Education

Discipline Revolution Project – Member Update, January 2021

Discipline Revolution Project Members:

Happy new year. 

We wrote this organizational update before the horrifying violence in the capital last week. As you know, everyday, we partner with schools, systems, organizations, and leaders to develop anti-biased, anti-racist cultures and to advance racial justice in communities across the country. The events of this past week — fueled by the cancer of white privilege and supremacy — have given us even greater urgency.  In that spirit, we share this summary of our work in 2020 and invite you to continue on this journey with us in 2021.

Our 2020 can be described in 4-3-2-1…

We partnered deeply with four public school districts — two traditional and two charter. We supported their work to create anti-biased, anti-racist school cultures. We helped them intensify their focus on student well-being, supports to prevent incidents from occurring, rooting out biases in their organization and schools, and radically rethinking how to respond to conflict.

We planned, facilitated, and hosted three virtual “communities of practice.” Leaders from the greater Houston Area, The Broad Center alumni network, and New Leaders gathered to discuss research and promising practices about de-criminalizing and de-policing how we handle school discipline. Participants shared what’s worked and surfaced common struggles.

We consulted with two states about their approach to putting discipline reform at the core of their agenda, even as they responded to COVID. We became an approved provider by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSO) to support states in implementing their child and family well-being guidance.

In every engagement, we had one singular focus: to spur deep, lasting, and real change by acting as truly trusted partners to our clients. We’ve woken up every day and thought about how to help leaders resist the urge to settle into old ways of being — and to use this moment of inflection to tackle past patterns that cement inequities. We’ve coached, laughed, pushed, planned, and helped execute big things.

Our CEO, Cami, wrote several pieces to help move the national conversation including ‘Police-Free Schools’ Vs. ‘Chaos’ Is a False Choice. Here’s What Districts Must Do to Implement Real Discipline Reform,  COVID-19 Presents a Chance for Bold Reform of Schools That Have Long Failed High-Needs Students. Louisiana Can Lead the Way, and We Need a New Way of Talking About Students Who Face Barriers Erected by Adults and Sustained by Broken Systems. She was also interviewed by Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, and Instruction Partners about how to think about discipline reform and police-free schools. She joined DRP coach April Dinwoodie for a conversation about the role family diversity plays in the work and The Line for a conversation about the critical need for social-emotional supports for adults and kids right now (see Episode 5: The Path Back to School).

With all of the individual and collective trauma we’ve experienced, our work at DRP is critical. We will either have the courage to transform classroom and school environments, including de-criminalizing our approach to student behavior, or we run the risk of further disenfranchising students and communities we were already failing.

Here’s to effecting deep change in 2021,

Cami and The DRP Team

P.S. ThirdWay Solutions (DRPs umbrella organization) is hosting a webinar on How to Raise Anti-Biased, Anti-Racist Kids on January 19th. You can register by clicking here.

P.P.S. Cami writes a blog for Forbes about trailblazing women across sectors. Last month’s edition focused on three female Superintendents. We though you might enjoy reading it.

Hyperlinks may be broken in forwarding this update – please use this address to access the document with the links included: 

DRP Update: Three Quick Things and Opportunites (October 2020)

DRP Members:

We hope you are staying as safe and productive as possible as the reach of the pandemic continues to grow. We are grateful for educators like you, who are out there making it happen for kids and families in the face of so much adversity.

We are writing to share three quick updates:

  • This Thursday, our CEO, Cami Anderson will be participating in an important discussion about attending to students’ social and emotional well-being right now. Connectivity and on-line learning have taken front stage for much of 2020 and that is, to some extent, necessary. At DRP, we believe that schools should be thinking just as deeply about how to support students’ social and emotional needs. The Path Back to School – Episode 5: Social Emotional Learning will be on Oct 21, 2020 01:00 PM Eastern Time. You can register here.
  • An important article by Erica Green, Mark Walker, and Eliza Shapiro ran in the New York Times about the microaggressions and outright racism experienced by Black girls in school. An equally critical study by Dan Losen and his colleagues came out this month showing that in 28 districts, middle and high school students lose more than a year of instruction due to suspensions. Both are a must read.
  • This Thursday, DRP Contributor, April Dinwoodie ,will be hosting a panel about multi-racial and multicultural families and our CEO, Cami, will be on the panel. Race & Culture in Adoption and Foster Care – Virtual Series, sponsored by the Center for Advanced Practices at Adoption RI and NAACP. To register, click here.

