I have been participating in a study group over the summer on the text by Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple. I’ll update this post when the course is completely over, but here is what I wrote for the final chapter in the online LMS:

I LOVED the PSSM (The Psychological Sense of School Membership, Goodenow 1993) as a way to get an understanding of people’s perceptions. I read in graduate school that Likert scales that are 4 points instead of 5 can be more accurate because people have to choose something other than the neutral mid-point. 🙂 So I would make that small change if it were up to me. But it does seem like something that could be rolled out and returned anonymously, that would help pinpoint specific areas to improve first. MOST important is to be sure to include everyone: the students, families, classified and certificated staff – everyone should be part of the assessment, and everyone needs to see themselves represented in the guiding team. Chatting with a dear colleague today who is a friend outside of school we are agreed that the days of thinking it’s all for “teachers” are past: we need to recognize that every adult in the school is part of the teaching team, and we need to stop leave classified staff out of trainings – to be honest the classified staff have insights we certificated folx do not (for example, I am rarely on the playground during recesses)!

Those of us who are firmly “dug in” in the idea of equity as an essential aspect of education and broader social welfare have had an uphill climb getting more people engaged and involved. One of the biggest barriers I think is the idea of having to do so very much (which we do!) so that we get exhausted focusing on “everything” – and not realizing that progress is made, literally, ONE STEP at a time. The whole “journey of a thousand miles” saying applies. It may be more important to preface any training/changes with the comment that “we are going to work to improve this one thing” and then connect it to the overarching goal. In reading this, I realize that’s simply using the idea of “targets” that we have done for years: Class, today we are going to learn ways to figure out how many we have in all when we have several groups with the same number of items. This will help us understand multiplication next week. [In terms of this course, maybe something like This month we are going to assess how our school community provides a sense of belonging to everyone who walks through the doors. This will help us identify specific areas we want to work on over the next few years, including the most urgent and non-negotiable needs of our students.]

There appears to be a sense these days that anyone who isn’t obviously or overtly marginalized is part of the problem. I have noticed many times in my life that the anger, grief, fear, and longing of marginalized people often erupts indiscriminately. People (teachers) who genuinely have been working to be part of the solution, and people who honestly haven’t realized before that they can be more effective at reaching students and families with relatively simple (but profound) changes, are caught up in the net that is cast for people who make overtly bigoted words and actions, in the net that is cast for institutional problems of -isms, in the net that is cast for those who feel it’s somebody else’s problem (adherents of the meritocracy/exceptionalism trope). Truthfully, I cringe whenever I hear anyone say “I made it on my own, they need to learn to stand on their own two feet like I did,” because I know that literally none of us thrive or prosper without help and support from others. 

That assessment, whether the PSSM or another, needs to be the first step, and one that is done every year to monitor for emerging issues and to be sure that the changes we are implementing are having the desired results. As with any educational process, it won’t be instantaneous or smooth, but it will be worth it.

We need to normalize talking about difficult topics. We need to be ready to stand up for those who are marginalized when we have privilege – using our privilege as a shield, not a sword? – and for those of us who are marginalized I think we do need to be more patient sometimes when well-meaning people need help to figure things out. In working between cultures it is so easy to assume offence was intended/to assume a person’s words or actions are intended to harm. But perhaps we need to assume that most people want to get along? Perhaps we need to assume that most people just want to have a safe home, nutritious food, healthy children, and a meaningful way to contribute to the community. If we start with commonalities, and then look – REALLY LOOK at what’s going on…  I know that not all my students have safe homes or nutritious food; not all families can see the doctor when they get sick (let alone access preventive care); not all adults or children have jobs (that pay enough) or other ways to make their world a better place. The reasons they don’t are many, but fall under: marginalized populations are often also low-income (because: -isms).

I didn’t find the graphics in chapter 8 that helpful. Most were overly complex and didn’t reflect my understanding of the ebb and flow of learning that is necessary: spiral learning, where every so often you return to a previous concept to review and build upon it.

Equitable change is that which allows people access based on their actual needs, not the assumed needs. I’ll use myself as an example. I have known for decades that I would likely end up in a wheelchair. Most people think that a person with mobility problems needs to use an elevator or ramps all the time. But when I was young I often lived in apartments that were one or two flights of stairs away from the ground. I went up and down stairs in a seated position, step by step too many times to count. But sometimes I could go up them two at a time… and elevators make me dizzy, so they are not something I enjoy using. An equitable apartment would have provided an elevator as well as stairs and let tenants choose.. Over time we managed, bit by bit, to acquire housing that is more and more suited to mobility challenges. Our home is now about 90% accessible – just a powder room and my spouse’s office that I cannot use when I am in a chair, and the parts of the yard that are downhill from the house. Everyone can get into and out of my home – it doesn’t change most people’s use of the spaces, but the fact that even on really bad days I can get to every room I use, and outside front and back? It allows me to be independently productive. 

What I do not want or need is people thinking I cannot carry my own stuff. I can carry more in a wheelchair than I can when walking! and on the rare occasion it’s too big for me I know how to ask for help. What I do not need or want is people thinking that “broken” hips means a broken brain. What I do not want or need is someone assuming I am desperately unhappy to be in the wheelchair – when I am in it, it means I have taken charge and choose to be pain-free. What I do not need or want is people assuming I cannot go somewhere and so leave me out of events (or conversely that I can but don’t tell me about conditions such as stairs!) — a lot depends on the distances I need to move, whether it has steps or uneven ground, and if there will be places for me to sit and rest periodically. But only I can make that decision – if I have the information I need.

There will be more, but this is enough oversharing for today!

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