EdWriteNow Equity

The Unthinkable and Unspoken Barrier to Student Success

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it…History is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin

We all have bias. Implicit bias is the automatic thoughts we have about others based on a variety of factors. These are things we don’t even think about and this is what makes implicit bias a significant barrier to the experiences, expectations, and achievement of students. There are many resources available to educators about the importance of being culturally responsive and inclusive; however, it is impossible to be culturally responsive if you are culturally unaware and not in tune with how our implicit bias impacts how we engage with others. 

This topic is very personal to me as an educator and a parent. I have experienced the effects of implicit bias personally and through the eyes of my children. These experiences were the driving force behind the chapter I wrote for Education Write Now Volume 3: Solutions to Common Challenges in Your School or Classroom. Having worked on this project for the past 2 summers, I wanted to share a topic that needs to be addressed boldly. Education Write Now is a collaborative project that brings together 10 thought leaders in the field of education with the challenge of writing 10 different chapters that will contribute to advancing a school of thought and actions in the field of education. All of the proceeds from this project go to The Will to Live Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing teen suicide by improving the lives and the “Will To Live” of teenagers through education about mental health and encouraging them to recognize that love and hope exist in the relationships we have with each other. With so many students being marginalized at school each day, I can’t think of a better topic to bring to the forefront of the minds of educators than to address how implicit bias is crippling and limiting the potential of so many students. 88B6C364-EA05-494A-BEDA-15604D346A67

Below is an excerpt from my chapter:

“One of the challenges that many school leaders face is trying to solve the vast problems that present themselves in their schools or classrooms. The schoolhouse is a microcosm of society, so societal issues will inevitably become school issues that educators will have to address. Knowing how to tackle every issue can be extremely overwhelming for a leader because everyone is looking to him or her for guidance and direction. Being able to “fix” everything is not possible for educators because we all have different life experiences that affect how we view the world.

On one occasion, I got a call from a colleague seeking advice about an issue she was facing. She was extremely frustrated because she had done everything she knew to do to try to solve this issue and nothing was working. She seemed to be in a helpless state when she called me for advice. She began to share with me that she had a group of black female students who were not responsive to any of the interventions that were put in place to improve their behavior. She said the students traveled in a pack and they were loud and disrespectful to anyone with authority. Her administrative staff had tried every consequence that was available to them to correct the behavior, but nothing worked. My colleague was at a point of no return, so she called me because she felt she had nowhere else to go. Now, for the purpose of this conversation, it is important to know that my colleague is white, and I am a black female. This is important to the story because in a moment of need, I was the only person of color she felt comfortable being vulnerable with and it was her hope that I had some insight and perspective about how to reach her students. I will never forget the question she asked me after she shared her struggle, “I have done all that I know to do. Am I missing something?”

It took me a few seconds to respond because I was expecting her struggle to be related to instruction or general leadership, not about how to connect with black female students. As we began to unpack her question together, I shared some strategies and pointed her to resources that she could use to educate herself. Shortly after talking about this topic with my colleague, I had the same exact conversation with another principal friend having the same issue. The questions I began to ask myself include:


  • Why are people having a difficult time engaging with students of color?
  • Is there something occurring systemically in our schools that is making this issue more common? 
  • What is my role and responsibility in offering perspective on the issue? 

I felt compelled to dive into this topic further and what I learned from talking with some of my staff and other principal colleagues is that educators, who are not members of marginalized groups, feel inadequately prepared to make connections with students of color in ways that make the greatest impact. Racial equity issues have always been a sensitive topic to discuss in our schools. It is like the elephant in the room that everyone sees and smells but no one does anything to remove. People become immune to the sight and smell of the elephant and learn to work around it. 

The complexity and sensitive nature of race exist because of our inability to discuss it from multiple perspectives. Until we really open ourselves up to having the conversation about how race and ethnicity impact the experiences of students and teachers in our schools, we will continue to create schools that perpetuate racial inequity and social injustice. Our greatest challenges and fears cannot be addressed until we become critically aware of our own implicit bias and how our racial and ethnic perspectives impact how we see the world and engage with others.”

After working on this project for three years in a row, I am once again surprised at how well the chapters link together. Check out excerpts from Lynell Powell, Rachelle Poth, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Josh Stumpenhorst, Jeff Zoul, and David Guerin. Stay tuned for next week’s post from Ross Cooper


I am looking forward to year four of this project. I would like to thank Jeff for really spearheading this idea and execution of this project for the past 3 years. It has been a pleasure serving as a sidekick to this great leader! Jeff will be signing off as co-editor, and I will take the lead as we invite a new team of nine to continue this great work started three years ago.  I want to especially thank Routledge and Senior Editor Lauren Davis for your continued commitment and dedication to this project. Be sure that you have Education Write Now Volume I and II in your personal library.  Education Write Now Volume III: Solutions to Common Challenges in Your School or Classroom will be available this winter.