We have three new offerings we want you to be aware of:

  • DRP is launching Communities of Practices in cities and states across the country.  Groups of district and charter systems come together and participate in a 5 to 10-part virtual series.  The learning series helps system leaders (with teams of 4 – 6 people) explore what needs to be true to shift away from harsh, biased, punitive discipline practices. We explore research and promising practices that help create conditions that prevent students from using negative behavior to communicate and build systems that help schools respond to struggle, incidents, and difference skillfully.
  • Furthering our core mission, DRP is taking the lead in rethinking, reimagining and eliminating the need for school resource officers and/or school police.  Our team partners with systems for 12 -18 months, helping build systems tailored to the needs of each unique community where all students feel psychologically, physically and emotionally safe.
  • Our core model of helping systems conduct EQUITY audits using our framework that has proven successful across the country can now be done virtually. Our team has updated our tools and products to ensure clients can access the learning even while travel is limited.

Happy Fall,

Cami and the DRP Team

Back to School 2020

What a challenging school opening season this is. We are sending you strength and well wishes as you navigate impossible decisions and try to build a new plane mid-flight. We’ve been busy, like many of you, and wanted to catch you up.

  • What “Defund Police” Means for Us: Calls to defund police and to examine racist and biased policies are becoming even more urgent in the education sector. Cami appeared on Bloomberg News with a panel of experts to talk about what the defund police movement should mean for schools — emphasizing the work is about much more than kicking police officers out of buildings.
  • A Blueprint to Remove Police from Schools: In this piece, ‘Police-Free Schools’ Vs. ‘Chaos’ Is a False Choice. Here’s What Districts Must Do to Implement Real Discipline Reform — our team lays out a specific plan of action that goes beyond slogans. We feel the urgency to help systems tear down discipline systems that over-police Black, Latinx, and LGBTQQ students and students with disabilities. And, we know we have to replace it with something better while keeping kids physically and emotionally safe.
  • Discipline and Inclusion During COVID: In the age of COVID, we are seeing systems that have not critically examined the dire consequences of exclusionary and biased discipline systems doubling down and making terrible choices even in virtual and hybrid environments. Cami talked to the Huffington Post about the fact that we are likely to see more, not less, struggles and incidents right now and that we need to be more prepared than ever to respond in ways that keep kids learning.
  • The Long Tail of Change: DRP is lucky to work with Tangipahoa School District in Louisiana for several years — both on creating more anti-biased, anti-racist cultures in all schools and reexamining policies and practices with an equity lens, but also in radically rethinking their approach to “alternative schools.” Shout out to recent press about the continued progress there, even in the face of enormous challenges.
  • The Intersection of Instruction, SEL, and ABAR work: Instruction Partners — a partner organization with whom we collaborate — is doing exceptional work helping districts, states, and CMOs transition to high-quality hybrid and on-line instruction. Cami recently talked to their CEO, Emily Freitag, about the need to think about that work alongside supporting students’ social and emotional well-being and building anti-racist and anti-biased cultures.

We hope you and your team make time to ask yourselves some critical questions:

  • Are you rethinking what “discipline” policies should look like in a virtual, hybrid, or in-person environment? Is your team prepared to be even more skillful in handling the increasing amount of conflict we are likely to see in face of collective trauma?
  • Have you taken time to work with administrators, central teams, and teachers to process and embrace how their jobs have changed — beyond issuing new roles and responsibilities documents? Are they invested in solving problems in a bottoms-up way?
  • Everyone is in a learning space — and we can do so much more virtual learning for adults right now. Are we using this time to help adults get better at (a) building purposeful, trusting relationships with students, (b) responding skillfully to difference, struggle, and conflict, and (c) partnering with families in much deeper ways?
  • Do you have MOUs governing how you work with police? Child welfare agencies? Are you eliminating or reinventing the role of school resource officers? How are you going about that process and what needs to be true for that to mean more psychological and physical safety for students? How is your security staff trained?
  • Are you an actively ABAR (Anti-biased and Anti-racist) organization? What does that mean? Look like, sound like, feel like? Is your core team engaged in personal reflection about the extent to which they are critically conscious leaders? Have you reviewed all of your people, practices, policies, and partnerships with an ABAR lens?

