Promoting Diversity

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The issue of diversity has been raised in many different venues and circumstances. It is certainly no surprise that it be raised as an issue in school districts across the country as is the particular case in the district in which I teach.

As discussions ensue regarding how our schools promote the diversity that is prevalent within the district, for me, this drew attention to how the diversity of my fellow colleagues is promoted as well. It’s been weighing on me heavily for some months. How can one possibly expect teachers to promote the diversity of the children and families for which we serve when they don’t promote the diversity among the colleagues they work with each and every day?

I wanted to share my growing concern, so, expecting nothing in return, I wrote the following letter to leadership:

I am writing to express my growing concern over a topic the district has identified as an increasing need in our school community. I’d like to be clear that this is not an attempt to berate or rant about my colleagues, school, or the district; only to share feelings I’ve been harboring as they relate to the topic of “promoting diversity”.

This issue of “promoting diversity” has been weighing on me for the last couple of months. At our last all day district leadership team meeting, I walked in and was halted at the door. I can’t explain why I was struck so suddenly on that particular day, but I was. I simply stood there looking around, noticing for what seemed to be the first time, that I was the only minority in the room. This issue has been weighing on me for some time since. As discussions regarding “promoting diversity” ensue and after a great deal of reflection, I feel it is important to share my personal concerns. I’ve considered voicing my opinion on several occasions but have chosen only to listen instead because I am only one voice. I’ve kept my opinion stifled as I didn’t want my concern to be misinterpreted as anger or to come across as an agitator. However, after leaving this last meeting, I’m compelled to share because I guess sometimes, one voice can speak loudly.

Over the last couple of years, I have become more and more troubled behind issues of diversity. In our current attempt to “promote [the] diversity” of our students, we seem to struggle in the same area as colleagues. Having grown up being the “only one”, I know what it feels like to be a target, to be left out, to be ignored, and as a result, I admit, I am very guarded about my feelings and my opinions. I’d like to think that because of my experiences, I am more attentive to the cultural perspectives of others and am diligent about creating a positive, culturally sensitive atmosphere in my classroom and in my school community. Contrary to my efforts, however, I have been perceived as “mean”, “intimidating”, “inattentive”, and even “unsupportive”, when really I am only misunderstood. I imagine many of our students harbor many of the same feelings. I believe these misconceptions are a direct result of cultural biases and misunderstandings that could have been avoided by simply taking a moment to sit and speak with me as a person. It is how I approach each and everyone of my students and it is why I am able to develop such strong relationships with them. In this same manner, I believe the staff in this district have an opportunity to grow and learn from the diverse experiences of others.

I agree that there is a strong need to “promote diversity” in this district. Having been (and still am) misunderstood and misinterpreted, I think it is imperative to have teachers who are new to the district exposed to cultural sensitivity/diversity training upon being hired. I also think re-instituting the “Courageous Conversations” book study, or something bearing similarity, is not only a great consideration, but a necessary element for helping teachers understand not only our students, but each other. The implications of such work could have a long lasting effect on our district by displacing the “eggshells” many of us attempt to avoid on a daily basis and, in turn, strengthening staff morale. I further believe that there is a great need for minority leadership representation, whether it be in an administrative role or as teacher leaders. In a district that is predominant in minority population, it seems only appropriate, in my opinion, that there be a more visible minority presence in leadership roles.

I thank you for taking a moment to read my concerns and allowing me to have a voice.  I am looking forward to seeing the growth and development that lies ahead.

Respectfully,
Dr. Kelly Bullock Daugherty
Educator/Teacher Leader

While I wasn’t expecting it, to my surprise, I did receive a response rather quickly. Although it wasn’t as heartfelt and compassionate as my letter, my voice has now been heard, and that’s what I really wanted. I was told, in short, that although diversity is more than race and language differences, my concerns were valid and would be noted for future discussion(s). That was the basic extent of it. I must admit I was left feeling…well, obscure and numb. I had to remind myself in that moment…”no expectations”. So, if nothing else, I accomplished my primary goal.

In terms of what will happen next, I’m not certain. It is my hope that my personal thoughts will insight conversations beyond that of student needs and include the entire school community. In order to see a change, one has to advocate for change. So, if this letter invokes deeper conversations and induces change, then my task will have been accomplished.

