Brave Space to Talk about Race and Racial Justice Teacher Development: Innovative projects to improve outcomes highlight strategies for all
“It only takes a moment, all you need is one partner, you can do this work on your own, it’s hard but you can do these things from the bottom up” – Emily Portle, Racial Equity Teacher Development
“People always object. I listen. I make myself available to talk.” – Jon Jagermann, Brave Space to Talk About Race
Educators and districts around the country have been working to take a hard look at racial equity; from discipline policies and dress codes to school climate and instructional methods, a re-examination of schooling has been underway. Addressing systemic racism is challenging and also controversial. Still, innovative educators have been seeking out ways to positively impact their students and communities. This blog highlights two of the courageous efforts awarded funding through the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation’s annual grant program.
Awarded in 2020-2021 school year, the Brave Space to Talk about Race project and the Racial Justice Teacher Development project were both able to create opportunities for leadership, educators and staff to engage in a closer look at racial equity in their work. These projects are important to highlight, not only because they took on challenging topics but also because they help demonstrate how these efforts can be impactful. What can we learn from these efforts?
Instructional leadership takes on a new meaning
The Racial Justice Teacher Development project took multiple approaches to engaging the whole staff in professional development which would lead to a school wide vision where children on the edges became a central point of focus. The teachers shifted from focusing on the feedback from PTO to looking closer at conversations with parents who weren’t coming to PTO, but it wasn’t a journey that happened overnight – instead it grew over time through an instructional leadership perspective.
This project started by sending a school-based leadership team to attend summits and conferences where they could immerse themselves in learning about race and equity. They established a plan to engage the educators and staff. A cohort of educators planned yearlong strands of racial justice learning for their peers to increase their capacity as teacher leaders, including an equity strand for staff focused on increasing cultural competence and becoming an anti-racist educator. As part of their professional development staff also received The Racial Healing Handbook by Dr. Anneleise Singh and participated in their choice of book studies with a selection of books.
As a result of the professional development in the Racial Justice Teacher Development project, project leaders reported strengthened classroom communities and a decrease in behavior incidents. Through their professional learning efforts, they were able to begin redesigning instructional models and systems at their school toward a student-centered, restorative, inclusive school for all of their student body. Leaders in the school have also developed new ways to address equity in class placement, identification of students with advanced learning needs, and changes to instructional blocks that are more responsive to all students. The equity strands were impactful and will be a continued effort in the future.
Not a “Safe Space,” instead a brave one
Brave Space to Talk About Race is a project in Milwaukee Public Schools created to increase staff member conversations about race. The goals were to help identify actions the district could take to address issues of discipline disproportionality and school climate and to develop antiracist educators who could increase school capacity to maintain and sustain the work of having these conversations.
The project incorporated ways for staff members to engage with these topics through reading groups, by creating book study guides, participating in Jamboard reflections, offering viewings of the documentary “Pushout,” and offering programs for educators who were interested in participating . These included offering a Race Practitioner’s Cohort and planning a three-year program called Courageous Conversations about Race Exploration. In addition, the team worked to integrate action steps into school improvement plans for the coming year. At the end of the year project leaders shared cohort action steps with the district leadership and participating school-based cohorts had action steps to continue these conversations in the next school year.
Challenges along the way
Of course one of the major challenges for both project teams was COVID-19 and its impact on schooling. Some schools taught the first part of the year online and had a phased re-opening in the spring, which made it difficult to sustain professional development. Some schools were entirely virtual. This made book studies more challenging, but also opened up some virtual learning opportunities which can be useful in multi-school or district projects.
Recommendations for educators
Both of these projects took on challenging topics and both offer examples in their approach that could be beneficial to others who are working to improve racial equity.
- Getting buy in at all levels by building relationships
- Creating norms for conversations
- Engaging in reflection on policies and methods
- Facilitating conversations around meaningful texts, media and/or events
- Allowing people to engage with the project at their own comfort level
- Developing action steps for the next year
While the work of racial equity is not easy to do, it can be done by small groups of educators working together. These projects have shown some impactful ways that educators can develop projects that can grow to serve these communities over time, supporting the leadership and staff in an ongoing effort to support racial equity. As Emily stated, the message is: Don’t wait! Start Now!
Learn more about Racial Equity and Teacher Development
- 3 Ways Schools can Support Racial Equity (EDC, 2021)
- A guide to Equity and Antiracism for Educators (Edutopia, 2020)
- Understanding the need for change, discipline disproportionality (NASSP, 2020).
This entry was posted in Academic Enrichment, After School Programs, Arts Education, Technology and tagged brave space, classroom discipline, education, enrichment, equity, pushout, race, racial equity, racial healing handbook, safe space, social justice, student engagement, teacher development.