If you read the list of questions and thought — wow, these topics are not getting enough attention right now, we can help. We fully appreciate why so many have prioritized instructional models and health protocols — but we deeply believe that you have to think about those things alongside culture and climate and equity.

Thank you for the work you do; we honestly cannot think of a more important time to be an educator than now,

Cami and the DRP Team

Time to Act: A Letter to Our Community

DRP Members and Partners:

Like many of you, our team experienced horror and sadness as videos and audio tapes revealed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd being murdered by police. Black Americans — sisters, fathers, friends, and partners — living their lives, sleeping in their homes, going for a jog, and running errands are no longer with us simply because of the color of their skin. These are not isolated incidents.

Black people were 24% of those killed by police last year despite being only 13% of the population. Indeed, we all breathe poisonous air polluted with anti-Blackness that manifests in so many ways, including in education. To our Black colleagues and friends, we are sending you extra love, knowing you have to show up for your students while taking care of your families and yourselves.

Our mission at The Discipline Revolution Project (soon-to-be-named The 20% Project) is to (1) support schools and systems leaders to build anti-racist/anti-biased, high expectation, high support cultures, (2) put in place robust family and student supports, and (3) actively tear down policies and practices that cement inequities. Our work has never been more urgent.

We are glad to see the outrage about racial disparities in policing and we know the same biases that exist in broader society play out and, in some cases are exacerbated, in classrooms and school buildings. This isn’t a time to point fingers, it is a time to act within our own sphere of influence. Many of you have reached out for ideas and resources and, in that spirit, our team is sharing what we call a “2x3x1.” In keeping with our EQUITY Framework and our organizational values, we are sharing two things we recommend you do now, three things you should think about over the summer, and one thing we hope you do personally to help realize racial justice.

Right Now:

  1. As educators, do not look away, don’t say nothing. All of your students are watching the news, scanning social media, and talking to their friends about the events that led up to this week and how things are unfolding. If you are still in school, create a safe container to talk about what is happening with your students — some good resources are from Teaching Tolerance and Morningside Center.  If you are already out for this term, use the time to prepare so you are ready when you do reconnect with students.
  2. Combat existing narratives that Black residents are somehow to be “blamed” for dying at the hands of police or expressing outrage. White, Black and brown young people might be hearing this from the media, friends and family. I’ve had piercing questions about this from all the young people in my life — my son, nieces, nephews, students, and mentees — across socio-economic and racial lines. The narrative is prevalent. Read this piece by Adam Sewer that talks about America’s racial contract. Or, consider this piece about the context behind the rebellion in Ferguson. Facing History and Ourselves compiled data on the history of policing to help put this moment in broader content.

This Summer:

  1. Look at your discipline data, practices, and policies as urgently as you call for police to change their ways — build the skill and will of educators to de-escalate conflict, build healthy relationships with an understanding of how power and race plays out, facilitate community, partner with families, and actively interrogate their own biases; consider:
  1. Rethink “escalation protocols” and when and how you involve law enforcement — negotiate memorandums of agreement, engage in joint training about relationship building, de-escalation, and anti-bias work, build shared values and language around how to engage young people; consider:
  • 50% of school-based arrests are of Black students even though they make up 16% of the student population
  • The connection between school discipline and problematic policing is tighter than we think. It’s time for educators to step up. It is our moral imperative.
  • School and systems leaders must be active in pushing law enforcement to take a proactive, developmentally appropriate and anti-racist approach to engaging young people, not simply call them when things get “out of control.”
  • Overall, we should severely limit the amount of police interaction that occurs in schools (only when absolutely necessary) – and we should be working proactively to build shared value for our children’s psychological and physical safety.
  1. Actively examine your instructional practices — the who, what and the how — pick content that is pro-Black/Latin-X/Indigenous, recruit and retain educators of color, give all kids access to rigorous and culturally competent instruction and assignments, and prioritize building school and classroom cultures; consider:
  • We see and hear Black (and brown) students less than their peers: in almost every school climate and culture study, Black students report they feel less safe, less connected to school, and less connected to a caring adult than their White peers. This can be soul-crushing for students and have profound effects on their school experience and their life prospects.
  • We expect less from Black students: Black students are exposed to content and assignments that are far below grade-level. Black students report that adults underestimate their intelligence and expect less of them.
  • Black students rarely “see” themselves accurately represented in history or in any materials. Little, if anything, is taught about great Black civilizations, leaders, and contributions. And, to the extent we teach about the founding of our country or the civil rights movement or slavery, our curricula too often leaves out the tough stuff about the role institutional racism has played throughout. Curricula, books, and supplemental materials present White people in a favorable light and Black people in an unfavorable light. We need to seek and create better and more pro-Black content.
  • Having even one Black educator can increase a Black student’s likelihood of graduating by 13%.

Personally:

To our White colleagues and friends: Let’s not make Black people do all the work right now, or ever. Let’s take time to further educate ourselves and others, reflect and “be the change”.  I am happy to schedule a call if you want a thought partner, but here are some initial ideas. If you haven’t already (I know some of you have) let’s commit to:

  • Continually educating ourselves about how our country has promoted a White-normative culture that has perpetuated White supremacy — and how that influences all of us. Kendi put together an anti-racist reading list here. Consider what we gravitate towards as we consume narratives, content, and products. Our choices could be causing “confirmation bias” (e.g., if all you read or experience is from a White perspective, you are likely missing something).
  • If you are raising kids or play a primary person role to any kids, consistently practicing (you never “arrive” — I read and practice every single day) raising them to be race-conscious and anti-racist; some good and comprehensive resources (including readings, blogs, associations, children’s books, podcasts and more) are found here.
  • Getting in the arena — pushing ourselves not only to be an allies but rather co-conspirators — and knowing the difference. Not just talking, but acting — including and especially when it is uncomfortable.
  • Actively engaging other White friends, colleagues, and family in everything we are learning – and encouraging them to learn and discuss with their circle too. As educators, we cannot see this work as “nice to have” but as essential and urgent if we are going to do right by all of the students.

To all members of the DRP community: We believe biases exist in all of us and that we all have an obligation to understand how implicit biases are cemented — even in “good people.” Cumulative “micro aggressions” cause students to shut down, disconnect, or worse. Too often, Black students experience toxic or unsupportive school cultures and so do students who are LGBTQQ,  students who are growing up in non-traditional family structures, students with disabilities, and students whose families are immigrants.

We need to make this a moment of real change. We also can’t make this only about police reform — because we have so much to do in education too. And we have moral obligation not just to critique and observe problems, but to actively solve the ones within our control.

As always, we are here to support you and your team as you navigate these rough waters.

In partnership, Cami and the DRP team

Analysis: COVID-19 Presents a Chance for Bold Reform of Schools That Have Long Failed High-Needs Students. Louisiana Can Lead the Way

The exterior of the Supreme Court of Louisiana 24 August 2007 in New Orleans. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

As our country and communities begin to pivot from the initial phase of fighting the horrifying impact of COVID-19 toward the future, we hope education and other leaders will remain focused on realities brought into stark relief over the past six weeks. COVID-19 has forcefully called our attention to glaring inequities in many areas of life, including education. We have two choices. We can ignore the obstacles that have only gotten more perilous for poor, black and brown students. Or, we can own up to inequities and forge new pathways rooted in racial justice and a genuine commitment to the well-being of all children.

Reforming the systems, practices and policies that were failing our children before COVID-19 should be at the core — not the periphery — of recovery and reentry planning. We hope states like Louisiana will continue their fierce commitment to the academic needs and growth of all children and make even deeper investments in their emotional and mental health as well, choosing leaders who will make that a key priority. We also hope that commitment to bold progress is sustained, and even accelerated, in the face of leadership changes.

