Building an Equitable and Inclusive Community

As a consultant doing anti-racist equity work in schools, I often feel like a person carrying water in a basket. If you have ever carried water in a basket, you know how futile it feels.

You hold the basket very carefully. You pour more water into the basket as water drips out. You make the basket sturdier. And yet, at the end of the day, it feels as if the volume of water in your basket does not reflect your effort.

Lately I have been counteracting my frustration by reading accounts of the work I have assisted others in doing. My outlook is brightened when I see how the work:

  • resulted in practices that introduce accurate content about marginalized people into the curriculum
  • enabled students to make a connection between the injustice in the world at large and the injustice on their campus and, even better, to do something about it
  • lead to teaching and assessments that maximize the talents and abilities of students from a range of racial backgrounds and learning profiles
  • validated the crucial role of business and operations staff who support students in growth and learning
Enid Lee and 2015 polytechnic cohort members.

Enid Lee and 2015 polytechnic cohort members.

Read Building an Equitable and Inclusive Community to see examples of this work in action over two years at the Polytechnic cohort on diversity and inclusion.

Keep checking this site for more articles like this. It is one way of addressing the sense of futility that arises in the face of what is sometimes backbreaking and heartbreaking work in these challenging times.

 

The Equity Cohort Experience

Equity is one of the foundational elements of a quality education. Enidlee Consultants supports School Districts in embedding equity in all of its practices through a range of consulting services including monthly on-site visits, on demand coaching, and ongoing assessments of growth and the accomplishment of equity goals. 

Take a look at this video, which shares the Equity Cohort Experience at Santa Cruz High School. 

To learn more about the Equity Cohort, please contact Enidlee Consultants.

Scholars and Citizens of First Grade

As I travel across the country offering workshops on race and equity in education, invariably I am asked, “How can I deal with challenging students.” Generally the person asking the question is referring to African American male students. The perception of African American male as troublemaker has a long history in this country and the more I learn about it, I am better equipped to understand teachers’ earnest questions about behavior and Black males and to work with them in making a difference. Here are some of the immediate steps I suggest we can take to ensure that African American students have a positive learning experience in their classrooms.

The first step is to remind ourselves that the negative behavior of a student on a given day is not the only story about that student, as Chimamanda Adichie explains in her talk, The Danger of a Single Story.

The second step is to be on the look-out for when that student is engaging in positive behavior both as a student and a citizen in the class. Sometimes when students have reputations of being  troublemakers, we have difficulty in noticing when they are participating in wholesome ways with their peers on the playground and offering thoughtful answers in classrooms. An adult who was out on yard duty one day said to me “I have to watch who I am watching when I’m out here. Who I’m watching will depend on who I see and what I notice.”

Our third step is to record, preferably on video, moments when those students are doing well in a variety of settings: composing letters on their computers or helping a younger student to develop a skill. This list could go on. We must be on the lookout for these moments.

The fourth step is to post  pictures of these students around the classroom so that these images become part of the environment on a permanent basis. They also become inspirations and scaffolds for those students whose behavior can be challenging.

The first grade classroom, in which we first implemented this through the professional development program, “Putting Race on the Table: Working Multiculturally,” has become an exciting place to visit. The teacher reported that the first change she noticed was in herself. When she started to look for positive features in the behavior of the African American boy she found most challenging, she began to see him as a different person. She began to feel differently about him.

She tells me that this youngster still has his days, but more often than not he is doing well as a scholar and citizen of her first grade class. The teacher also recalled that recently she happened to look up and see this particular student, who was waiting for his Mom to pick him up at the end of the day, staring at a picture of himself engrossed in reading one of his favorite books.  She heard him say, “I think I’ll get started on my homework now. Why wait?”   

Good question! Why wait?

 

Harriet Tubman Fellowship in D.C.

Teaching for Change hosted Enid Lee for a Harriet Tubman Fellowship for the month of July, made possible by a grant from the Open Society Foundations.

Enid Lee speaking at 25 Live: Teaching for Change Celebration. Photo by Rick Reinhard.

Enid Lee speaking at 25 Live: Teaching for Change Celebration. Photo by Rick Reinhard.

