#PrincipalOfficeHours: A Conversation About Anti-Racist School Leadership

Your fellow school leaders came together during our recent #PrincipalOfficeHours Twitter chat to discuss building inclusive and representative spaces in school communities by reexamining policies, curriculum, student data and leadership strategies. We’ve collected a handful of responses to each question, and we hope you’ll find some inspiration, a new approach to a problem, a resource to share with your team – or all of the above!

You can see more – and add your own voice to the conversation! – by scrolling through #PrincipalOfficeHours on Twitter. Special thanks to our moderators, Director of Equity and Inclusion Alexis Knox-Miller, Associate Principal Xavier Reed and Principal Beth Houf. We hope you’ll join an upcoming #PrincipalOfficeHours chat, too!

Question 1
Which rules, norms or practices within your school community are currently disproportionately harming Black students and students of color? How can you work to change them?

“Dress code policies. ‘Take off your do-rag’ becomes a power struggle and then I have students in my office accused of being ‘disrespectful.’ When I ask why it’s a problem, teachers without a doubt link do-rags to gang activity. Culture equals criminality – this is how we see our students.” —Director of Equity and Inclusion Alexis Knox-Miller

“I fear that suspensions and tracking may be harming BIPOC students. I constantly try to keep equity in the front of my mind, but I fear that it’s a systemic issue…” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“Whew. This is a tough one. I’ll name one: well-intentioned microaggressions. The little things that are done to keep our students of color in a box or reward compliance and assimilation – not diversity. Those cut like a knife.” —Educator Akilah Ellison

Question 2
How can you work with your team to reexamine curricula to ensure it is anti-racist?

“Ask the question: Whose perspective is centered in our curriculum?” —Principal Demetrius Ball

“I’ve challenged teachers with two articles. One that discusses equitable teaching and another that suggests anti-racist literature. I’ve also challenged them to reflect on which populations they highlight and celebrate.” —Assistant Principal Shakara Morrison-Shuford

“I would really like to establish a ‘curriculum equity’ committee that analyzes unit and lesson plans for CRE principles and focuses on high expectations and great instruction. Students must be part of that work!” —Dean of Instruction Chris DeRemer

“Lead teachers through an examination of their current curriculum – through their students’ lenses rather than their own. Then, we must be prepared with resources to aid in the transformation. I’m currently expanding my toolbox by partnering with my local librarian.” —Principal Shavon Jackson

“Curriculum is a resource. I worked with my department on designing and creating their own work to ensure it was culturally relevant and anti-racist. They were given the freedom to choose an anchor text centering the stories of BIPOC. Prior to doing this work, we did a lot of PD around equitable practices and examining identity and what Ts bring into the classroom.” —Director of Equity and Inclusion Alexis Knox-Miller

Question 3
How can data be used within your school community to overcome biases, systemic oppression and racism?

“Thinking of data as only hard data can be damaging – observational data and informal discussion can be just as valid. So we need to examine referral and suspension data through the lens of equity and then reflect on the impact we have.” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“Honestly, I think we take too long to see ‘what the data says.’ If kids look frustrated, disengaged or indifferent, then we have all the data we need. It should take one student’s voice to vocalize the data we need to elicit change.” —Dean of Instruction Chris DeRemer

“There is no data more important than our students’ voices on this. If a teacher doesn’t understand or want to recognize their own bias, it’s hard to get to the root of the problem. Students’ personal experiences and feelings are a powerful piece of data.” —Principal Shavon Jackson

“If there are not multiple sources of data being used, the data may be biased. Qualitative data – stories + experiences alongside the numbers – can turn us away from systemic oppression and racist policies.” —Principal Trelane Clark

“Besides academic data, we should be looking at attendance, referral and suspension data. This will expose the systemic issues with race, as well as the culture of the school. Also, we do student exit surveys every year. Powerful data comes from those!” —Principal Michael Williford

Question 4
What is one way you are continuously striving to understand and learn about the lived experiences of the teachers and students in your school community?

