By Christina Luick
Summer is here, but some school leaders are back to learning. More than 100 principals, instructional leaders and dean of students attended a two-day summer training program that focused on race and cultural differences on July 24-25.
The summer network training was provided by the nonprofit organization, Schools That Can Milwaukee at Alverno College’s Sister Joel Read Center. Rashida Evans, Schools That Can Milwaukee chief program officer, said the organization wants to help develop leaders that the city needs to create high quality schools for kids that need them the most.
Schools That Can Milwaukee has done summer training for about seven years and this is the second year that it has focused on tackling the idea of equity and cultural response practices. Evans said the idea of race and equity in schools have always been important, and has become more evident now.
“Like as we look at education reform across the country, what we see is that people have been able to get to a certain point, and that point has been really built around compliance and some engagement, but there has been an argument that there is a lack of acknowledgement of who students are and the individual needs that they bring based upon their cultural backgrounds,” Evans said.
All of the school leaders that came were from MPS, independent charter and private Choice schools around the area. Evans said the people at the event were in different places. Some people were ready to talk about the topic of race and others wanted to get ready to talk about it.
“But, everybody has chosen to engage in the conversation and I think that’s a really big first step,” Evans said. “I think this is step one, and we have a long, long way to go because it needs to go from this room into the classrooms of all of the schools that we serve.” On Monday, according to a press release, the events focused on culturally relevant practices, and school leaders were provided with education techniques designed to help educators work effectively with students of different races, ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences.
Tuesday’s session was about merging cultural awareness with strategies for developing people, like coaching feedback and performance management.
Lori Riddick, executive director of leadership development for Cleveland Metropolitan School District and national-level expert trainer, led the activities on Tuesday. She began talking about her experience with race through being raised in an interracial family, going through school and teaching.
Riddick listed the outcomes for the day which included identifying how beliefs and behaviors on equity in the classroom could impact coaching, development and performance management of all staff members. Other outcomes were also evaluating goals, performance management, development and coaching systems as well as assessing systems for effective communication in schools.
The first activity was to pretend that each group’s school was featured in a magazine and on a big piece of paper to talk about the goals they hoped to accomplish for their schools.
Riddick says it is easy to share their goals with groups, but without conveying it with their staff and students. She said the goal was for the school leaders to think about their communication strategy for making sure everyone in their schools are on board with the goals they’ve set, and that they have a clear vision of what they’re trying to attain.
The other goal was to keep thinking about what is the equity lens that the school leaders can bring to their schools.
“We can create schools that are not systems that replicate power structures as they exist, but are really places where power structures are broken down and reframed that all students have access to opportunities,” Riddick said.
Aida Cruz-Farin is the principal of Blair Elementary in Waukesha. She hoped to learn about culture response practices and get a deeper understanding of how to set up their school’s classroom environment and what kind of impact the educators have in them.
“One of the things that we’re seeing in education is a lot of the teachers don’t represent the students that they serve, often times,” Cruz-Farin said. “So how can they gain a better understanding of the students they’re serving and how they are setting up their environments and some of the messages they send of power and how that is embedded and impacts the kids.”
About 70 percent of students in Blair Elementary students are English language learners (ELL). The school speaks over nine different languages together.
“We are very diverse within the Waukesha area,” Cruz-Farin said. “ … I feel that it is really important for us to teach our students of how to be successful within that environment.”
Her school’s goal, collectively as a staff, is to create a student focused vision with a cultural lens to give their students a voice, and allow their identities to develop.
“All of our decisions in our environment in how we teach the curriculum is focused around responding to our students’ success,” Cruz-Farin said.
Chief Change Agent of Milwaukee-based Flying Elephant Deanna Singh also came on the last day to speak to the school leaders. Other national level expert trainers such as Verta Maloney, LiberatEd, and Ciji Pittman also led sessions.