EdWriteNow High Performing Teams Leadership

Connecting With Others Through Productive Conflict

Summer is a time for personal and professional self-reflection. The pace is slower, which gives us time to rejuvenate and reconnect with self, family, and friends. This summer I had the pleasure of doing all of those things, but I had the bonus of meeting and working with 7 new friends on the #EdWriteNow project. This was my second year working on the project, so I was extremely excited to be invited back, but more importantly, I was honored to be asked to co-edit the project with Jeff Zoul. The inaugural Education Write Now experience was a highlight of my career, so needless to say I was eager to contribute to this great work to which all the proceeds of the book will go to the Will to Live Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing teen suicide.                                              Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 3.18.37 PM

This year, we met in Chicago prior to the start of the National Principals’ Conference. Unlike last year, I had only met one other person who I was going to be working with on this project. For the most part,  all other relationships had been formed and developed via social media. Because of our digital connection, we instantly connected personally and professionally. It was because of the relationship bonds that were forming as a result of working non-stop on the project for 48 hours that the team agreed on relationships as the theme that was connecting all of our chapters together. We realized that no program, policy, law, or initiative will ever take the place of relationships. Onica Mayers so candidly stated, “Relationships matter, people!” after Jeff and I participated in a light-hearted bantering session about which baseball organization, the Cubs or the Astros, was the better team. Needless to say, relationships do matter,  and unfortunately, relationships in schools do not get to the place where they could be because of the fear of engaging in productive conflict. In my chapter, I challenge the reader to reframe the word conflict and their perspective regarding how they feel about conflict from one that evokes negative thoughts and emotions to an idea and principle that is essential to getting the best ideas on the table.

Here is a short excerpt from my chapter:

Conflict. Just hearing the word or seeing it in print has the tendency to conjure negative emotions, thoughts, or memories. The word by sheer meaning is negative, and if left to stand alone without any additional qualifiers, is a word that offers little hope, peace, positivity,  or closure. Conflict denotes that there will be winners and losers, and those who are able to voice their opinions or views the loudest will claim stake to victory. Conflict forces one to choose sides, hold on to narrow perspectives, and engage in unproductive dialogue that doesn’t lead to better solutions.

Conflict does have its place in the world. There are just some fundamental truths and moral practices on which we must stand firm; but as educators, how can we reframe conflict into an activity that will result in the best possible outcomes and solutions for the students we serve? Is it possible to engage in productive conflict, which for this chapter means the sharing and acceptance of divergent ideas, perspectives, and experiences, to get the best solutions to the challenges and problems that plague our education system?

Engaging in productive conflict is not only necessary but it is critical to reimagining an educational system that is committed to fostering and developing high-performing teams that know how to engage productively with those who have different perspectives and experiences. Without productive conflict, one is not able to grow or be challenged cognitively or philosophically. Refinement only happens through the convergence of new ideas and experiences. In fact, without productive conflict, the best ideas will never be presented which will result in more of the same. Embracing the struggle and dissonance that will occur, while also practicing the art of vulnerability, is the only way that productive conflict will lead to positive outcomes.

When engaging in productive conflict there is no right and wrong—only different. Being able to see someone else’s perspective for what it is rather than through the filter of what you think it should be is the first critical step. Productive conflict does not occur by appealing to the logical part of the brain. If you want anyone to change, it is a must that you appeal to the emotional side of the brain first. Emotional intelligent individuals practice self and social awareness and are strategic in managing relationships. They have the ability to control their emotions and understand the effect their attitude and actions have on others, which enables them to adapt their behavior to elicit positive and productive outcomes. People need to feel and connect before they are able to change. True connection cannot happen in the absence of true relationship building. Authenticity will not grow if planted in inauthentic soil.

As Peter Senge simply states, “In great teams, conflict becomes productive. The free flow of conflicting ideas is critical for creative thinking, for discovering new solutions no one individual would have come to on his own.”

If doing the work that is required to cultivate high-performing teams is important to you, you will find the time and create the space; if it is not, you will find an excuse. The role of the leader is not to have all of the answers to the many challenges we face. The role of the leader is to create an environment where all ideas are shared, valued, respected and appreciated. Take the time to do the culture work that is necessary to create environments where productive conflict can thrive, for it is the strength of the team’s culture that will determine the altitude of the group.

After working on this project for two years in a row, I am once again surprised at how well the chapters link together. Check out excerpts from Jeff Zoul, Randy Ziegenfuss, Rosa Isiah, Elizabeth Bostwick, and Laura Gilchrist. Stay tuned for a post next week from Onica Mayers where she really opens up about the power of relationships. In the next few weeks, Winston Sakurai, Sean Gaillard, and Danny “Sunshine” Bauer will be sharing thoughts on their experience and excerpts from their work. 

