother about the things that trouble me most, and this topic is something we have discussed often. I’ll never forget how she enlightened me on how this kind of vitriol hatred that turns into murder happens: “The only way you can do things like this is to not see another person as human. We are not human to some of them.” The realization that we are seen as something other than human by some stings to the core and eats at my very soul, but doesn’t seem to touch theirs. These are the people who claim Jesus as Lord, as do I, who do not believe in abortion, who believe that their views are not just right of center, but righteous. They use their single religion issues-abortion, gay marriage, and more-to cast their votes, and at the same time can sit idly by while the mistreatment of Black and Brown people is clearer than it was in the age of the Civil Rights Movement. No one was with cell phone to film Bloody Sunday. No one videoed and posted to Facebook the assassination of Martin Luther King. No one posted the recording of the four little girls who were murdered in Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church to Twitter. Yet, change came. Or at least we thought it did.

Fast forward to 2020 and there is no doubt that Emmitt Till’s accuser lied. She admitted it. And there is no doubt that George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Keith Scott, Jordan Edwards, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, and Ahmaud Aubrey-who was hunted like an animal, just like Momma said, were all murdered. We saw it. We don’t have to wait for an advancement in technology or the admission of one whose days seem shorter and closer to ending to make things right by owning the truth. We have the truth. We know the truth. ALL OF US. We don’t have the inconvenience of determining the truth about what really happened to these people. The truth is before our very eyes, and yet there is still a lack of consensus among us. The need to choose a single side divides us, but what is right is not complicated.

Patriotism has many faces. It’s the tears that ran down my Daddy’s face, an Air Force and Vietnam veteran, when he stood at attention to listen to Proud to Be An American. It’s the fury I feel that we are all supposed to be equal and free and we are not. It’s the pride I feel when I watch the Olympics and see Simone Biles, Serena Williams, and Simone Manuel bring home the gold. It’s the anger I have when I am treated as an exception, rather than the rule. It’s not about which side I am on or if I can feel the complexity of all that I feel and still clearly believe that murdering someone is wrong. I can do exactly that.

As I process all that is happening in our world, I wait. I wait for the day when my psyche isn’t fragile because of the videos circulating of Black and Brown people being murdered, and wondering about the deaths that I haven’t seen because they weren’t videoed. I welcome a fragile psyche due to heart break, loss of a loved one, sadness for a change in life that wasn’t expected, but the traumatic experience of watching Black folks murdered in the street on repeat-and waiting for justice cannot be ignored. I don’t want to wait for the arrest. I don’t want to wait for the trial. I don’t want to wait for them to be punished, to be sentenced to death, to be sent to prison. I’m tired of waiting.

I want them to stop killing us.

-Latoya

Authenticity-What Public Schools Need Now

It’s taken me so long to get here. From the start of school closure on March 16th here in South Carolina until this past Monday, May 18th, I have struggled. I am now a full time insomniac. I take short naps at night, and wake up almost like clockwork at 2:00 a.m. No melatonin, Benadryl (don’t judge me), or chamomile tea does the trick, and yes, I keep trying it. Yesterday, I felt like myself for the first time. I was able to be intellectually present all day for work and didn’t find myself overwhelmed by the immediacy associated with COVID-19. I finally hit my stride. My brain was working the way it is supposed to, and I have to admit, I did get a nudge from my superintendent after I did not seem present as a thinking partner in a meeting the previous day. While I can think of lots of reasons for my quietness or lack of intellectual commitment during the closure, I know much of it has to do with this global pandemic experience. Yet more of it, has to do with the fact that I am not getting what I need-authentic interaction with other human beings.

I am a people person. I love people. I like to help. I love an underdog. I like to be the person who you can depend on when nobody else shows up for the work. I like to be the one who goes the extra mile when others decide it’s not worth it and sleep instead. And I enjoy working hard not because I want to show anybody up, but because it gives my life meaning. It helps me fit. It makes me matter. It fuels my passion and my purpose. When school closed, my main source of authenticity-my relationships and interaction with other people went from real world to a virtual world. Now I smile just as hard over Zoom as I do in person, but the warmth that is generated in a conversation when you are sitting in a room across a table from someone thinking through something important cannot be felt. The energy that I bring to a room, that I feel in a room, is simply absent in a Zoom or WebEx meeting. And it’s not because of Zoom or WebEx. It is because I feel alone. Isolation is the greatest enemy to progress. Our growth as humans is centered on our experiences, our mistakes, and what we learn from interacting with others. We are social beings and in the absence of other people, over an internet connection, and the physical state of being alone, my spirit suffers.

