whats the problem of
Elmhurst United was entering the spring of their first year as a newly merged school. Responding to a growing conversation about how they practice transformational education, they began to investigate how characteristics of white supremacy culture showed up in certain school structures and systems- and they wanted to do different. This was early March, and little did everyone know the Covid-19 pandemic was right around the corner.
The unprecedented challenges would push the leadership team to have to redesign school AGAIN. While this work was exciting, leadership teams began to wonder how the hours of planning could remain sustainable as they figured out how to do all of the operational work of distance learning, serve the deepening needs of their community, all while staff themselves went through the mental health challenges of living in a global pandemic.
Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy has been the instructional pillar of this year’s professional learning. In addition, the whole staff engaged in discussions to explore anti-blackness and how it can show up in personal and school communities. These conversations were all happening simultaneously as Elmhurst leaders once again stepped back to realize that they may have fallen into patterns of decision-making, process checking, and holding norms that perpetuated WSC. Together, they agreed that Elmurst would make an intentional pivot to prioritize this conversation and decide on implications for moving the work forward.
How can the team practice transformational education by embodying the core values of the community in the middle of this moment of global pandemic and the fight for racial justice?
personal leadership:key questions and realizations
How do you position your leadership in this context? In Viet-Ly’s leadership, she is always thinking of others and the good of the group. The embracing of conflict in new ways was challenging. The value of relationships is so important to her identity as a mother and Asian American woman, she found herself carrying the burden of the emotional labor of the work and it was throwing her off her own instincts of how to lead. She began to set boundaries around the responsibility- she committed to gathering the feedback, reflecting, adjusting and then letting go of the rest.
How did this work impact your life?
Engaging in this transformational leadership work with my whole-self made me a better citizen of this world. The work reflecting on my leadership, my noticings of how I care for relationships, my work learning alongside these amazing leaders for social justice have all impacted how I move about the world. It’s really inspirational!
What are the current systems, structures, processes related to this challenge? How are they working in concert? Where are the gaps and needs?
What are the technical needs?
What are the quality of the relationships between the stakeholders nearest this challenge? How do they identify in relationship to the challenge? What are the values, beliefs and mindsets of those involved?
What are the relational/adaptive needs?
How is the information flowing? Is there two way communication? Is there space to make meaning collectively?
What's up with information?
What is the equity imperative connected to this challenge? What is creating inequity in relationship to this challenge?
How about equity?
What are the root causes of this complex challenge?
Based on what's happening above and below the green line...
for leaders considering complex challenges
The context of moving into distance learning put Viet-Ly in a position where she often had to be more top down than she is normally. Attendance and other operational pieces just had to be followed by the protocols given to schools, even if they were annoying or didn’t make sense. Viet-Ly, a former rockstar teacher, normally has a strong sense of camaraderie with teachers around the instructional core, but now was feeling a gap. She never had taught on Zoom and couldn’t come from an experienced position. She felt like this added to the feeling of tension as teachers sometimes questioned her leadership moves.
Viet-Ly is surrounded by inspirational high capacity leaders. She constantly sought out feedback, ideas, and advice from this community of incredibly dedicated educators. She sought guidance from both an induction coach, who has known her for a long time, and the former Assistant Principal, who continued to connect with her even though he left the district. This thought partnership was invaluable for Viet-Ly to seek the reflective spaces necessary for transformational work.
From conflict comes change- the issues raised by staff around decision making, student/staff/family voice becoming central, process checking the norms all surfaced conflict that the team had to grapple with. Instead of avoiding this discussion, Viet-Ly and the leaders of EU leaned in. If the team wanted to be the anecdote to wsc, they had to embrace the conflict in new ways.
During a global pandemic, the number of threats to doing innovative, transformational work are huge. The urgency and need left leaders grinding hard to get the work done and serve the community, but not with a lot of time and space to consider what the “do different” could look like.