Honoring the Legacy of Septima Clark & Other Unsung Heroes in the Fight for Equity

“It was time that Negroes were treated equally with whites, time that they had a decent school, time for the students themselves to do something about it. There wasn’t any fear. I just thought — this is your moment. Seize it!”-Barbara Johns, Civil Rights Activist, 1935-1991

Equity has been a central theme in the education of American students since the earliest times. Well before the landmark, Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, there were many others who expressed concern and raised awareness that separate was inherently unequal. This advocacy was carried by many educators and other external stakeholders who elected to become active participants in the fight for educational equality. Today, as America faces an increasing number of segregated schools, educators have a new opportunity and moral obligation to honor those who carried the fight for equity long ago, for the sake of the country’s children. In Alexander Nazaryan’s, March 2018 Newsweek article titled, School Segregation In America Is As Bad Today As It Was In The 1960’s, he notes:

“Charlotte, [NC] in 2018, looks like most other American cities, where schools are nearly as segregated as they were before the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, which declared separate but equal schools to be unconstitutional. Some cities, like New York, never really integrated their schools, hiding for decades under the guise of Northern liberalism. Many others complied with court orders, but did so unwillingly and incompletely, without ever convincing people that integration was a public good.”

The advocacy of educators has been central in bringing about change to the American educational equity landscape. If educators like Septima Clark and Sue Cowan Williams Morris had not seen themselves as having a key role to play in bringing about such change, the change that eventually was ordered to occur based on the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education may have been delayed or possibly could have not occurred at all. Their bravery, courage, and conviction is to be admired, but most of all educators must honor their legacies by becoming advocates themselves.

Sue Cowan Williams Morris began her career as a teacher in Little Rock Arkansas in 1935. In March of 1941, a petition was filed with the Little Rock School Board demanding equal salaries between Black and White teachers. When the board failed to make changes, Morris became the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Morris v. Williams in 1942. The suit requested a balancing of the salaries between Black and White teachers. Morris lost that case, but went on to appeal the decision. In 1945 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri overturned the initial case ruling and decided in her favor. Morris was then fired as was the principal of her school. Seven years later in 1952, she would get her teaching job back, but only after a call from then-superintendent Harry Little, asking if she had “learned her lesson”. She taught in the Little Rock School District until 1974, when she retired.

Septima Clark was a South Carolina educator and civil rights activist. She began her teaching career in 1916 on Johns Island in South Carolina. Motivated by the racial disparity between the salaries of Black and White teachers and school facilities, she became an advocate for change. She went on to teach in Charleston, South Carolina and played a key role in changing the policy that prevented Black teachers from working in public schools. In 1919, Clark joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and worked tirelessly to get the city to hire African-American teachers. In 1945 Clark along with the NAACP, was represented by Thurgood Marshall in a case that sought equal pay for Black and White teachers. When the case was won, her salary increased by three times as much. Clark’s internal urging to challenge the status quo did not end here. When South Carolina made it lawfully illegal for public employees to belong to civil rights groups like the NAACP in 1956, she refused to rescind her membership and was fired. Her advocacy didn’t end there although her teaching career had been brought to a halt in the Charelston County School District. She went on to labor tirelessly as an educator at The Highlander Folk School which later became known as the first citizenship school because of its centralized efforts on literacy and voting. Highlander’s Citizenship School program helped people learn how to instruct others in their communities in basic literacy and math skills, and as a result more people were able to vote, despite the literacy tests that many states used to disenfranchise African-American voters. Clark is often described by various scholars as calm, yet unafraid, and fiercely brave in her advocacy for equity.

Today’s educators have a moral and professional obligation to channel the courage of heroes like Clark and Morris and work tirelessly to bring equity to America’s schools. A perpetual discussion on the achievement gap should not exclude the importance of educators who advocate for equity. There is a false narrative that the gap is a sheer result of low expectations and minimal efforts. Conversations abound about how educators must not make excuses, but be held accountable for the performance of ALL students. This accountability focus, however, must be a comprehensive and shared one. Educators have a duty to bring this conversation to light about how segregation is still negatively impacting the academic achievement of Black and Brown children. This is not a simple exercise in raising expectations and rigor. Access and opportunity are central to providing ALL students with the education they deserve and in closing the achievement gap output that is often highlighted while the inputs of such remain in the shadows.