No One Like Me

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I was born in 1972, shortly after the Civil Rights Movement ended. While schools, businesses, and neighborhoods had been desegregated for some years now, there remained residual resistance toward “justice and liberty for all”. I didn’t much understand this back in the late 70s and early 80s, but something has now stimulated these latent memories.

I don’t remember too much about my toddler years. I recall my father’s job moved us around somewhat frequently. Well, more so for my brother’s than for me.

My parents left Atlanta shortly after I was born. My mother maintains that I was the best thing that came out of her experience there! Well, I absolutely agree with that, of course! From there, we moved to Maryland. I can recall only a few things from my life there. One experience in particular was the time my mother cooked LIVE crabs for a family get together! “Oh no!”, I protested. “I don’t want no “craps”!”  I can remember how terrified I was by the sight of the crabs trying to escape the pot!! Ugh! I’m still a bit disturbed at the simple thought.

I was four years old when we moved to Minnesota. As I entered my formative years, my memories became more imprinted. I remember our home vividly. A three bedroom, two bathroom home. My brothers had to share a room while I had a room to myself. The front door led directly to the family room, with steps up to the kitchen, dining area, and living room. Here is where I have clear memories of the friends I made on my street, however, memories of my schooling experiences are few. In my quiet time, I often try to think back to see if I can draw out any memories. I’m never successful and I often stop to ask myself why this is the case.

While many of my friends and family have clear memories of their primary school years, mine are so very murky. I don’t recall my teacher’s names or those of my classmates. I remember I was very athletic and I did enjoy school, but what I remember most is that there was no one like me. I can see myself seated in the center of the room, surrounded by my white peers, whom I believe were as oblivious to the race issues around us as I was. Of course, I credit that to my parents who taught me to be kind and respectful to everyone, but to be aware of how others perceived me as well. What in the world does that even mean to a second or third grader who just wants to go to school to learn, then come home to go outside and play?! I hadn’t a clue.

After our six year stint in Minnesota, my father’s job moved us to Cleveland, Ohio where I still reside. It wasn’t until we moved here to Cleveland that I really realized there was no one like me in our old neighborhood or schools. As I reflected, I realized I was literally the only black child in my elementary school! My older brother was the only one in his junior high (until another young man came right before we moved) and our oldest brother was the only one from our neighborhood to attend the high school. He remembers some other black students being bussed in from a neighboring city, but he was the only one from our community. We all have at least one recollection of being called the “N” word during our time there and I later heard stories of a neighbor who thought it clever to dress up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and leave a burnt cross in front of our home for Halloween. I suppose it’s safe to assume that some were not pleased to have us there and still did not believe in equality for all.

My parents did well shielding me as much as possible from the degradation they endured during their lifetime and, parenthetically, still existed after the Civil Rights Movement. However, I’ve now been exposed to a very diverse school here in Cleveland and I’m not quite sure how to respond. I want to make friends, but I find out quickly that I’m not “black” enough for them. “Why do you talk ‘white’?”, they’d ask. They’d taunt me with comments like, “You’re an Oreo!” and “You’re a white girl!” Well, what is this? Why are these kids being so mean to me! I’m just being me! I had no idea how to handle this at all!

imageI couldn’t help but think of my scholars in that moment. Remembering how ostracized and alone I felt going through elementary school, I wondered… In a school that is just about 80% minority (60% Hispanic, 10% black, and 9% multiracial),  are my students impacted by the fact that, other than me, there is no one like them? I should be clear that, yes, we do have paraprofessionals that speak Spanish and we have other staff that are minorities, but working in the classroom, right on the front line, responsible for making certain all standards are mastered…there is no one like them. I wonder if they feel understood? I wonder if they feel valued? I wonder if this impacts how they receive their education?

This is not the first time I’ve had these queries. In fact, I have them quite often when I walk into my classroom where 18 of my 19 students are minority and 13 of those are Hispanic. Now, I took Spanish in high school and passed, but I am by no means fluent in the language. But, oh, how I wish I were. Can you imagine the connections I’d be able to make with my scholars? Even though I know a little bit of Spanish, it’s certainly not enough to have a great impact on my instruction.

Not only am I unable to speak the language, I cannot relate to what it’s like to be living as a migrant, I’ve never been enticed to be in a gang, I wasn’t born into poverty, and I never wondered where my next meal was coming from. At first glance, I know they look at me and think, “She’s not like us. She won’t understand.” Little do they know, I recognize the feeling more than they, or anyone knows.

