5 ways to make Black history part of your year-round leadership

As educational leaders, we play a crucial role in shaping the narrative of Black History Month within our schools. While teachers spearhead Black History Month classroom lessons during February, it’s our responsibility to integrate Black history meaningfully into our school-wide vision and foster a commitment to anti-racist education and equity. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of years, and I wanted to share some of my reflections.

Five actions school leaders can take to anchor leadership during Black History Month and beyond:

1. Become intensely curious about Black students’ experience under your leadership.

Our students are the experts of their own experiences. As our school’s lead learners, how we model curiosity about our Black students’ experiences makes a difference for all students and inspires teachers to do the same. I used to support lunch duty in the cafeteria daily to create opportunities for deeper connections with students. I would ask them to share feedback on my work as a principal, and I’d promise to follow up later to find out whether they’d noticed any improvements. This feedback loop signaled respect, made them feel heard and showed students that I realized I needed to earn their trust. It also offered students a chance for them to build their self-advocacy skills. Black History Month might provide the perfect reason to establish this habit as part of your practice.

2. Encourage teachers to forge new connections and learn about the community where they teach.

So many teachers serve a community separate from the one they live in, and sometimes, the only experience they have with a Black community is through their students. When I taught, about half of our staff were white, and some had never read the local Black newspaper, the oldest newspaper in the country continuously published by a Black person. I encouraged my colleagues to subscribe to at least a newsletter published by members of the Black community – something that would reveal more about the Black community than they could experience through their students.

3. Situate the teaching profession as part of Black History.

In their teacher education programs and professional development, many teachers haven’t been exposed to the impact of Black thought leaders and educators on the profession. My work at the Center for Black Educator Development has been centered on elevating what we call the “Black Educator Hall of Famers,” the people who contributed to pedagogy to support educators’ own Black History Month learning.

4. Be direct when emphasizing that Black History Month is a celebration and that this learning shouldn’t be contained to 28 days.

We need to explicitly remind our teachers that Black History Month is a celebration, but it’s not meant to contain the entire year’s learning about Black history. A school as an entity is a constant learning organization, and having this month on the calendar shouldn’t limit how we celebrate, teach, and learn about Black contributions and stories. They should fit into our full learning arc. I’ve learned that when Dr. Carter G. Woodson first imagined Black History Month, he envisioned it as an opportunity for accountability – not just a celebration, but a chance to look at what had been accomplished over the past year and report on that. As leaders, leaning on February as a chance to reflect on how we’re advancing racial equity shows a real commitment to Black history as part of a school’s year-long vision.

5. Inspire teachers to think about their impact on the historymakers of tomorrow.

I like to tell teachers to look at their students as historymakers. Imagine you have the privilege of teaching a student in your classroom who will grow up and change the world. How would you approach lesson planning for them? How would you approach relationship building? Maybe thinking about leading a room full of historymakers would feel like a perspective shift – and an inspiring way for teachers to think about their impact. This idea came from a Tupac quote: “I’m not saying I’m gonna rule the world or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world. And that’s our job; It’s to spark somebody else watching us.” Members of my staff and I would revisit this quote often. To me, the idea is so powerful and so humbling. But it can also unleash some amazing energy for our students and for our teachers

I hope you find something on this list that you can carry forward into your leadership, whether you’re leveraging Black History Month as a launching point for your efforts  or a continuation of an ongoing arc in your practice. Thank you for your continued commitment to advancing racial equity in February and beyond.