I am looking forward to year three of this project. Jeff and I will continue to lead the work as we invite a new team of eight to join us. I want to especially thank Routledge and Senior Editor Lauren Davis for your continued commitment and dedication to this project.  Until then, add Education Write Now-Volume I to your library and complete your collection by purchasing Education Write Now: Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture Volume II this winter.  


EdWriteNow Leadership teacher engagement

Changing the Way We Think About Teacher Engagement

Life experiences can be categorized in two ways– as mountain-top highs or valley lows. Working with the #edwritenow team has certainly been one of the most personal and professional mountain-top highlights of my life. Being able to contribute to this project to help other educators grow was definitely rewarding, but knowing that the proceeds from the project will support the work of a worthy organization is fulfilling.

Ten educators were charged with writing a book on some of the most pressing topics in education. We were given less than 72 hours to complete the project. Bringing different educators from all over the country, with more varied perspectives than similar ones, to produce a book that sounds like one voice was AMAZING! Kudos to Jeff Zoul and Joe Mazza for their vision on this project.

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As we began to write, the collective genius and professional capital in the room was so exciting; but more importantly, the personal relationships that were developed while writing on this project outweigh the satisfaction of its completion.  

During my writing breaks, I talked to some of my esteemed colleagues about their work. Tom Murray was one of my accountability partners. As I read his work, Changing the Way We Think About Technology, I couldn’t help but think about how much technology has changed the way we do business. On the other hand, Tom also challenged my thinking by pointing out that in many cases technology has just replaced worksheets and other low level tasks. He challenges educators to use technology authentically so that students can connect with others in ways that they never have before to create things that would not have been possible without technolgy. 

I also took some time to talk to Starr Sackstein about how “assessment” has become a word that causes teachers and students so much stress. Unfortunately, when the word assessment is spoken in our profession, many think about standardized testing. The era of high-stakes testing that we are currently working in has led to, in my opinion, the lack of teacher engagement. In my contribution to the book, I outline ways that leaders can create an environment that promotes, ecourages, and supports active teacher engagement. 

If teachers are responsible for student engagement, what role do leaders play in teacher engagement?

While the responsibility cannot totally fall on the shoulders of leaders, it is important to note that they certainly play a significant role in creating and sustaining a culture that encourages, promotes, and supports active teacher engagement. As professionals, we have the responsibility to continue to learn and grow, regardless of the working environment and leadership we may encounter, but it is my opinion that strong leadership can move the teacher engagement pendulum. I do believe that teachers must have the desire to move from being disengaged or engaged to become actively engaged, but I think leaders should see themselves as part of the process of removing barriers that hinder teachers from becoming actively engaged in their work.

Being a leader is a huge responsibility. Teachers, students, and parents are watching your every move. People want to know what makes you tick as a person, and it matters to them what you think. Because of my position as a leader, I recognize that I have a responsibility to the people I serve each day. Although there are days I fall short, I seek to add value to someone’s life each day. I am not perfect by any means, and unfortunately, I do miss opportunities. When that occurs, I constantly think about what I need to do the next time to correct the missed opportunity to engage with teachers in a meaningful way. If you, as the leader, are not making others who work around your better, then I question your purpose. Leaders must see every single encounter with a teacher as an opportunity for authentic engagement.

Leaders must be able and willing to help teachers connect their “why” to the work. Being able to anchor the work to a greater purpose is what will sustain and motivate teachers through challenges. In addition, when teachers are a part of creating the purpose of the organization, the long-term benefits of ownership will carry the organization further along than the short-term wins that buy-in promises. Furthermore, leaders must be intentional about developing a culture that promotes, encourages, and cultivates learning by giving teachers the opportunity to learn from one another. Encouraging this type of collaboration will not only build the professional capital of the teachers, but it will also deepen and enrich the collegial collaboration amongst them as well.  When teachers know that they are appreciated, valued, and supported in all aspects of their lives, they will be committed to their work and to those around them. This commitment will fuel them with the desire to become better each day.

Although leadership is not the only gatekeeper to teacher engagement, it is certainly a critical component to creating an environment that fosters active engagement. Leaders must be willing to change the way they think about their responsibility in cultivating a  working environment that promotes and supports active engagement. In the absence of leadership, only pockets of excellence will exist, but with strong leaders at the helm, systems of excellence that foster and support high teacher engagement can be created and sustained.

Next week’s post will be shared by my friend and colleague, Amber Teamann. As you continue to think about ways you can create engaging working environments for teachers, I encourage you to read Amber’s ideas on changing the way we think about leadership. I guarantee you will be challenged and encouraged to think about leadership in a different way.

Be sure to pick up your copy of Edcuation Write Now in December 2017.