It is for these reasons that I’ve made it my business to try to protect my scholars from having the same experiences I’d had. I’ve made it a priority to fill their primary school experiences with positive memories that they will enjoy recalling as opposed to the converse of which I can attest to. So, I compensate for my lack of cultural knowledge and understanding in other areas so that my scholars do not have the perception that there is no one like them.

As with all scholars that enter my room, I take the time to get to know each one of them for who they are. I want to know their favorite subjects, the activities they like, their favorite foods, what makes them happy, and what makes them upset. I get to know them so well that I can generally tell when something is wrong, even when they try to hide it. Likewise, I share my interests, my likes and dislikes. I include them in parts of my life like my children’s birthday celebrations, when a family member is sick, or like the time I was in a car accident. I care about them all immensely and am very protective of their feelings because I get it. I’ve been (and still am) the only one.

As a result, my scholars open up to me about their family living here locally and their family in Mexico. I learn about the different foods from their culture, music, and what school is like for them in Mexico. They love to tell me stories and they do not withhold anything! We have great conversations about our different cultures and I am always genuinely intrigued to learn more. My scholars sense that and I know they appreciate that!

My scholars are more than just a number that identifies them. They have young, immature, yet creative and innovative minds that are thirsting for knowledge! Some are more thirsty than others, but I acknowledge that. I share the difficulties I had in school when I was a youngster, mostly in reading. They look at me with big, bright eyes in wonder. “But, you’re a teacher! You’re smart.” , they say. I explain that it didn’t come easily. You see, what came easily for others, has taken twice as much effort for me. I explained that when there are barriers that seem to get in your way, that’s when you have to work harder at getting past it and getting past it is possible. I assure them that they are smart too and is the reason I refer to them as “scholars”. I want them to hear that they are smart and to embrace it. It may not seem like I’m doing a lot, but I guarantee, through my experiences and my management, my scholars have made a connection and have a vision of hope and a belief of greatness.

I’ve made a commitment and as long as I am alive and able, my scholars will never feel alone in their challenges, nor alone in their sorrows, nor alone in their successes. None of my scholars will ever feel targeted, ostracized, or left out while in my classroom. They won’t see race, religion, or ethnicity as a barrier from the greatness that awaits them, but will know that it exists beyond the walls of our class.

Although I know first hand what it feels like to have no one like me, I also realized later in life that this was not an excuse not to try. I’ve learned that one cannot allow their circumstances to define who they are or to determine their destiny! This is the mantra I live by and that I share with my scholars. So when they leave the reins of my classroom, it is my hope that they do so believing in their greatness. I want them to look back on their primary school years knowing they were not alone because there was, after all, at least one in the school that was…just like them.

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Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

morning. What a surprise.

November 4, 2013…the day I published my introductory blog. It’s been 7 months since I decided this blog would be the way I would impact social change in education. Eight months after I successfully defended my doctoral study and 6 months after I was conferred my degree in Teacher Leadership, I wrote that very first blog. Contrary to what some may believe, a principal or superintendent is not the dream I pursue. Instead, I would rather find a position working in curriculum/professional development in which I could work with teachers in and out of the classroom or in a higher education setting teaching pre-service teachers. However, that is currently a dream deferred and I am okay with that because I have since been led in another direction. I have prayed for direction. I have prayed for God to order my steps.

Allow me to take you back to the months preceding the inception of this blog. At the beginning of the school year, I was very much out of sorts. After finishing my degree, I was confident that I would receive the position I desired whether it be in my current district or an outside district. I had applied and interviewed for many positions. Rejection is ALWAYS difficult to deal with, but the one that was most upsetting for me was the one I received from the very district that helped me complete my doctoral degree. When I received the news that someone else had received the position, I was crushed! Not because of who was chosen, but because of who wasn’t! What in the world?! I knew there must be something else for me to accomplish in the classroom, but I certainly didn’t like this fate set before me. As a result, I started the year filled with anger and resentment. I wanted no parts of anyone or anything! Everyone felt the disdain expelling from the air around me. My grade level team especially. Very unfair, I know, but I didn’t know how else to deal at the time. Somehow, I had to find a way to release and regroup. So, in an effort to keep myself immersed in leadership roles, I chose to fill my plate with leadership opportunities. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Yeah…it didn’t quite play out the way I envisioned. Not at all.