We honor the legacies of folks like Clark and Morris when we raise our awareness, we speak up, and we commit to serve in ways that help change the educational equity landscape in this country. Clark and Morris did not wait on those who set the policies and developed the law to change them. They saw themselves as instrumental in bringing about change. Today’s educators must start by seeing themselves in the same way and only then will we honor the legacies of those who came before us.

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

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

Overcoming the Deficit Model of Public Education

At the start of each school year there is excitement and a renewed commitment from public educators to improve their practices and student outcomes. The smell of brand new composition books, with crisp pages of clean paper, full pencil boxes, and glossy folders brings energy to classrooms across the country. Students, parents, and educators get the luxury of starting over, beginning anew, and trying again.

With an analysis of the previous year’s data, we work to identify those areas where we didn’t fare well the year before. We spend much of our time pin pointing exactly where the failure was, determining which grade level had the deepest deficits, aggregating that by subject, standard, down to student and teacher. We develop our improvement goals to address these areas of shortcoming. We identify strategies to implement, design professional development around the deficit areas, and revise our walk through tools to monitor practices of teachers in this regard.

If there are areas of accomplishment, goals that we met, improvements that were made we celebrate for a few moments with a high five here or there, and then we quickly move on to discuss the deficits and next set of needed improvements. We do this because we are victims of public education’s deficit model. One in which a focus on what is wrong is seen as more valuable than an acknowledgement of what is right.

This deficit model is the premise of public education accountability. It points out all the weak places in our schools. It sorts, sifts, and ranks them. It labels them. It feeds the rhetoric that “pubic schools are failing” and gives the public a confident, yet faulty opinion of our education system. It is designed to do just that. To celebrate the ways in which we’ve improved would mean so much. When we communicate the deficit model of public education, we build onto the negative narrative, we create a space for billion dollar assessment companies to devise the right programs and products to help us improve. We create a cocktail that opens the door for public education to take on the persona of big business, rather than serve its democratic purpose: to educate the masses.

This deficit model doesn’t end with accountability. It is also the premise of professional development in schools and districts across the country. Mandatory professional development sessions where teachers are required to attend sessions that aligned to the weakest areas of district data are an all too common practice. Instead of exploiting our strengths by allowing teachers who are highly effective to share and connect with their colleagues over practices that are working, we focus on the opposite. Bringing in disconnected keynote speakers, highly recommended trainers, who advertise their specialities in popular deficit areas like closing the achievement gap, inquiry based teaching, and more we miss a valuable opportunity to exploit and expand our strengths by focusing on those instead of our weaknesses. Imagine an assets based approach to professional development rather than a deficit one. What might change for educators in practice and perception regarding their professional development experience?

The scariest part of this deficit model is the way in which it impacts educator perception, creating a culture where educators begin to hyper focus on their deficits, with minimal attention given to the things they are getting right. This can manifests itself in a variety of ways as educators internalize the constant experience of trying to fix what’s wrong with their teaching. If we aren’t careful, professional experience begins to overtake personal perception, and the self fulfilling prophecy becomes true: my efforts are never good enough.

Imagine if some of the best corporations around the world spent their energy and time publicizing and focusing on their deficits rather than their strengths. What if Apple’s announcements about their new products were deficit based and they shared all the data on the failures of their products and their strategies to improve them? Imagine every civil engineering firm publicly being ranked based on the number of crumbling roads and fallen bridges and that information being posted on road signs as you cross said bridges and roads for public viewing? Perhaps my perspective is as skewed as it is biased, but I see something different about these corporate counterparts. They build on their strengths. They take what they do well and exploit it, make it better, and share it. Why can’t we do the same thing in public education?

