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Uniting Schools Benefits All Students...and Staff

Oh, it was good to be back at International Center for Leadership in Education’s Model Schools Conference! More than just a step back to the new normal, I felt excited (and a bit nervous) presenting, meeting and working with close to 4,000 like-minded educators from around the country ­– in person – with almost another 1,000 attending virtually!

As much of the nation’s schools brace for life and school in a post-pandemic world, it won’t be easy for many of us to simply return to our lives without at least a nod to the fear, anxiety and yes, animosity the past 16 months has left in its wake. A wake that left more than half a million Americans dead, the unprecedented closure of all our schools, the many maturations of school reopening and yet another reverberation of the unfilled promise of America to its Black citizens and children.

In addition, those who suffered the most through the pandemic were Black, Brown and poor. These Americans died and lost wages at higher rates than their white or wealthier counterparts and were more likely to become part of a “lost generation” of students, who left school and never returned. This does not counter the great lengths many school districts went through to find, feed and boost technology for students across the country. It merely recognizes that despite those efforts, we still stand staring back at a cracked reflection of an America for all and schools simply mirror our greater culture that can both dishonor equality or worse rebuke even the notion that we are saddled with historical and systematic racism.

Of course, dealing with so many varied challenges and emotions in isolation will only make the task of stepping back into a greater reality of school buses full of children, packed cafeterias and classrooms without taped off 6-foot markers even more difficult. And this, in part, was why Model Schools was so important to me and many others – that I was reminded, we are in this together.

The hope, optimism and improved strategies learned through experience over the past 16 months was on display during three days of non-stop learning in Nashville. Oh there are challenges still ahead, but the ICLE staff and their model school partners from throughout the country laid out the complexity and nuance necessary for a productive post-pandemic response for all to see, hear and learn. Like my topic, Culture Curation, there were many sessions on culture, what it is, how to better define it and live by the values that better equate to all students learning.

Of course, equity is a defining element of effective cultures where everyone belongs and can excel. It’s also how we provide students, by any means necessary, with what they need to reach self-actualization through a public education, but especially for those students that have been historically underserved or continue to get passed over. My friend and colleague, Dr. Tyrone Howard outlined equity powerfully and simply with his closing keynote: Know, Care, Act.

If we apply Dr. Howard’s words and approach to our most pressing demands by knowing our students, our staffs and ourselves well, caring about all those under our care deeply and acting on our knowledge and passion to teach them effectively, then we will create not only better schools, but a more perfect union, one ready to embrace both equity and change in equal measure for a better tomorrow.

Thanks to Model Schools thoughtful presentations and more so to its attendees who made me feel their universal desire and hope in spite of where we’ve been. I left Nashville buoyed and ready for the hard work ahead and with a broad smile for the gift of belonging to such a dedicated and diverse extended school family – unite and ignite, indeed.

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