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It probably took me until early October to end my itty-bitty pity party. I was helping my sister in law develop a blog for her early education class when it hit me like a ton of bricks! That’s it!! It was at that moment that I decided I could do what made me happy whether I was in a desirable position or not. It was at that very moment that my blog was created. Shortly after that, in December, I made the decision to work towards starting my own business and in January, 2014 with the support and encouragement of my husband, my family, and some great friends, the foundation was laid to establish Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC, dedicated to providing professional development for all educators by focusing on current issues in education and school improvement. Maybe this was what I was intended to do. The problem would lie in the fact that developing the business would be especially difficult while working in a classroom. None the less, there had to be a reason that I was still in the classroom and developing a business at the same time. God has a plan, right? So, I continued with my plans and took on several leadership roles in an effort to continue obtaining as much leadership experience as I could. In return, I would share my many experiences (highs and lows), my lessons, and my reflections with other educators across the nation! At the risk of exposing my imperfections, flaws, successes, and/or celebrations, I became transparent in that moment, in every conceivable way, in order to help other educators, like myself, grow. I have to say, this blog has been the major high point of my school year. I enjoy sharing with you all, learning from and engaging with so many of you about our profession. It is what has kept me going.

In an effort to further grow my leadership skills (probably more so to sooth my aching ego), I volunteered to sit on the Building Leadership Team, the District Leadership Team, to lead the Climate Committee and to be a Resident Educator Mentor for two first year teachers! Yeah, I pretty much took the plunge! In hindsight, I’m not sure what I was trying to prove or better yet, whom I was trying to prove it to, but this is the road I chose to travel. With my plate filled to capacity, it ultimately became more than I could handle. As with any full plate, some things receive more time and attention than others do and some things simply get left behind. But, I chose to do all of this, so I had to continue to try to manage it all. The one thing that I claim as my passion, educating and developing effective teachers, became my greatest let down of the year! Of course I am my biggest critic, but it is what it is. I found that, while working with teachers is exactly what I intend to do with my future, it turned out that it was not my current focus. It’s difficult to explain or even understand how that could be. I just knew that I had to release something, and soon! Next school year, something has to change in order for me to continue to reach other educators.

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The year has been filled with vicissitudes, as is every year. I’ve made great strides and I’ve endured some intense disappointments. I’ve been told I was unsupportive on the low end and awe inspiring on the high end. I’ve heard that I take things personally and am sensitive, but also have been acknowledged for my strength, courage, and reflective insight. I have even been told that the completion of my doctoral degree would elicit appreciation from some while others would do their best to depreciate it! I have let a few down, but have lifted and motivated SO MANY more! This year, there have been a whirlwind of emotions and changes! All of which, I might add, have made me MUCH stronger and wiser.

As with everything, I have learned a few things along the way. I cannot even begin to share the number of applications I have submitted, the number of interviews, and the number of rejections I’ve received. I know there have been many, MANY jobs. JOBS! Let me pin this here for clarification purposes. A job is a noun, a thing. In particular, a job is defined by the qualifications someone else determines and is subject to change based on someone else’s needs at that time. Let me be clear in saying that this is my perception, my personal reflection, my personal experience with…jobs. A job may or may not align with one’s long-term goals or passion, especially on paper, but because other people determine what “the job” is, there seems no certainty that one will ever truly be a good fit for “the job”. What a profound realization that is.

I have learned that even though I have made mistakes, I am not lacking in knowledge, value, or worth. It amazes me that once you receive a doctoral degree, some expect you to be omniscient in knowledge. When, in actuality, it is my opinion that this degree has made me more willing and open to learning even more than ever before. A doctoral degree is not the cake topper of education. On the contrary, it uncovers an unyielding need to explore the depths of all there is still to learn. Knowing this, I will not allow anyone or anything devalue my worth or my degree another day! No way!

Lastly, I acknowledge that change is ALWAYS occurring and I know that change is difficult. It seems that this year has been filled to the brim with change! I have learned so much about myself as a person and as a professional. I know that I will no longer allow “jobs” to define my future. I have committed to continuing to create my own opportunities through Transitions! It may take longer than I anticipated, but I am pressing on. I AM the creator of my future! I will make adjustments where necessary and changes when needed as I continue on the path that God has set for me. I have come to realize with each new understanding, each opportunity, and every new day…nothing changes, if nothing changes.

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