There have been plenty of nights where we have come home from work questioning why we do this work in education, or how long it might be sustainable. The fast tempo of our days pushes that question to the back of our minds.
But when we have space to ponder the answer to this question, it is this: We do this work for children – with a goal to inspire their lifelong learning and self-improvement. We choose to work for our kids because we know they need us, especially those within our communities of color.
Our experiences as both people of color and world travelers has substantially shaped our perspectives. Having both grown up abroad, we yielded privilege as Americans that revealed the harsh reality of those who were less fortunate. The juxtaposition of wealth and opportunity with poverty and hopelessness left us confused for most of our lives.
Now, in this work of service, and through the lens of great privilege that was shaped by what we witnessed in our travels, it’s easy to see ourselves as giving to the marginalized communities we serve.
However, when we recognize that these communities and students have the power and knowledge that can help us both, we develop mutually beneficial relationships that will lead to lasting change.
In the spirit of growing as people, here are the ways we can all work towards becoming the education leaders we need to be:
1| Radical Love
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described it, agape love or love that is “understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.”
This agape love transcends the classroom. Through emphatic listening, we rest in the thoughts and emotions of our peers to meet them halfway in working through the issue. We cultivate trust while exercising accountability. We use it to make space for stories unheard.
As mentioned above, we are in this work because we love people, and as such use Dr. King’s definition of Agape love as our map. Agape isn’t about liking someone, as it is difficult to like someone who you disagree ideologically and philosophically with.
Instead, Agape love is about accepting where another person is on their journey and encouraging their growth without forcing change upon them. Although many of us don’t work directly with students on a daily basis, we want all students to have opportunities that will allow them to pursue fruitful and fulfilling lives. That is the essence of love.
2| Bravery to Engage in Difficult Conversations
When we talk about addressing inequality and inequity in education, there are numerous differing opinions and thoughts on how to eradicate them.
Often unavoidable in addressing race is a fear of saying the wrong thing or causing irreparable harm to the team, yet the best teams are those that are intentional about working through the issues. They do so by engaging in difficult conversations.
Establishing brave spaces is vital to ensuring the spectrum of experiences are heard. All words have energy, and when one is seen fumbling over words, it communicates to others a message of sincerity. The impact of a remark is equally important to acknowledge, in that it exposes emotions and ultimately drives empathy and understanding.
3| Giving Space for Others’ Stories
Stories are transformational acts. A story can present a truth and reality that is different than your own, which gives you the opportunity to grow and expand your perspective.
Unfortunately, in the world of education reform, voices and stories that are present in the decision making process do not always reflect the communities impacted. Too often, the assumptions and goals of those in power influence school culture while the overall community scrambles voicelessly.
Instead, we must operate within the nexus of our identities and the local landscapes – to have the greatest impact we must both operate from who we are while being present and mindful of the people in the communities who we serve. Since we have been able to see many perspectives in our lives, we have a responsibility to give space for the voices that are not present in the room.
Agape love, bravery, and giving space for others’ stories has led us into this work to fill the crevasse created from years of discriminatory practices and overwhelming, undeniable injustices.
Recognizing the intersection of our privilege and disadvantages as well as the privileges and disadvantages of the communities we serve will allow for sustainable growth. If we want to serve the communities where we live and work, we must love radically, listen emphatically, and communicate courageously.
So starting today, we propose a challenge. Let’s all show our gratitude to those who lend their skills and resources to ensure we are able to do this work.
Focusing on where we are – and not just on what is left to accomplish, which inevitably leads to burnout – is a choice to be present in the moment and celebrate those little victories as such.
We send gratitude to our colleagues, especially those working in classrooms, our students learning and growing, the parents sacrificing for and supporting their children, and the community leaders creating safe and enriching environments.
It doesn’t matter how many education policy changes are enacted; these are the people who will make sustainable change happen for equity and equality.
Alec Brownridge chose to become an Education Pioneers Fellow to gain a better understanding of systemic issues in education, and learn how technology and data should be used to effectively address these issues. As a Fellow with KIPP Austin Public Schools in Austin, TX, Alec provided school leadership and teachers with actionable academic data to ensure instructional improvements for student growth and achievement. Prior to the Fellowship, he worked as a technology and business consultant with Accenture, LLC where he led business process design and training on large HR system implementations at higher education institutions.
|Juan Serrano became an Education Pioneers Fellow to transform educational systems with a network of leaders across sectors. As a Fellow with Collegiate Academies in New Orleans, Juan built talent-tracking systems to inform recruitment strategies to find the best teachers for kids from his hometown. Prior to the fellowship, Juan launched a mobile learning program that brought iPads and Chromebooks to a new school in the outskirts of Beijing, China.|