By Phillip Yarborough
Equity has become one of the trendier words in education. Other terms like “equity groups” and “affinity groups” have also become part of the latest educational jargon. Education repeatedly recycles trends branding the same issues with new titles. Whether it is “Race to the Top,” or “No Child Left Behind,” or “Every Student Succeeds,” these policies and initiatives boil down to doing what is best for ALL students. If we truly are committed to such initiatives, then why do we continuously reinvent brandings for the same issues? It reminds me of the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s not about the titles, it’s about the leadership–or lack thereof–at the school level to implement these initiatives with fidelity.
In sports, especially football, trends are equally as popular when it comes to all facets of the game. Teams are constantly in search of the next innovative offensive or defensive coach. What is the latest offensive scheme to run? Football even has its own equity initiative when it comes to hiring–it’s called the Rooney Rule. This rule requires a football team to interview at least one non-white candidate when there is a head coaching vacancy. However, the number of head coaches of color is disproportionately low compared to the number of white head coaches in the National Football League. If the NFL is sincerely committed to this initiative, then why are there so few head coaches of color in the league? It’s not about the initiative, it is about the leadership– or lack thereof–at the league office to see this initiative through with fidelity.
Leaders Take Action
Back to education, the term leader is designated for many roles. You have teacher leaders, other instructional leaders, administrative leaders and central office leaders. We can dive deeper and come up with many others, but the one thing that should be constant—no matter the title—is ACTION. Regardless of your title, leadership is about taking action! Growing up, I used to hear phrases like “he/she is all talk and no action,” or “he/she talks a good game, but I haven’t seen their game.” When I think about leadership, I think about letting your actions speak for themselves.
As educational leaders, we are bombarded by the operational tasks of running a school, and we can get sidetracked from leading for equity. Some would say there is a fine balance between the operational responsibilities and instructional responsibilities of leading a school. I agree that there is a balance that needs to be maintained, but as people we are genuinely out of balance. The question then becomes, “What will you allow to become out of balance?” We know you cannot do everything and tackle every challenge in a school building. However, the challenges that you do address say a lot about who you are as a leader. Again, it comes down to action! So, the question is worth asking: Why aren’t leaders taking more action? Depending on whom you ask, you may get a different response.
Challenges, Not Excuses
Throughout my years of leadership, I have heard many excuses as to why some leaders have not taken action. Some leaders may tell you it is a heavy lift to lead for equity. Some may tell you it is hard to do when the central office continuously directs you to implement additional new initiatives. Some may even tell you that due to staffing issues or budget cuts they cannot do this work. Are these responses valid? Sure, but they are also excuses!
At one of my previous school experiences, we planned for one year to implement discipline initiatives; strategies to address behavior and lower the number of discipline referrals. When the subject was brought up to discuss how we could increase the representation of Black and Brown students in higher level courses that was tabled for next year. Why? Because the leader said, “We can only focus on one thing at a time.” The next year, it still didn’t happen because as the leader stated, “There were just way too many staff members in an evaluation year and evaluations must get done.” My favorite reason from another leader was, “The staff was not ready to tackle such issues as race and equity. We would need to get staff some professional development on it and there is not enough time in the school year.” Excuse!
Equity is a Value, Not an Option
If leaders believe in equity, then their belief should manifest in their practice. Equity isn’t a trend it is a “must!” If school systems intentions are to promote meaningful change then leaders must lead for equity. If a school system’s goal is to increase test scores and influence student outcomes, then the road to success is equity. Students of color can no longer be short changed due to the lack of courage by leaders in schools. The excuses have long been tiresome in education for not leveling the playing field for Black and Brown students. Racial flashlight moments such as George Floyd’s and Breona Taylor’s murders shouldn’t be a needed catalyst for educational leaders to take action on equity. If those moments were needed, then why are we not further along, considering there have been numerous racial incidents in the past?
The first step in the journey towards equity is leaders taking action. One thing is certain, non-committal statements about equity from leaders are no longer acceptable. Trainings are accessible, readings are attainable, and resources are plentiful to support addressing equity in schools. The climate in our society has shifted and has emboldened many to act – Why not leaders? Since the current culture has encouraged people to act, then true leadership and equity should lead the way, but it has not. Leaders have two clear choices: equity or excuses. The actions in my professional career at every step—from classroom teacher to assistant principal—clearly articulate which one has always been my choice.