I’ve come to realize that it isn’t just my relationship with other people that I need, but it’s the authenticity that comes with that. I want to feel deeply connected to others. I want the work that I do to make a difference and touch my heart. We shed tears at a high school graduation because in the moments of struggle we often experience through our learning and teaching journeys, we carry each other. What resonates with us, within our heart, and deep in our souls is that we were able to care for our students enough to help them pull through those tough moments, and they were able to feel that care and give it one more try. This deep feeling of connection sustains us as educators. It’s the reason we return after a terrible day, a tough week, a failed lesson, and after COVID19.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen for our public schools if we centered our efforts around providing students with authentic and genuine learning experiences. What if we made every effort to develop children from the inside out? What if we spent our time really digging into what makes them feel like they matter, that they are cared for, and that life AND their learning have purpose? In the quiet moments of COVID-19 I have come to realize many things, but one thing stands out the most. I love being a leader because it is one of the most rewarding challenges in spite of being one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. The authenticity of the experiences I have had have helped me develop courage, given me clarity about who I am, how I desire to make my life have purpose and meaning, and why my relationships with others matter. I’m not in hot pursuit of accomplishments, but in need of deep and authentic connections with others. I may be wrong, but I can’t help but believe that this internal need for a genuine connection with other human beings is what keeps me going, and it is what I believe could help us make the public school experience everything we all know it should be for every child who walks through our doors.

Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder.

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

The Critical Condition of America’s Public Education System

I am concerned. Here we are amidst a global pandemic, and some are now clearly able to see the cost of America’s original sin against public education: inequity. In the last six weeks the words digital divide, rural broadband gap, and equity have smothered the American education landscape. I want to believe that we all know the truth: This isn’t a new problem. It wasn’t brought on by COVID-19, and it won’t end when and if it is eradicated. The only thing that will eradicate the inequity that our public education system, and more so, our students suffer from, is for us to confront inequity head on and take action to create a new and more equitable system. Our response to this time in history will either exacerbate the gap between the haves and have nots or help to close them. It’s on us. And I mean it’s on ALL of us. Educators cannot do this alone. This requires the collective effort of educators, policy makers, broadband suppliers, the business community, the faith-based community; local, state, and government officials are also included. We have an opportunity to step forward in way that could change the trajectory of public education in this country and more importantly, the lives of many children. What will we do?

Right now, it is incredibly important we move from words to action. We must move beyond shining a light on inequity and closer to doing something about it. We can design a system of public education that doesn’t work against the very core of its’ mission: to provide a quality education for all students. While a change of this substantial shift cannot occur overnight, there is no time like the present. We can begin now, and to not do so, will only contribute to a further deterioration to the essential purpose of the system. I’ve thought about this for a long time, and more so with the onset of this pandemic. I have ideas about how we might do this, and I’d like to share them with you here in this blog.

  1. The system must be student centered.

We must create a system of education that focuses on the individual needs, strengths, talents, and opportunities of students. As we move forward, standardization must be in its’ right place and removed from the places where it has not and will not serve us well. We must reduce the variation in instructional quality as much as possible. We can do that by not duplicating efforts. If we can agree on what students should know and be able to do when they leave our system, then we can design curricular content that is available to every student. Instead, what we currently have is a system where teachers across the country are designing thousands of lessons that are so supposed to ultimately have the same learning goal at the end. We have numerous versions of how we teach converting a decimal to a fraction, how to understand the relationship between causes and effects, etc. In a student-centered system, our focus would shift from pushing out instructional content to focusing on providing quality feedback to students to make sure they are learning and mastering the skills and processes they need to be successful. We’d walk away from the over dependence on standardized testing to inform us on how the system is working, and move to a system where students are at the center and have choice about how they demonstrate to us that they’ve achieved the learning targets we’ve set for them and they’ve set for themselves. Our focus would no longer be on making sure every student gets the same thing. Rather, we’d focus on making sure every student gets what he or she needs. What we can standardize is the belief that a personalized education serves students much better than a standardized one.