In Louisiana, 71 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged and 41 percent are black. Before COVID-19, 22 percent of black students were mastering grade-level materials, compared with nearly half of their white peers. Black students were suspended at nearly double the rate of white students. Children with disabilities had a 22 percent gap in their graduation rates, English learners a 45 percent gap. Louisiana was making steady progress in closing opportunity gaps as compared with other states, but state and local leaders need to double down on strategies that were working pre-COVID and invest in innovative strategies to help the most struggling learners.

These painful statistics should motivate a new normal. As federal stimulus money begins to flow, resources are being dedicated to new devices and better instruction using technology. Policymakers are discussing adding time to make up for learning loss. Educators are focused on making sure they know where students are academically when they return. All these things are critically important.

But in order for all children to thrive, we must also and pursue bold new ideas. This is not a moment to rearrange the furniture and apply a coat of paint to the Titanic.

We must focus on the social, emotional and mental health needs of students and families — and to do so with care not to go back to old ways. We need to increase the skill of educators in building deep and trusting relationships with students. We need to ensure that our teaching force of mostly white educators working with mostly black and brown students are aware of potential biases and have the tools to truly see and hear students. School systems need resources to help students and families access high-quality, culturally competent, school-based and community-based mental health and social services. Schools will need to dedicate time to nurturing the social and emotional health of students, and board members, state leaders and superintendents must value and prioritize this work. School cultures need to have high expectations for students, and lots of supports to catch them if they struggle, academically or otherwise. The partnership between schools and families must be nurtured.

We also hope the state and districts will take this time to continue rethinking discipline and expand new approaches already underway. If we want to stem the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts black and brown students, now is the time to take a different approach. The data is clear: We cannot suspend and expel our way to a successful system. More is required. Boys and young men of color must be seen as assets and not liabilities. Students should get a fresh start, and we should aspire to support each and every one of them to succeed.

Attending to the well-being of all children cannot be left to the school system alone. Community and faith-based organizations, and neighbors can, and must, help schools. These are our schools, and our community’s children. We no longer have the luxury of blaming others or simply shuffling leaders. This moment presents the opportunity to recognize that some of the resources our children require are not found on school campuses. Access to health care, behavioral health services, support for families and caring adults must be derived from our larger community.

We should not go back to old ways of doing things that failed too many. Louisiana can continue to lead the way in putting the needs of our most marginalized students at the forefront as we rebuild.

Cami Anderson is the CEO of The Discipline Revolution Project, an organization working to realize equity across the country, including in Louisiana. She’s the former superintendent of alternative high schools in New York and Newark.

Raymond A. Jetson is chief executive catalyst at MetroMorphosis, an organization focused on transforming inner-city neighborhoods from within. He’s an Encore Public Voices and Forward Promise fellow.

Resources: Distance Learning During COVID-19

TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL AND HEADLINES

PLANNING FOR RE-OPENING

  • A set of equity questions for systems leaders to consider by the NYC Leadership Academy
  • An excellent article about what we can learn from systems who successfully and quickly transitioned to distance learning
  • A detailed reopening roadmap from a set of operations, public health, and education experts working together
  • Catalyst Education released a comprehensive planning tool for systems. Including one focused on the social and emotional well being for students and families; note, we do not necessarily recommend all of the resources they link to, but the tool itself breaks down essential element that need to be considered alongside instruction, talent, and operations
  • A excellent piece by Transcend Education about the three jobs systems leaders have right now: responding, recovering, and reinventing. Makes a strong case for not returning to the status quo
  • A great article about assessing student learning right now
  • School closures — a collaborative of over 20 organizations — is a one-stop website with a treasure trove of resources for SEL and instruction

LEADERSHIP

ACADEMIC CONTENT

READING

SCIENCE 

SEL SUPPORTS

ENRICHMENT

PARENTS

DISTRICTS AND CHARTER MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS

Districts and Charter Management Organizations are putting their plans online; following are links to various plans:

HOW TO BE AN EFFECTIVE ONLINE TEACHER

BUILDING ONLINE CONTENT

DAILY OR WEEKLY CONTENT

  • The Robertson Center will be sending out daily emails to interested educators and parents with a “Thinking Job of the Day” for students who are learning remotely. This will include a math activity that students can work on at home. Link to sign up to receive these resources here.
  • The New York Times is publishing a daily set of learning activities for students and updates for adults — they have also taken down the paid firewall.  It has writing prompts and kid-friendly articles.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka, whose book Hey Kiddowas a National Book Award finalist, is going to have live, daily drawing lessons on Youtube starting March 16th.
  • Ed Navigator is sensing a really helpful daily parent email
  • Harper Collins: HarperKids is having storytime at noon ET on Facebook
  • Weekly activities for little kids by Tinkergarten
  • Weekly math activities by Stanford-based You Cubed

-Cami Anderson

We Need a New Way of Talking About Students Who Face Barriers Erected by Adults and Sustained by Broken Systems

I bring John, David, Ana and Sally into every training, strategy session and decision-making room I occupy.  Well, actually I bring their stories, to remind myself and others of the students we are still failing and the significant work we still need to do to ensure excellence for all students.


JOHN

John’s family immigrated from the Dominican Republic and he was assigned to a bilingual class where his teacher spoke only English. He’s Black, so in his mostly Latino school, adults often singled him out for being disruptive even when he acted similarly to his peers. Daily, he dealt with awkward and misguided questions about his identity: Are you Black or Latino? Despite the language barriers between John and his teacher and classmates, it was clear he was functioning several grade levels above his peers in pretty much every subject. His family lived in abject poverty, using a camping stove to cook dinner and rationing money for gas and electricity.


MARK

Mark appeared to be Brown and, because he was adopted and spent time in group homes, no one seemed to know his race or ethnicity. He’d been in multiple homes by the time he was 8, experiencing immeasurable trauma. He suffered from a degenerative hip disease—and had experienced significant physical abuse—that resulted in over a dozen surgeries and made it hard for him to walk. His school had meticulously spelled out all of his defects and problems and special education needs, in what educators call an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). But nothing in that document got at the root causes or pointed out his innumerable strengths, including his deep conviction about right and wrong, and his seemingly endless kindness and positive attitude.


ANA

Ana was raped when she was 14 by a family member whose father spent the better part of his childhood incarcerated. When her demons caught up to her, she tried to tell her story only to be put out by her entire family and their extended friends. With nowhere to turn, she ended up on the streets, living in a friend’s car and dropping out. Ana found her way to an alternative school for over-aged and under-credited youth where she also came out as a lesbian questioning her gender identity. No one at either of her schools knew her secrets: that she was the victim of a terrible act of sexual violence, or that she didn’t have a home. She was a good student, after all—compliant and quiet.


SALLY

Sally’s family isn’t wealthy, but they don’t struggle economically. It became clear early in her life that she wasn’t growing, physically or emotionally, at quite the rate of her peers and she suffered from bouts of extreme exhaustion and frustration. Eventually, she was diagnosed with diabetes and also dyslexia. The process to obtain the medical services necessary to manage her diabetes was, simply put, a nightmare. Her parents were sent in circles and Sally spent as much time out of class checking her monitors and navigating bureaucracy as she did learning strategies to manage her emotions and learning how to read. And, when she was in class, Sally became increasingly frustrated as she fell further behind. Few at school seemed to connect the dots between her physical challenges, her learning struggles and her outbursts.


THE PROBLEM WITH LABELS

We have names for students like John, Mark, Ana and Sally. We identify them as belonging to a “specialized population.” By this, we might mean English-learning, special education, LGBTQQ, court-involved, homeless, over-aged, under-credited, medically fragile or Title I. God forbid you belong to any of these groups and are also Black or living well below the poverty level, which makes your chances of excelling in school almost non-existent. In that case, we label you “at-risk”—for struggling in school, dropping out or worse. We count the number of “adverse childhood effects” (ACEs) you have and record them in databases.

In other words, we spend lots of time describing the defects of students and very little time diagnosing the systemic issues that make their odds of success even longer.