“This starts with me recognizing my own identity and biases, how I have internalized white supremacy and in turn, what messages I am sending to my students. Staying in questioning mode helps me understand how racist thought and systems impact my students and team.” —Director of Equity and Inclusion Alexis Knox-Miller

“We have to continuously communicate and work to build relationships, not just with students but families, too. We need to understand what’s happening in their lives in order to be able to support them. We have to make genuine connections.” —Educator Dawn Harris

“I think personally connecting with both. For example, after the murder of George Floyd, I reached out to the African American males on my staff to check on them and just to let them know I see them. That meant a lot to them.” —Principal Ashley L. Moore

“I’ve been attending webinars and reading all throughout the school closure about better ways to serve my English language learners and economically disadvantaged babies. Equity can no longer be a buzzword. It’s time to get to work and save lives.” —Assistant Principal Latrese D. Younger

“The biggest thing we can do is to listen. I must get over my white fragility in order to hear what is really being said and then continue to be part of the conversation.” —Principal Jay Billy

Question 5
What actions can you take to get students involved in thinking critically about racial justice outside of the classroom?

“Providing students opportunities to discuss it and understand it. This is a topic that will spark high engagement from students and it’s something that is relevant and important. Don’t shy away from it.” —Associate Principal Xavier Reed

“I think when we frame their ‘role’ of learner as ‘future leader’ and ‘meaningful citizen,’ we can tie in the learning experiences we provide with their need to examine that role against the backdrop of what is happening in America.” —Assistant Principal Michael Gutierrez

“Get out of the way! Students are ready for these conversations. We are so afraid they will step on our toes and expose our biases. Ultimately, we need to allow students to use their voices for change while facilitating respectful dialogue in safe spaces.” —Principal Shavon Jackson

“We can no longer affirm we support a demographic of students who consistently underperform without having serious conversations that spark change. I will do my part by continuing to be a voice of encouragement and support.” —Assistant Principal Latrese D. Younger

“We need to ACTUALLY involve our students in thinking critically about racial justice outside the classroom. Kids will figure out the rest. Open the door and they will run through.” —Principal Joe Truss

Question 6 
Change is often met with pushback. Are there tips, strategies or steps you use to navigate pushback and move through it to create meaningful change?

“Leadership is lonely, but when you feel alone, you continue to lead. If you’re persistent and passionate about what you’re doing, you will gain followership from those around you.” —Associate Principal Xavier Reed

“Don’t let people redirect the conversation. Hold people accountable for doing the right work. When they push back, ask questions and seek answers for why they are hesitant. Use the school mission and vision to point out who they claim to be for ALL students.” —Principal Shavon Jackson

“I believe you have to understand the resistance before addressing it. Listen to listen. Always put students’ needs first. Let your team analyze the data before providing your own conclusions. They must make the discovery that something needs to change.” —Assistant Principal Kelley Capper

“Communicate sound rationale for change, offer functional and emotional support… and be willing to take a stand! Too many leaders remain on the sidelines. If you demonstrate your investment, others will see.” —Assistant Principal Michael Gutierrez

Question 7
What is one next step you’re committing to as an anti-racist educator and leader? How will you stay accountable to that commitment?

“I remind my staff that it isn’t optional to ‘opt-out’ of these conversations. It is a moral imperative that we push ourselves to dismantle racism in our schools to give students the education they rightfully deserve.” —Principal Dennisha Murff, Ph.D.

“By not accepting the unacceptable. By not remaining silent when there are inequities on campus and encouraging others to do so as well. Inequity anywhere is inequity everywhere. I will actively look for it.” —Principal Vic Nixon

“I must spend more time seeing the quantitative data and then having hard conversations about why the data is what it is. I KNOW my teachers want to do what’s best. I get to have a lens that allows me to see a perspective they can’t. I have to share that.” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“Remember your ‘why,’ remember how important receiving a proper education is for all kids, remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and continue to learn from others. Take in new perspectives. Soak up knowledge and experiences.” —Associate Principal Xavier Reed