3 key leadership questions for Black History Month and beyond

Many of our teams have been working hard to develop Black History Month curriculum and activities. But to avoid inadvertently sustaining inequalities through our efforts, we must take this work well past the end of February. 

Because the reality is that our students don’t get a break from the impact of racism in their lives. So as school leaders – who want to do something different and meaningful – we need to embody anti-racist practices and principles on a daily basis, 24/7/365.

To me, part of what that means is sitting ourselves down to ask some serious questions – and really weighing the consequences of our answers. As a starting point, you can focus your self-inquiry around 3 core questions.

Question 1:

Am I actually willing to listen to Black students and families and invest in what they value?

It’s critical that we find an honest yes to this question. Otherwise, we risk reducing Black History Month to simply a performative celebration. That approach ultimately fails to promote lasting equity, because what’s truly required is affirming, protecting and normalizing the humanity of Black students, families and colleagues in an active and ongoing way.

So to dig deeper into this first question, we can also ask: 

  • Am I willing to face the limits of my own personal experience and perspective? 
  • Am I actually willing to center Blackness and the changes that are required?
  • Am I willing to integrate the actual lived experiences of Black communities into students’ educational experience?

Question 2:

Am I forging broad partnerships in the building, in the community and online to extend this work beyond Black History Month?

When we can arrive at a real and honest yes, it’s time to look at our previous attempts to engage in this work. Maybe we had some tentative first steps that we need to revisit with new insights. Maybe we need to do some course correction, or be bold about beginning a new chapter. Moving forward, genuine collaborative partnerships are going to be key to identifying and filling those experience gaps. This is the point at which to reconsider both who we’re partnering with and how. So ask: 

  • Who among my colleagues have I either ignored, tokenized or overtaxed up to this point? 
  • Who else can I reach out to in the building, in the community and online who I might have overlooked? 
  • What will it take to sustain our partnerships year-round?

Question 3: 

Am I fully using the change-making potential of my role or diminishing my own power to make a difference?

As we grow and develop these partnerships, we need to make sure that our efforts pass a reality check. That means honing in on the real change-making power of our role as leaders and the potential of the partnerships we cultivate – if we also invest them with power. To that end, we must ask: 

  • Am I really valuing the insights of Black colleagues and community members? 
  • Do Black colleagues and community members have real decision-making power or influence in the direction of our school? 
  • Am I willing to reimagine our policies to improve equity, or am I relying on the way it’s always been?

Clearly, this isn’t an exhaustive list. You will have many more questions as you do this work. But it’s my hope that by asking ourselves very plainly – and repeatedly – about our priorities, our practices and our own power, we can ensure all students can have their humanity affirmed in their educational experiences. It’s also my hope that as leaders, we can more fully embrace our own change-making potential and responsibility to our broader communities and allow ourselves to utilize the energy that it can bring to our practice.