Many traditional schools struggle to support students with these labels. Even our best and highest-performing schools, including those in the charter sector, are struggling with these very same students. When we disaggregate data, we see tremendous gaps in academic achievement between students with disabilities and their general education peers. We see huge gaps in achievement between Black students and their White peers. We see that students who are homeless, in foster care or involved in the court system master grade-level material at much lower rates than their peers.

For years, education advocates called these “achievement gaps.” Recognizing this term could imply that students are the problem, many have recently embraced the phrase “opportunity gaps.” Proponents in favor of this framing point out that students with particular risk factors have fewer opportunities than their more advantaged peers and this makes it harder for them to master academic content.

Most school systems not only fail to provide students in need of it with extra support, but actually implement policies and practices that make their chance of success even slimmer. Worse, some implicitly or explicitly suggest “we need to sacrifice the 20% to ensure the success of the 80%.” (I’ve heard this, multiple times.)

We need to stop finding labels for the students and start identifying the systems that make it damn near impossible for them to achieve. By using words that better reflect what the real problem is, we will start to shift our attention to the source of the fire instead of complaining constantly about the smoke.


STUDENTS WHO SYSTEMS FAILED THE MOST

I think we need a new way of talking about students who face barriers erected by adults and sustained by broken systems. So, I have taken to describing students like John, David, Ana and Sally as SSFMs—Students who Systems Failed the Most.

John’s family moved because of lack of economic opportunity and they were left even poorer by a broken and biased American immigration system. He faced racism, lack of support for learning English, and low expectations in a school and system that added roadblocks to his success. David was trapped in the child welfare system that created trauma and was transitioned into a special education system that piled on by further pathologizing him. Ana’s struggles were a result of someone else’s action and she was ignored by schools because she was compliant. Sally started failing in school because of the poor systems to support students with specialized medical and learning needs.

But John, David, Ana and Sally are not outliers or students we should consider around the edges of education policy and practice.  They are our students, our friends, our family. John is my former student, who eventually did succeed despite our school and the broader system. David is my own brother, who survived school and is now an amazing dad and change agent in his community. Ana is a student I met as superintendent of alternative high schools in New York City—she excelled in her transfer school and went on to thrive in a prestigious university. Sally is like the children of so many of my friends who, despite the advantages of racial or economic privilege, struggle every day to advocate for their child’s basic learning needs.

It’s time we embrace a new mindset about these students. By calling them SSFMs, we are forced to grapple with how we must change our approach in pursuit of excellence for all students.  It’s time to stop admiring that we have a problem and start addressing it.

–Cami Anderson

Edpost.org

Meet the 31-Year-Old Founder of Teach For Armenia

Larisa spending time with students – Armen Anmeghikyan

My column, In The Room, has given me and my readers a front-row seat to important and poignant lessons on leadership. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the first and only female president of Harvard Universitythe first and only African American woman to run the American Civil War Museumthe chief information officer of the CIAthe head of cybersecurity for Ernst and Young, and a national best-selling author and world-renowned psychologist.

I realized, though, during a recent run (where I do my best thinking), that everyone I’ve featured so far is American and either my age or older. Enter 31-year-old phenom, Larisa Hovannisian, founder of Teach For Armenia. Last month, Larisa co-hosted the Teach For All Global Conference in Armenia, which gathered 450 members of their community. Teach For All is a global network of independent organizations in 53 countries, whose shared mission is to develop collective leadership to ensure all children have the education, support and opportunity to fulfill their potential. We met for coffee to talk about leadership, lessons learned, and love.

‘Armenia Needs You Too’

While Larisa went to a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin and taught in Phoenix, Arizona, she spent most of her childhood in Russia. She shared vivid memories of her birthplace, Armenia, where she returned every summer to spend time with her grandmother. Her poignant stories about her early life reminded me of the challenging history of the region during that time.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia became an independent country. As the fledgling government struggled to become a self-sustaining country, the region suffered a devastating earthquake that killed thousands. The conditions, in part, led to Larisa’s parents moving to Russia to build a “more stable” life.

But Russia, too, was reeling from the break-up of the Soviet Union. Relationships with former satellite states of the USSR were naturally tense and the country was in a deep financial and economic crisis. Terrorism was spreading, and children were being abducted for ransom money.