While in D.C., Enid conferred with Teaching for Change staff and board about their programs, contributed to the new editions of Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching and Beyond Heroes and Holidays, prepared blog posts on key issues in education and current events, and spoke at a number of events.

The visit began with the celebration of Teaching for Change’s 25th anniversary where Enid spoke to the audience about the significance of the organization’s work in these times.

On July 3, Enid was the featured speaker for the monthly A.C.T.O.R. event at Busboys and Poets. Despite being a holiday weekend and stormy weather, there was a full house to hear Enid discuss the representation of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in children’s books. While examining the story of Tubman’s fight for freedom, Enid highlighted the fact that “there were a lot of Harriets” as Rosemarie and Rachel Harding note in their book, Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering. Attendees were invited to look for and name the many Harriets in our communities today. Enid explained,

I want us to include all the people going back and forth to rescue our humanity from the many ways in which our humanity is lost—lost because of the discriminatory and oppressive treatment of a person's gender, race, sexuality, class, or language. Harriets have a lot of work to do. It’s important that we have as many Harriets as possible doing the work; that we acknowledge the many Harriets doing the work; and that we don’t leave out anyone in the struggle.

Enid also offered presentations to teachers in an institute hosted by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and for the Washington Teachers’ Union. Both groups purchased copies of Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guides to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development for each participant.

Enid Lee at the African American Civil War Memorial, following a visit to the African American Civil War Museum.

Enid Lee at the African American Civil War Memorial, following a visit to the African American Civil War Museum.

While in D.C., Enid visited historic sites and events including the Frederick Douglass Home (National Park Service), the Wax Museum, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the African American Civil War Museum, the March on Washington Film Festival, and more. In each case, Enid shared ideas for preparing students to visit these sites with a critical lens and follow-up activities.

Click the image to see a full photo gallery from Enid lee's fellowship in d.c. This cover photo is at the presentation by enid lee for the Washington teachers' union at busboys and poets.

Click the image to see a full photo gallery from Enid lee's fellowship in d.c. This cover photo is at the presentation by enid lee for the Washington teachers' union at busboys and poets.

The Truth about Race and Policing

A protest in Cleveland, Ohio, after police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted for the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. | Ricky Rhodes, Getty Images

A protest in Cleveland, Ohio, after police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted for the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. | Ricky Rhodes, Getty Images

The July 2016 Vox article, "I'm a black ex-cop, and this is the real truth about race and policing" is a must read to understand the history and current reality of race and policing. Written by retired police officer Redditt Hudson, the article is long but so well structured and thoughtful that you can read it in sections and not lose your train of thought. Here are a few quotes that remain with me.

Racism is woven into the fabric of our nation.  At no time in our history has there been a national consensus that everyone should be equally valued in all areas of life.

We are rooted in racism in spite of the better efforts of Americans of all races to change that.

Because of this legacy of racism, police abuse in black and brown communities is generations old. It is nothing new. 

There are officers around the country who want to address institutional racism.

Hudson served on the St. Louis Police Department for five years. He is currently the board chair of The Ethics Project, and a member of the National Coalition of Law Enforcement for Justice, Reform, and Accountability. 

Read the full article here.

Enid Lee Featured in "100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women"

On June 16, 2016 Enid Lee was celebrated as one of 100 black women who made significant contributions to Canadian Society. She was nominated and selected to be included in the 2016 edition of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.

An excerpt from her profile:

"Her advice for the next generation: Never get used to injustice. It is an unnatural condition. Even if you cannot remove the injustice today, continue to call it by its correct name. You are strong as a Black person when the Black communities are strong. Every day ask yourself, “What is one small act that I can engage in to make my community strong?” Once you have answered the question, make sure you work on it. A strong Black person is one who works in solidarity with other Black people and is lovingly critical of actions that diminish our strength as a people. Let us connect, create, correct, and celebrate!"

 

65 Books

“As a 65-year-old foot soldier in the struggle for racial justice and educational equity, I decided to take 65 of my favorite children's books to the Black History Event entitled ‘We are History’ at Alvarado Elementary School,” explained educator Enid Lee. The event was hosted by the African American Parent Forum with a focus on literacy. The books highlight the Black experience in the United States, Canada, Africa, and the Caribbean.