This deficit model creates a false sense of equity as well. We’ve known since 1967 (Coleman Report) the impact of poverty and segregation on student achievement. “With all deliberate speed” schools across the South were instructed to integrate in 1954, yet my mother graduated from an all Black high school in 1967. (That was fast huh?)

We’ve also known the impact of poverty on student achievement, and in recent years we’ve learned more and more about the lifetime effects of trauma and what it does to young people’s brains and bodies. All the while we’ve continued to adhere to the deficit model in public education and spent inordinate amounts of time talking about the achievement gap. Yet, we’ve not addressed the root of such: substandard housing, healthcare, economic development, employment opportunities, all of which are rooted in systemic and institutionalized racism, biased policies and practices, prejudice, and more that have yet to be dismantled.

Disrupting the deficit model will require educators to take an active role in using their voices for change. Leaders can start by creating a true culture of celebration, one where the strengths of educators are valued over the deficits. Creating opportunities for those who are getting it right, so to speak, to share and connect with other educators. Creating their own report cards that highlight points of pride and accomplishments and publicly sharing that with the greater community. This strength based approach may prove to be a more balanced way to improve public education. Giving equal attention to the things that are being done well and the opportunities for growth can create a sense of pride in educators that allows them to push for improvement while also recognizing the positive impact of their practices. Educators can no longer discuss the lingering achievement gap and what they are doing to close it without bringing the causes of it to the table. When we focus on the effects and give little to no credence to the causes of student learning, we inadvertently subscribe to this deficit model.

There is an enormous opportunity in public education right now for us to create a new view. That perspective is one in which we balance our approach with an assets based culture and exploit the strengths of educators in our effort to mitigate our weaknesses. We can begin by creating a structure that makes the celebration of what is going well in our classrooms, schools, and districts routine and expected. We can create a new narrative, one that elevates the profession and encourages educators to continually find ways to improve at the same time.

Let’s do it!

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

Latoya

Twice As Good

It seems growing up, I kept hearing “you have to be twice as good to get a shot”. I believed that, and although my formative years don’t show that I tried to accomplish that, my post-secondary years do. I worked hard enough to get accepted into a pretty reputable college, Clemson University. I finished in four years and was fortunate enough to secure a job teaching English at my hometown middle school well before my actual graduation.

After I started teaching, the mantra, “you have to be twice as good to get a shot” seemed to become louder. It was important to prove that White parents of this once known as the affluent middle school didn’t worry about my being their kid’s teacher. Again in a quest to prove my value, I sought National Board Certification. If I’m being completely honest, I was also very motivated by the monetary incentive. However, having this certification would mean having something that not everyone else had, and could be used in my arsenal of justification for why rich White parents should not worry about my being their child’s teacher. It would prove that I was qualified as if holding a professional certificate and having a degree from a reputable university didn’t. I grew as a teacher, and although I had minimal experiences of having to actually go into my arsenal of justifications, it made me feel secure to know that I had them. If I had only known that this false sense of security would eventually reveal itself to be just that: a false sense of security.

When I decided to pursue my graduate degree in Educational Leadership, I was excited about the possibilities of promotion, an increase in compensation and the expanded opportunity to influence and impact the lives of young people. I worked hard to complete assignments with quality and care, to make high marks, to demonstrate a diligence that set me apart from my peers. The mantra, “you have to be twice as good to get a shot” seemed to be blaring in my ears and I found myself hearing it more frequently. When I was named principal in 2008 of the elementary school I had attended this mantra seemed to hang over me like a heavy cloud that could erupt at any moment, bringing rain, thunder, and lightning with it. It was exacerbated by the fact that I was the first African-American principal the school had ever had since its 1977 opening. I was barely 30 years old and female, which also had its consequences.

My initial experiences as principal of that school would only enhance this perceived need to add evidence to my arsenal of justification. I needed to somehow make sure that those same folks were comfortable with my intelligence, my character, my abilities, my skill set. To do this, I worked hard, stayed late, built strong and trusting relationships with the students, and tried to do the same with the teachers and parents. I studied our achievement data incessantly. I quickly formulated a plan to improve our academic performance and improve the practices of teachers in the school. I had to make sure the school did not fare worse under my leadership, but even maintaining the same performance wouldn’t be “good enough” because I had to be “twice as good to get a shot”. This relentless push was not well received by the staff. Their frustration with my assumption that they were not already working hard, and that they were not an already “good school” caused friction. Along with this friction, also came a number of experiences that seemed to validate my need to add evidence to my arsenal of justification that said I am smart enough, skilled enough, and qualified.

My first week on the job, I stood at the copy machine early one morning. I placed my paper in the tray, the master on the glass, and pressed copy. I raised my head to say “Good morning” to a staff member I saw rounding the corner. Her reply shocked me. “We finally got us a token,” she said. There I stood, waiting for my copies to finish, almost too shocked to respond. I quickly asked her if she could step into my office for a moment. As I walked briskly to my office, my mind raced and I knew I had to determine what I would say to her. She sat down. I remained standing. I honestly don’t remember my exact words. Sometimes I think I’ve blocked experiences like these out to keep the belief of knowing that being twice as good won’t matter in the end out of my mind. At any rate, I told her that what she had said to me, in the presence of others, was unacceptable and offensive. She quickly summed it up as “just a joke”, one I did not find funny. That experience has never left me. Years passed before I shared that story with anyone other than my immediate family. When I finally did share it, I was the principal of a different school, and it was 6.5 years later. Even then, I’m not sure some of the few friends I told believed me.

It was a cold day when a veteran staff member asked to see me after school. I had just come in from bus duty, my fingers still wrapped tightly around my walkie-talkie. I removed my coat and welcomed her into my office. She went on to tell me that she planned to retire at the end of the year, and I needed to start thinking about finding a replacement. As she concluded the meeting she shared that she’d always said she “wouldn’t work for a colored” and then asked if she could pray with me. She prayed and I waited for what felt like an eternity for it to be over. I can’t even remember what her words were, but it definitely proved I needed to continue adding things to my arsenal of justification.

As I’ve moved on to other jobs, I’ve had more of these experiences: a prominent community member giving me a copy of memoir he authored and alerting me of the frequent use of the “n-word” throughout, a parent, who after asking me about my education and background, also asked this question, “Are all the Black principals as smart as you are?”, a pair of teachers who noted their uncomfortableness with me as their principal because I was “young, Black, and female”. Every time I had an experience like this, it seemed to reinforce the message “you have to be twice as good to get a shot”. That message was one that said, go after the highest degree in the land and get it from a reputable university, or you won’t be taken seriously. It was one that told me, having a Master’s degree and an Education Specialist degree wouldn’t be enough. I needed a Ph.D. from a reputable university to be taken seriously as an educational leader in this profession, and so I earned one.

After earning my doctorate, I spent a year feeling somewhat lost. There was no more school to attend, no more degrees to earn, and so it seemed the available tools for my arsenal of justification were becoming limited. I took on the challenge of leading a low performing school with my best friend and colleague, Mike, and that too proved itself to be one in which race mattered. In that environment, race mattered and it mattered a lot. Somehow, Mike and I worked to be an example of what could be and what we felt should be. We are as different as we are the same. Mike is White. I am Black. Mike grew up in South Florida. I grew up in South Carolina. Mike grew up in a middle-class family. I grew up in poverty. He was raised by his parents, who were married. I was raised by my mother who was divorced. There are other more obvious differences, but these were the ones that shaped us growing up and made our experiences different. When we became co-principals, we quickly faced questions about the nature of our professional relationship. Who is really in charge? What happens if you don’t like each other’s decisions? Who gets the final call? As we answered these questions by sharing the high degree of personal and professional trust we had between us, folks seemed to give us a “the jury is still out” look. As time passed, we proved ourselves to others, but mostly we hoped that we had been an example to our students and the adults who engaged with us. We wanted others to see that our friendship was one of authenticity and that they too, could find common ground with others who were not just like them.