2. The system must have the right drivers.

Our students must be motivated to learn by having the opportunity to participate in meaningful and relevant learning experiences. Grades and assessment ratings can no longer serve as motivating factors for our students. With grades at the center of everything we have done with students and a hyper focus on rankings and ratings, we’ve reduced at worst and eliminated at best, the joy of learning and its’ ability to be deep and meaningful. Instead, the effort our students put forth is driven by the grade they desire, and for many, grades are not enough. In the end, our students find themselves searching for purpose and meaning, wanting to be a part of something greater than themselves. Eventually the threat of failing grades, not being able to get into a good college, is not sustaining. They enter adulthood and the workforce where there are no grades and no rankings. They find themselves challenged because they’ve been subjected to a system where their motivation was centered on the grade they received in terms of their effort, rather than on their ability to make a meaningful difference in their organization, their community, and the world. Allowing our students to be driven by exploring their passions, finding their purpose, and experiencing deep learning around those things that touch their hearts would create drivers that are sustainable over time.

3. We must invest in public education.

The impact of the negative narrative that has shadowed public education has caused our students to suffer, and even more so, our educators. The shortage in teachers, the mass exodus many have made from the profession, and the lack of investment in those who serve students, and in a larger sense, society as a whole is clear. Our focus on inputs to the system must be greater than the focus on outputs. We must put forth the effort that public education and its’ educators deserve to help them become skillful practitioners. That might mean more incentives for students to explore a career in education, paying teachers more competitive salaries, and a more robust and personalized professional development system. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, the return on our investment will be directly related to the degree and intensity in which we invest in the system itself and its’ providers.

I am hopeful. I hope we take an opportunity to make meaningful changes that can benefit our students and the public education system for years to come. We need the commitment of everyone who benefits from a strong and successful public education system to help us remedy the inequities that have plagued our system for far too long. While inequity may be America’s original sin when it comes to public education, it’s not too late for us to repent-to turn away from the old ways, and to look forward towards a future that is brighter for ALL children.

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

Redefining What Makes A School Great in the Wake of COVID-19

Our public schools are more than teaching and learning hubs for our children. Many students receive a variety of services beyond instruction at school. These include access to mental health counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, art, music, physical education, access to a nurse, food bags on Fridays for those students who we know live in food insecure situations, & breakfast, lunch, and snack at school during the weekdays, to name a few. This ecosystem of services is essential to the healthy development of a child and those are the things you won’t find on any school report card. For example, our school district served 18, 474 meals last week, we handed out paper pencil learning packets, and we delivered meals to those who didn’t have transportation to come pick them up. There’s no rating for that.

It’s high time America recognizes its’ public schools for the incredible work they do. When an epidemic or crisis hits, the school buildings become shelters over night, buses are suddenly used to transport anything-people, food, materials-that will help the situation, and educators stand on the front lines to fill the gaps. As much as some may attempt to use this as an invitation to the idea that brick and mortar schools are no longer needed, everything about how the public school systems and educators have stepped up and stepped in right now says different.

We are an essential part to the success of our country, the continuation of our democracy, the future of our children. Let us not forget that our children our watching during this time. They see us, the educators, working as essential staff to make sure they have food and keep learning. Let us not grow weary about the children and what they are missing right now. We’ve never needed standardized testing to tell us what our children need, and we don’t need it now. They need the opportunity to create, play outside, collaborate, problem solve, read, and write. They need to connect and build strong and trusting relationships with caring and nurturing adults. They need encouragement and support as they face this new situation, just like us.

I’ve never been more proud to be a public school educator. I pray for strength, safety, guidance, and wisdom for all of us, and I hope the rest of the country can clearly see our value and shift the narrative that’s contributed to teachers being underpaid, schools being underfunded, and efforts to dismantle and privatize the important work we do for ALL children. When this is done, let’s work on those things. That will be the best thank you of all.

Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder.

Latoya

New Resource Alert for School Leaders

“The real test of leadership isn’t about what you can accomplish, but how well you can drive the improvement of someone else’s knowledge, skills, and capacity.”-Latoya Dixon, Ph.D.

Over a year ago, I started working to put together a practical tool for school leaders to use to support their improvement efforts. So here we have, The Instructional Leadership Workbook: A Practical Guide to School Improvement.

