Last week I wrote a blog to parents which addressed advocating for their children of color. Many passed it along to their schools and school districts which I thought was great. It occurred to me it might be helpful to give schools something they can use and have on hand to refer to when an incident that involves “othering,” occurs. This can and should be used to address not only racial othering but ANY kind of incident where a child is made to feel less than based on the fact they are different. I would simply encourage the schools to B.E. K.I.N.D.D. (D.)
Parents feel free to pass along to your schools.
B. Be proactive and beat the story home.
There is nothing more frustrating for a parent than to hear their child has been othered in some way and an incident occurred during the day and the first they hear about it is when their child comes home often in tears.
When an incident occurs contact the parents immediately! A lot of the frustration that I have experienced when my children have been the victim of bias and racism stems from the inaction of the school. Never was I called and warned what went on during the day to prepare me for the condition my child would be in when he came home.
If you don’t have a plan as to what to do when an incident occurs create one! The sin of inaction is hard to forgive.
E. Expect the “isms” and the ‘ists!”
Expect that parents will come to the school and claim racism, sexism, gender-ism, class ism etc. Expect a teacher, a staff member, your administration, your district may be called racist, sexist etc. Brace for it and stay in the conversation.
No one wants to be referred to in this way and often when these terms are used it is very easy to dismiss as not applying to you, your administration, your teachers, and your district. Stay engaged avoid dismissing and make a point to tune in and not turn off. Understand your response to these accusations is being monitored. Any rolling of the eyes, dramatic exhaling, or any avoidance at all will make the possibility of a resolution much more difficult.
K. Kind actions and words are critical.
When an incident occurs parents will be emotional which is to be expected. Apologize sincerely for what they and their child are going through.
“I’m sorry to hear your child was made to feel this way,” is received better than no response at all. Remember your livelihood is built on caring for children; show that you care.
I. Intentions don’t matter.
Arguing or debating the intent behind an offense only causes further offense. Again, show you care about what the child and the family are going through more than you care about being right. Justifying behavior that has been interpreted as offensive only adds to the offense. Explaining that the child or parents are chasing mythological notions can be seen as dismissive and will never resolve the issue. It would only add bacteria to the open wound causing the wound to be infected and harder to treat.
N. Never return a jab with a jab.
The initial meeting with parents after the incident will set the stage for how and if the incident will get resolved. Understand the parents are hurt and their hurt may present itself in ways that are meant to hurt. It is critical to not attack back. Do not defend, dismiss or deflect. This initial meeting is where you listen more than talk. Your role is to gather facts and information. Also understand, this incident may only be one of many and now this is the parent’s chance to vent and release tension from many other incidents you were not aware of until this time. This frustration being released could be the result of several incidents that span several years. If things get too heated, call for a break. When you return from the break come back committed to being engaged in the conversation.
D. Determine what is the next course of action.
Let the parents know you would like to follow up on this and will get back in touch with them and give them a specific time frame and stick to it. Give specific, measurable tasks that you will do and report back on. Don’t let time erode your desire to get this resolved. Understand how you handle this incident will effect future incidents. If you show you are committed to acting on such incidents it will make future incidents easier. Parents do talk to other parents and your reputation is growing; either positively or negatively.
The opposite is also true. If you are frozen in inaction you will gain the reputation of not caring and not acting which will make future incidents even more difficult to resolve because you will actually be expected to address not only this incident but all other past incidents you never resolved.
D. Diversity teams should be just that; DIVERSE.
If your school has a diversity team or council make plain what their role is and make sure it is diverse. Do not pawn off the responsibility of resolving incidents to this team. That should be handled by administrators.
The diversity team should function much different than any other group. I will assume this group is very diverse if it isn’t you will struggle with diversity of thought and perspective and will really just be a waste of time. The minority groups that are represented MUST be seen as subject matter experts and their experiences and input are paramount. Majority will not and should not rule in this group.
WARNING: THIS IS ONLY FOR SCHOOLS REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT EQUALITY.
D. Diversity audits should be done on a regular basis.
There is an exhaustive amount of literature available that shows children of color are disciplined at a disproportionate rate compared to those in the majority. To guard against this a simple practice should be put in place. A review of who is suspended, who is given detentions, who is given in school suspensions etc. should be done. The population that is reprimanded should equal your school population. Therefore, if your African American school population is 10% there is no reason why more than 10% of your children reprimanded are African American. If it is then your system of punishment is disproportionate to your population and action should be done to correct it. Digging in and investigating why this is happening is not an easy task and the reasons behind it may be too much to handle for some schools, but we owe it to our kids to answer the hard questions and change.
BE KINDDD! Be proactive! Be humble! Be committed to creating an environment where all feel heard and respected.