I met Mike in the early 2000’s. We were both new administrators and came to be really good friends through shared interests. We began working on various projects together, presenting at conferences, and eventually had the unique experience of being co-principals. However, it was not until we were co-principals that I shared some of the experiences mentioned here with Mike. He was a witness to the memoir incident about the prominent use and appearance of the “n-word”, and that seemed to open the door to further conversation. As we drove home one day, I shared some other experiences, similar in nature, with him. I could see the troubling look on his face. He didn’t know what to say, and he certainly did not think it was right. I can remember saying to him, “That’s just the way it is,” as an attempt to just keep the conversation light,  but it wasn’t light and it isn’t at all o.k. In fact, it is really tough to have these experiences, over and over and over again. While I in no way am attempting to make my suffering similar to those who paved the way before me, it does not make it less difficult to accept. As much as I hope I’ll be judged by the content of my character, the skill set I possess, and the work I’ve proven myself to be able to do well, that is not always the case.

As I enter year 19 as an educator, the mantra, “you have to be twice as good to get a shot” has been reborn. This time though, it has a different ending. As I have matured, grown, and had more life experiences, I have come to this conclusion, “you have to be twice as good to get a shot, but in the end, it probably won’t matter”.  I have a dream of furthering my career and leadership at a different level, but after recent experiences of failed opportunity attempts, I have learned an important lesson. For everything I have done to prove myself, for every extra hour I have spent working to get outstanding results, for every day that I have given it my all, for every degree I have earned, my chances at getting a shot have not increased. There is no such thing as having an arsenal of justification, a portfolio of evidence that prevents others from questioning my competence, and in spite of a variety of excellent results at different levels in different kinds of work, in the end, when it comes down to it, none of these things matter. I should have never felt this burden, not to mention, internalize it the way I did.

I wish I felt that my work record was enough and that I was at a point in my career where my professional reputation and performance spoke for itself. I wish I didn’t feel like getting a fair chance depends on whether or not the person who makes the final decision has a fair mind and a fair heart. I realize now that those who have given me a shot have done so not only because I was “twice as good” and had an arsenal of justification, should their decision be questioned, but also because they are people whose hearts allowed them to do so and I am grateful for their willingness to believe in me.

I am convinced that my next “shot” will be one where my skill set, education, and record matter, but it will also be one where the person or people who give it to me believe in me as much as my record. While I am proud of my accomplishments, I am more than the sum of my achievements. I am a person, with a heart, mind, and a soul, who is committed to making a difference in public education, and I don’t have to be “twice as good to get a shot”. I just have to be me.