I debated about releasing it for some time, but ultimately decided to share it as a resource on my site, Leadership With Latoya. It is not a perfect tool, but I hope it might help school leaders who are looking for a practical way to approach instructional leadership, desire to pull all the pieces together, or looking for a way to organize their efforts.

The workbook is designed to be used, that’s why it’s available in Word. The hope is that you can type directly into it or print it and write into it as you plan. The formatting isn’t perfect and it potentially has errors, but I am not sharing it because I aim to be perfect. I am sharing it because I have a deep desire to help school leaders everywhere be their very best. That’s what Leadership With Latoya is all about, building community and supporting leaders, one leader at a time.

If you are willing to give it a look, I would love to hear from you. Let me know what parts work well for you and what is missing. My goal is to make this site a resource hub for leaders everywhere and your feedback will help me do that. You can send me your feedback directly at leadershipwithlatoya@gmail.com. Here’s to leading well!

Latoya

Courage: The Ultimate Challenge of Leadership

It’s not uncommon to chat about leadership with my sisters. While we all work in different fields, we all find how we work with others more effectively to be incredibly intriguing. We see many commonalities in our work with others because working with people, helping them reach their highest potential, supporting their efforts, and acknowledging their hard work isn’t all that different, regardless of the professional field. Over the years we’ve shared insights, challenges, successes, and of course…books. We all love to read and I’d go as far as saying we’ve been in our own exclusive book club for most of our lives.

This week I read Michael Fullan’s book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail. It was an excellent read and I can’t recommend it strongly enough if you are a student of leadership and aspire to be an excellent leader. As I shared some of my learning with my sister over a phone call, I found myself coming back to what I have found to be one of the greatest challenges for leaders: courage. It’s no secret that leaders are charged with making hard decisions, conducting courageous conversations, and nudging folks beyond their comfort zones. This is incredibly difficult work, and making sure your nudge is seen as well intentioned and a result of your caring about the folks you serve as a person and professional can be tough.

Human nature is one that responds well to routine, predictability, and comfort. When we are pushed beyond this, it’s natural for us to resist-and that resistance can manifest in a variety of ways: explicit refusal, indirect avoidance, an uptick in anxiety, or paralysis. And we name this in different ways, feeling overwhelmed is a common one. For those of us who are leaders, our challenge is to not let these facets of human nature drive our efforts. When we are challenged with leading others to a new level of performance, shifting a culture, or achieving their highest potential, it’s not hard to succumb to a sense of empathy that alters our leadership. What we know we need to do gets tangled up with what others feel about what we are asking of them, and we lose the ownership of leading others through these tough and challenging places. Our challenge as leaders isn’t to disregard what others feel, but to help them move forward in spite of what they feel. We do this when we acknowledge the difficulty in something and accompany that acknowledgment with an affirming confidence in their ability to achieve it. It might sound something like this: “I know this is really hard and a big shift in the way we’ve always done things, but I also know you are more than capable of doing this. I believe in you and I am going to help you get through this. You can do it.”

But far too often I’ve watched leaders struggle with how to respond to the difficulty of change and people’s reactions to it. Their empathy turns into sympathy and they change their expectations or shift the need for change to those above them, losing all ownership of the very things they are trying to implement. One thing is for sure-when you don’t own the change you’re in charge of leading, neither will the folks you serve. Courageous leaders operate differently. They acknowledge feelings of others, but they are willing to endure the process of change, and understand that shifting anything-a culture, a practice, a perspective, is a process. It is a long and arduous process, and to shift anything you must stay with it long enough for it to move. Leaders who lack courage quit too soon, give in too early, or become inconsistent rather than persistent, because they lack the stamina that courage requires.

Courage is born in the moments when we decide to not give up or give in, even when things feel hard, difficult, or uncomfortable. It is our ability to “stay with it” that is the ultimate test of our leadership. This development of endurance takes practice. It isn’t something we acquire when given an opportunity to lead. Like a marathon runner, we must train, pushing ourselves for ourselves, so that when the time comes, we can continue without faltering. As leaders, having a strong sense of who we are and what we believe is instrumental in the development of courage. When we know what we believe and what we stand for, we can demonstrate a strength that supports us in moments of struggle. For in the end, it is not our intelligence, our charisma, or our abilities that get us to the victory line, but our steadfast courage that will carry us all the way there.

Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya