Leader’s Digest with Sharif El-Mekki

Issue #1: Black History Month, ed equity and more

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Sharif El-Mekki is a former middle school principal in Philadelphia. He now serves as director of the Center for Black Educator Development.

If you can’t see something, it’s harder to see it as a future for you. Not impossible, but harder. That’s why our students of color need to see people who look like them, everywhere – successful

On the walls of our schools, in the books that fill our shelves, in our curriculum, in the teachers at the front of our classrooms, where are we inviting kids of color to see and celebrate the contributions of people who look like themselves? Black History Month allows us to do this over a concentrated period of time, and we should celebrate that.

But it isn’t enough. We have to go beyond.

I’m thrilled by what’s happening with #PrincipalProject, an initiative launched to connect school leaders like you to one another and to practices backed by evidence. A similar philosophy led me to start the Center for Black Educator Development. We’ve set a goal of creating a pipeline of more than 500 Black educators in the next two years. When something is necessary, but doesn’t exist, you create it.

Our students need to see diversity, and they need to see it everywhere. A couple stats support this:

  • Having at least one black teacher early on can reduce a black student’s likelihood of dropping out of school by up to 39%.
  • When Black students have two Black elementary school teachers, they are 32% more likely to go to college.

Increasing the diversity of our schools is one way we create true, meaningful educational equity.

That’s my invitation to you this Black History Month: Don’t let your work end in February. And when you need support, know that organizations like mine exist. Seek counsel. Talk with others in the #PrincipalProject community. We’re in this work for students, and we’re in it together.

Most of all, keep the conversation going. Taking in ideas is how we sustain ourselves and build thriving school communities. You can find a couple resources below and more to come in the weeks that follow. I’m joining with #PrincipalProject to kick off its monthly newsletter, an email with resources you can use. I hope you check them out and stay tuned.

If I can help, reach out. 

Thank you,

Sharif El-Mekki
Former Principal & Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Center for Black Educator Development

School leaders have significant opportunities to promote equity in their school communities. Every opportunity – from bringing long-term learning and inspiration to Black History Month, to encouraging and empowering teachers of color – brings the challenge of assembling resources and shaping plans. These two articles offer straightforward solutions for you and your team:

Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History

Teaching Tolerance shares a reminder that just as Black History Month calls for more than a celebration of selected civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, it calls for a historical lens that goes beyond slavery, segregation and trauma. School leaders have the opportunity to shape the curriculum – including how your community learns black history. This article explains that without a holistic system for recognizing Black History Month – and teaching black history throughout the year – “students come away with a warped understanding of how racial inequity manifests today.” Teaching Tolerance recommends four steps you can take to broaden your students’ knowledge and build a sense of shared empowerment within your school community. Click here to read and share their guide with your team.

The Experiences of Teachers of Color

From increased attendance, to stronger academic performance, to a deeper sense of belonging within a school community, students of color benefit greatly from the experience of having teachers of color, as this article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education explains. But teachers of color are underrepresented in public schools, and their retention rate is even lower. This article makes this recommendation for school leaders: Bring intentional support for teachers of color into your school community. Read on for six ways you can encourage, empower and retain teachers of color on your team.

Black History Month offers unique opportunities for school leaders like you to deepen every student’s ed equity knowledge – and to build inspiration that can last all year. What will your school community learn together? Click here to share your plans with fellow principals using #BetweenTheBells!

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