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

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

I Will Not Be Ashamed

I don’t intend to carry the shame of advocating for better compensation for educators any longer. I denounce the need to articulate that I did not choose the profession because of the money. It ought to be so obvious, that like doctors, we chose this profession because our hearts desire to have a positive impact on the lives of others. I shouldn’t have to say it to make it so. Today, I officially rid myself of this.
Today, as I read all the tweets highlighting Time Magazine’s stories of teachers who are working second, sometimes third jobs, and donating plasma even, to make ends meet, I could not help but think, I’ve been writing about the need to elevate the profession for some time now. In my March 2018 blogpost, An Open Letter to America’s Public Educators, I made a request of my colleagues to stop saying that money was not a factor in their choosing the profession. I asked them this not because I believed it to be false, but because I believed this very articulation was playing a critical role in perpetuating the low pay of teachers. The need to affirm our servant hearts with this mantra seemed not only to work against us, but to also support the continuation of a long-standing public belief: Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.
Some are starting to ask, how did we get here? What brought is to the place where we are now in the midst of a growing teacher shortages and a declining enrollment in higher education teacher preparation programs? The answer is not one that can be easily identified. The complexity of this current situation is accompanied by a collective set of less than positive narratives that have been smothering public education for some time. 
Public education has become the place to blame all societal ills. Instead of being seen as a reflection of our investment into communities, equity, economic development, quality housing, healthcare, and citizenship, it has become the reason why our nation should not invest in our profession. We haven’t proven ourselves or our work worthy.  In fact, our work is seen as an expense and that does not prove a return unless our standardized test scores among our most vulnerable students prove it so. Ours is the profession that carries the burden of bringing forth those who are to be tapped next to make our democracy live up to its promises. 
This blame game has resulted in a “prove your worth” mentality, that asks teachers to be paid based on student performance on a singular high stakes measure in some instances. Despite the research we’ve known since the early 1960’s, about poverty and the psychologically damning effects of segregation, not to mention others, we still find ourselves in a time where our schools are more segregated than they were in 1988. Just last week, I was reading from one of my favorite sources, Learning Policy Institute, that tweeted, “Since 1988 the percentage of hyper-segregated schools in the US grew from 5.7% to 18.4%.”  Go figure. 
In spite of the continued challenges, so many of my colleagues are still waking up to fresh cups of coffee, and working among the ringing of bells in halls, the shuffling of papers, and the slamming of lockers. So many are still giving it their all because they recognize that while our profession is at risk, the future of our children, especially those in our most marginalized and impoverished communities, is especially at risk.
For me, and many of the students in communities I have served and currently serve, public education is the hope. It is the first step in having a chance at a better future. Because of them, I press forward, but I will do so with pride and without any shame in saying that we must compensate our nation’s teachers in a way that is worthy and reputable, in a way that encourages others to join the profession, and those who are already in it to stay. 
Our democracy depends on it. 
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
Latoya

From Idea to Execution: The Follow Through of Leadership

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how some leaders exhibit an extraordinary strength in setting the vision, creating ideas, etc. yet struggle greatly with the actual execution of those ideas. Others aren’t the best at creating a vision or coming up with an idea, but given a directive and task to complete and see through, they have a strong ability to execute as directed. I’m left with this intellectual dilemma: Why is that some leaders are good at creating ideas, yet struggle with execution or vice versa?, and How is it that some leaders are great at both?
I’ve seen a great deal of leaders who view themselves as task masters, managers of the work, accountability officers, etc.  Their concept of leadership is one that meets the age-old adage, “Someone has to be in charge”. They see their job as one in which they assign tasks, delegate responsibility, and hold others accountable for getting the job done or the execution of those tasks. Others however, conceptualize leadership in a much broader and abstract way. They view themselves as the person who creates conditions to allow others to come up with their best ideas and execute them, to set a vision for what the organization or their department could be, to be forward thinking and innovative, anticipating how to make the organization future-focused and driven by what is to come instead of maintaining what has always been. 
As I continue to study great leaders and think about what makes a great leader, I can’t help but think about this tension between project management and innovation in the education realm, specifically, in educational leadership. The value of being a visionary in the business world seems far more acceptable and expected. Those innovators and visionaries who are seeking to anticipate what the future looks like in education and working to design their districts, schools, and classrooms in a way that readies students and staff for what they believe is on the horizon aren’t always received well. What is known as innovation in the business sense becomes a disruption in the education sense. Why is this?
In Clayton Christensen’s book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, he notes: “Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation. The same is true for learning.”  This leads me to ask, what has traditionally served as the motivation for educational leaders and what is the critical ingredient that motivates them now? Is it personalization of learning for every student? Is it having high test scores? Is it being able to quantify efforts by taking on multiple initiatives? I can’t help but wonder if we have somehow dismissed the importance of the need for educational leaders to also be innovative. By calling innovation disruption, we’ve almost perpetuated a rebel mentality. That is, those in education who go against the grain, who push for something different, are often seen as disrupters rather than innovators.  They are often victims of being seen as overachievers, not fitting in, or just plain causing trouble.
Here’s what we know all too well. Educational leadership is far more complex than project and task management. It’s more than the ability to delegate and hold others accountable. The future of this field belongs to those who are willing to take incredible risks, to do things differently because they have the potential to be more effective or efficient, to innovate, not disrupt. 
Innovators have both skill sets. They bring ideas and a vision to the table along with the ability to execute. They are future focused, yet utilize the best and worst lessons of the past to drive their efforts. What are the implications of this for educational leadership preparation programs? Is there an opportunity to prepare leaders as forward thinkers paired with the traditional management approach and coursework? If we want educational leaders who prepare students to be innovative collaborators who can compete in a knowledge economy and global society, they will need leaders who can do the same.
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
Latoya