 

“It was a most joyful experience to see the readers enjoying the books,” noted Lee. “I will be inviting some of these young readers to weigh in with their thoughts in the #StepUpScholastic campaign. They desire to see themselves reflected in literature.” Lee found many of the books in her collection from the Teaching for Change recommended booklists.


Enid Lee works with schools districts and individual schools to continuously restructure themselves for equitable outcomes for all students. Lee is co-editor of Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guides to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.

Benches #1

The most recent racist rhetoric around exclusion of Syrian refugees reminded me of a kindergarten class I visited about 15 years ago. At that time, refugees were fleeing Kosovo. The kindergarten teacher often used current events to connect her students with the world and to nurture empathy and equity-centered emotions in their hearts and minds.

Refugees from Kosovo, 1999.

Refugees from Kosovo, 1999.

She spoke with the class about the women, men, and children as young as they were running for their lives. Then the students dispersed for a free choice period, a time for their imaginations to soar without teacher intervention or direction.

Several of the students were using play dough to make objects that came to their minds. As was her practice, the teacher came around to look at the display of objects and asked the students to talk about what they had made.

Items made from play dough are not always recognizable to the adult eye, so the teacher pointed to some items that she was wondering about and inquired. The students explained that they had made benches for the people who were running from the war. 

They thought that these people, especially the little children, would need benches to sit on when they were tired from running. 

I have been wondering lately whether you have to be 5-years-old to recognize the human need for benches. I remain hopeful, however, that people of all ages can be moved to compassionate action. 

BOOK REVIEW: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Halfway through reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption I wanted to hop on a plane and fly to wherever Stevenson was to say, “How can I help?” Stevenson has written an incredibly moving narrative of the injustice that is visited by the justice system on some of the most vulnerable, including: 

  • children imprisoned for non-homicidal offenses;
  • men (predominantly Black) on death-row, some wrongly accused and most without adequate legal assistance and,
  • poor women of all races. 

We meet these individuals in their full humanity. The prisoners become people on the pages of Just Mercy and the author’s own humanity, humility, compassion, and courage frame every paragraph. 

Stevenson provides us with historical detail and maps out the legal landscape in metaphors that make sense to readers without a legal background. We see how slavery, “the racial terrorism of lynching,” convict leasing at the end of the 19th century, and Jim Crow are all linked to mass incarceration. We are confronted with the broken nature of the system and the many broken bodies and spirits it leaves in its wake. 

And yet this page-turner also offers hope. The author’s faith in both the power of redemption and the possibility of justice keep him and others like him challenging unjust systems and laws and finding relief and even escape for some on death row. 

Just Mercy reminded me of the education system in which I have spent the better part of my life. I reflected on the parallels between the two systems, especially the broken dreams and spirits that some schooling processes leave behind. Through it all, Stevenson keeps our eyes focused and strengthens our determination to work for both justice and redemption in whatever systems we are involved. 

I could not put Just Mercy down until I had examined every last endnote, for each one is full of information on a justice system and a social order that need to be transformed.  

—Reviewed by Enid Lee for Teaching for Change

No to "Hands Up Discipline" in Schools

By Enid Lee

It's not okay! None of it is okay! 

As we return to classrooms this week, I ask all teachers and administrators to avoid a practice that I have noted in far too many classrooms. When we want our students' attention, I have seen teachers ask students to freeze and to put their hands above their heads. The students look exactly like the terrorized children in Ferguson and in the video below.

"Prison-like behavior" is too often reflected in educational practice. It is entirely possible to get our students' attention without requiring them to assume this posture. It's a small thing but in my view it is a simple thing that can make our classrooms less like prisons. This video shows that the war on Black people is in full swing: women and men, young and old alike!" We who believe in freedom, cannot rest..." and will not rest!


Enid Lee works with schools districts and individual schools to continuously restructure themselves for equitable outcomes for all students. Lee is co-editor of Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guides to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.

Correcting Rush Limbaugh

On June 16, Rush Limbaugh devoted a long segment of his show to tell his listeners that Teaching for Change is racist for featuring children’s books by and about people of color at their bookstore in Washington, DC. In the days that followed, Limbaugh's listeners called Teaching for Change with hateful messages and threats, including "drop dead." 

These were outweighed by hundreds of calls and emails from people who support their commitment to diversity. 

