In Ithaca, N.Y., City School District, where Luvelle Brown has been superintendent for eight years, he has set his sights on improving culturally responsive practices and mindsets. He uses the phrase building a “culture of love” because culture is critical to teaching and learning.
As an African American, he recalled during an AASA pre-conference workshop on Wednesday in San Diego that he was lucky to have both a loving family and loving teachers, but he knows some of his friends did not find school a loving place where teachers wanted them to excel. Their culture was not validated. They were treated inequitably.
The truth, he said, is that educators have been complicit in advancing inequitable school practices in teaching and learning. Tracking, low expectations, requiring compliance instead of asking for engagement and some examples.
During his travels to other states over the past 18 months, Brown realized educators lack a common mental model when it comes to equity. Often, he would hear “We’re working on equity.” It became clear people had different notions of what equity was, different assumptions and biases.
To clarify, Brown gave his definition of equity. There is a predictability of success, explicit and implicit biases are addressed, and the unique gifts and talents of students are cultivated. When equity is defined like this way, it is clear there are three dimensions to working on equity. He challenged attendees to respond differently when they heard the general statement about equity in an effort to educate others. Their answer: “What part of equity are you working on?”
Many educators work on issues like cultural responsiveness by reading books, going to conferences, doing book studies or adding certain holidays to the school calendar. Educators need to shift from the academic journey to the authentic journey, which involves systemwide instructional shifts, policy and struggle.
“Our young people say that you can’t teach me until you know me,” Brown said, and teachers will say they have a relationship with a student when they only know superficial things about the student.
Superficial knowledge might be the music or clothes that the
students like, but Brown advocates that superintendents and their staff seek a
deeper understanding of one another. He models this practice of building a
deeper relationship at staff meetings.
The work can be difficult. Sometimes staff have said, “I’m not going to do this work affecting black people.” Brown says that is the time when “we don’t call people out for that. We call them in. we say, “how can I help you with this struggle.”
(Liz Griffin is senior reporter on AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)