Advancing Educator Practice: Moving Beyond High Expectations

School reform efforts have come along fast and furiously in the last twenty years. They’ve included high and aspirational goals for student achievement and for closing the achievement gap. Some have been accompanied by consequences that place grades on schools as a measure of their performance while others labeled schools in a way that made their need for improvement publicly transparent. From 1983’s A Nation At Risk to the rhetoric ridden No Child Left Behind to today’s Every Student Succeeds Act, one glaring approach has been missing from all of these reform efforts and policies.  While each policy has centered on improving student achievement through high expectations, aspirational goals, accountability via tough consequences, none have focused on the most important mechanism in advancing learner outcomes: improving the practices of teachers.

Here’s what we know about instructional effectiveness but have yet to capitalize on as a nation: 1. There are high yield strategies that lead to improved instructional quality and learner outcomes. John Hattie’s work, Visible Learning, illuminates this. 2. Teachers need quality and robust feedback and coaching support to improve their practices. A simple demand for improved test scores and achievement hasn’t been and will never be enough. 3. Creating a more equitable way to provide professional development and resources aligned with the goals for improvement could be a game changer. As much as inequity persists for our students and their educational experiences, those same inequities plague the professional development of practitioners who serve children in our poorest and neediest communities. This too contributes to the ongoing achievement gap between our wealthiest and poorest and Caucasian and minority students.

Teacher quality isn’t a new concept. It has been on the minds of educational scholars, leaders, and the like for many years. Yet, very few of our reform efforts focus on how to advance the quality and effectiveness of instruction that children receive. Instead, we see evaluation as a way of weeding out poor teachers, and in many cases, those who are deemed “effective” are deemed so early on and rarely provided with the feedback, support, and development opportunities they need to sustain their effectiveness. Additionally, there are learning trends and fads that seem to plague the profession, yet give little credence to the foundational and effective pedagogical strategies we know result in improved teacher practice and learning outcomes for children.

Further, we are plagued by a quantitative view of tallying our classroom visits, keeping track of how many inquiry-based lessons teachers are incorporating, instead of placing our focus on the feedback teachers need to perfect their pedagogy. By focusing on feedback and ways to advance the practices of educators, leaders have an opportunity to significantly impact learner outcomes in a positive way. Instructional leadership requires the ability to help those who are delivering the instruction to be able to do so in more effective, efficient, and innovative ways. Providing a judgment of an overall lesson as good, not so good, etc. doesn’t help advance the practices of teachers. It’s precisely what happens beyond that final judgment that can make the next lesson more effective.

This presents an additional opportunity for our school leader preparation programs. How do we move aspiring leaders past the management of the books, buses, building, finances, and people? How do we help leaders learn and prepare them to be ready to advance the practices of educators? How can practicing school administrators improve the quality of the teaching students experience in their building? I believe that ability does not come from evaluating poor performing teachers out of the profession, subscribing to the latest trends, or keeping a quantitative monitor on the number of initiatives in your building, but from having deep instructional knowledge and the ability to share and teach other educators how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their instruction by using high yield learning strategies.

In spite of every well-intentioned and well-named reform, we’ve not changed outcomes in the ways we so often say we desire. If we intend to advance the outcomes of America’s learners, we must begin by focusing our efforts on how to improve the practices of those who are serving them.