As a virtual scholar for Teaching for Change, I assisted with the media inquires. Here is the message I shared:

We need to use this occasion to help clarify ideas that are commonly misunderstood or misrepresented in our society. One of the things that we have to make clear is that racism is about power and the ability of one group of persons, based on their race, to control institutions like publishing and marketing.

What Teaching for Change is doing is reversing trends of racism by ensuring that people of color have a voice and that their lives are represented in children’s literature.

Dropping dead is the last thing we are thinking of doing when it comes to promoting books by and about people of color. We are getting them into the hands of as many children and young people of all backgrounds as possible because they touch the spirit and open the mind to a wider world.  

Locations of Self and Students: Enid Lee and First Nation Youth in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Photo credit: AmandaLee Laverty Julius

Photo credit: AmandaLee Laverty Julius

Teaching for Change adviser Enid Lee described her recent experience in an elementary school classroom with Cree and Ojibwe First Nations students in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was asked to address controversial issues, and selected the contemporary Canadian-based grassroots movement Idle No More that “calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.”  Founded in 2012, Idle No More directly responds to centuries of treaty violations and has spread from Canada to California, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and beyond.

Enid soon realized that the students “had no idea what I was talking about. I learned a lot from their response. When I asked them what Idle No More meant, they asked me if I meant American Idol… I had to stop and think about it, the word ‘Idle,’ is not used if you’re 12 years old… So we can name things, we can do things, and it can completely go over the heads of young people.”

Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Manitoba Teachers' Society Professional Day, October 23,2015. Enid Lee gives a presentation called "Reaching Every Student: Equity is the Path."

From this conversation with the students, Lee “learned how language needs to be broken down and broken up, and also how creating audiences for students is important.”

Lee left them with an assignment to be “members of a worldwide research team” on Idle No More. When she came back in two weeks, the students had taken the task to heart. Not only did they conduct interviews with elders, but they also found ways to share what they learned through power point presentations. While Lee introduced Idle No More to the students, they became her teachers about the movement when she returned. The students’ enthusiasm for this research reawakened their teacher’s earlier commitment to including contemporary social justice issues in her curriculum.

Lee concludes, “It’s those… daily surprises that hit me and the remembering of the potential that we have in our work, and again, the broadening of communities… The hope that I have for young people is just unlimited.”

 This is part of a series of reflections from Enid Lee on contemporary issues in education. Enid Lee is the co-editor of Teaching for Change’s publication, Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.

Thanks to Teaching for Change intern Shelly Wen for preparing this post for the internet.

Keep Stories of Resistance at the Forefront: Enid Lee on Talking with Students About School Closings

In the face of Chicago Board of Education plans to close 50 public schools—teachers, parents, and students have rallied to protest what Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis describes as a “scorched earth policy.”

Teaching for Change adviser Enid Lee offers her insight on the significance of the current activism surrounding the closures. Lee recommends that when teaching young people about the school closings in Chicago and other cities, the resistance and activism to this injustice should be at the forefront of classroom discussion:

“My thought was, it’s so important for the children to focus on not only the fact that the schools have been closed, but on the resistance to schools being closed.”

“It’s the piece of the headlines in the news that can get missed, because the headline is, ’49 Schools are Closed,’ and it’s terrible. Which it is. And they mostly affect African-American communities. Equally important is what the African-American communities and others are doing about it.”

Lee also discusses the importance of digital media, such as YouTube, as a platform for connecting and collaborating across communities. “When technology and ideology are aligned for human liberation, we have a winning combination,” Lee said.

The video clips below, featuring nine-year-old Asean Johnson, offer an example of how stories of activism in the face of school closings can inspire solidarity:

Lee asserts that technology, such as these video clips, offers a way:

“in which we can… create real villages in our educational worlds because we can reach each other and the voices that would typically be lost, or not heard at all, can be heard.”
“It allows us for an evolving curriculum; an up-to-date, up-to-the-minute, hot-off-the-press evolving curriculum that we need to just take advantage of every day.”

This is the first in a series of reflections from Enid Lee on contemporary issues in education. Enid Lee is the co-editor of Teaching for Change’s publication, Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.

Thanks to Teaching for Change intern Shelly Wen for preparing this post for the internet.