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

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

Misunderstood Motives & Professional Jealousy

Professional jealousy is a real issue in the workplace. It’s often not talked about at all publicly, but it’s whispered about often. Whether in the break room, over the phone, or even via a raise of the eyebrow or funny look across the room during a meeting, it happens. Sometimes what comes across as criticism of a colleague, noting that a person is perceived as too outspoken, perhaps even thought to come across as a know it all, or just humorously referred to as an overachiever, is really a mask for what others internally feel for one of their colleagues or peers: professional envy. Far too often, we are afraid that someone else’s success or achievements somehow dampen our own or make us seem less valuable to the organization. As much as we “go along to get along” in the workplace, rarely speaking a word about this pervasive problem, it rears its ugly head and often at the surprise to its targeted victims. 
Recently, I experienced something that brought this thought to the surface for me. I learned that a colleague with whom I had worked with in the past and thought I had a strong and authentic relationship with did not see me as I thought she did. In fact, I was astounded to learn she thought I was too outspoken at times, an overachiever, and I am sure there are other perceptions that are just painful for me to even begin to speak aloud. What has been interesting about this experience is that it has caused me to do some serious reflecting on how I see myself versus how others perceive me. I’m often quiet in the onset of an interaction or when first meeting someone, and that’s not because I’m thinking I’m somehow better at all or judging them. It’s because I’m a shy person (at first). I have always seen myself as generally quiet and reserved in meetings, speaking up only when I am moved by something or believe I have an idea or question that might add value to the group. My speaking out isn’t rooted in being self-centered. I feel truly passionate about the work that I do. It is my life’s purpose. Others have often said to me, “you don’t say much often, but when you do everyone listens because it’s something we all need to hear”, so to receive feedback in the opposite manner has truly been eye-opening. In fact, it’s been hurtful and difficult to work through. I’m not giving up though.
Moving past the hurt of learning that a prior colleague who I thought was a professional friend, who has always demonstrated kindness in my presence, had the opposite perceptions about me and took the opportunity to share such with others who did not know me or had not had the experience of working with me has been a challenge, but I’ve learned some great lessons:
1.  Be aware of others perceptions of you. Right or wrong, it’s important to know and acknowledge if you’re being perceived in a way that’s far different than you intend so you can deal with the issue.
2.  Stay focused and authentic-even if folks second guess your motives. Don’t downgrade your passion or efforts to make others feel better because in the end you will be dissatisfied with yourself.
3.  Understand that people will second-guess your motives. It’s a part of life and human beings, especially adults, are inherently untrusting and become more so if they’ve had bad experiences where others have broken their trust. Remember you may be the target, but not the cause of their mistrust.
4.  Accept that everyone won’t like you. Some people will not cheer for you. Some people will not be happy about your success. Some people will not want to see you succeed. That’s ok. Surround yourself with those who encourage and support you. Learn to see through those who hide their envy with wide grins and phony interactions. Everyone who is nice to you isn’t a supporter of you.
5.  Keep being you, being true, and being a hope builder. We can not control others perceptions of us, but we can control our behavior and actions. Do everything you possibly can to be a good and authentic human being. Focus on showing your care for others, but take pride in being an excellent person and employee. Work hard and with deliberate intention to deliver excellence. No matter what, be the person and employee you want and need to be in order to meet your personal and professional standard. 
I often wonder what would happen if we were able to remove professional jealousy from the workplace. How might organizations be more productive if its members weren’t constantly second-guessing each other’s motives? What might happen if everyone believed that there was enough success to go around for everyone to have some instead of thinking that there is a limited quantity? How many organizations have performed well below their potential because of the unwillingness to confront this ugly issue? I’m not sure of the best ways to address this problem, but I can’t help but believe that if done correctly the benefits would be immense. 
I am sure I’m not the first one to experience this. The shock and hurt I felt to learn this is difficult to articulate. I’ve always wanted to simply make a difference, to give back to my community, to answer the call I believe God has placed on my life as an educator. That’s all. Nothing more and nothing less. I’m still working through this, and it hasn’t been easy, but I know I’ll come out on the other side of it a better person and a better leader because of it.
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!
Latoya