“This sounds like a lot,” I exhaled. She admitted that her parents were very protective, and she had very little freedom growing up. She was grateful that her father was able to provide a comfortable life because of his work as a lawyer for an international firm. But, she was well aware of the broader context and strife. Many of her friends lacked access to basic services, like education and food.

“I knew I would come back to do something to help someday,” she said of her home country. “I just wasn’t sure how or when.” When she decided to join Teach For America she remembered her Mom saying, “You know, Armenia needs you too.” The seed was planted.

Discrimination in Many Forms

As an Armenian in Russia, she was considered “dark” and “other”—and she felt the effects of this regularly. The unstable financial situation in Russia led to a lot of finger-pointing and resentment. “Armenians are taking our jobs,” she and her family would hear on a regular basis.

She was incensed by the inequities and the scapegoating, and it helped her develop a deep commitment to “justice and fairness.”

We talked about what it was like to attend a mostly white college in the United States. Many people “could not figure out what I was,” she recalls, because she was, literally, the only Armenian on campus. Luckily, she found a band of other women who became her best friends and a personal support group. “The token people of color bonded together,” she joked, but adds, seriously, that the tight-knit circle helped make her college experience. “People didn’t mean to be offensive, so we had to take it with some humor.”

She also felt a responsibility to educate Americans about the Armenian genocide (which was recently recognized as a genocide by the House of Representatives on October 29, 2019) and other aspects of her culture and country. “I ended up [engaging] in activism whether I liked it or not because no one else would.” In a way, she explains, she was grateful because her college experience thrust her into a leadership position.

I asked how she would compare conversations about race here with those in Eastern Europe. “It’s not that there is less or more in different countries,” she reflected, “but at least we live in a country where people can talk about it. In countries like Russia, it’s tough for this to be even acknowledged.”

Having lived in multiple countries, she is deeply aware of how discrimination shows up in so many different forms. “Discrimination [happens when one group considers another] to be ‘other’ or different or minorities…this includes race but also religious beliefs and sexual orientation.”

Focus on Being a Good Teacher

Larisa and I are both proud Teach For America alumnae, having joined the corps right after college. We were both called by the two-part mission: do everything possible to provide students in schools with a game-changing education, and take the lessons learned from the classroom to fight for equity more broadly. Being a classroom teacher and joining a mission-driven organization had a profound impact on my trajectory, so I wanted to know if it was the same for Larisa.

She initially was overwhelmed by the stories of her students, many of whom were living in abject poverty. For some, “the only hot meal they got was school lunch…so I started bringing bags of juice and sandwiches just to make sure my kids weren’t hungry.” Some would describe violence they witnessed in their neighborhoods in great detail. “I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she told me, because her heart would break a little every day.

“One day I talked to my dad,” she remembered gratefully. He gave her some simple and yet profound advice: “Focus on being a good teacher.” He helped her see that she was expending a lot of energy on things she couldn’t control, as opposed to investing in the one thing she could. “I had to reframe my mindset…and that is when I started having an impact.”

We talked about what a critical leadership lesson that was on two levels. First, it is important to focus on what is in your control and your own efficacy in fixing it. Second, the ability to shift your own mindset can, in fact, produce different results.

Her eyes lit up when she told me about her former students. One boy in particular had severe autism and entered kindergarten having not spoken any words other than reciting lines from cartoons. Within six months of being in her class, he started talking in short sentences and could hold a conversation. His mom told Larisa, “You’ve given my son an opportunity to talk to me and our family—and that is always something I’ll love you for.”

Asking Men to Be Allies

Shortly after her two years in the classroom, Larisa decided to start Teach For Armenia. She wrote a business plan, started assembling a Board of Trustees, and looking for money—at the ripe age of 23.

It turns out this was even more audacious than it sounds. “Back in 2013, not a lot of young women started companies in Armenia,” she tells me. “The idea of a young entrepreneur and underdog is an American thing…[Armenia] is very patriarchal and ageist.” But her own childhood adversity, college, and teaching experience gave her confidence, drive, and leadership skills. She laughed and shared, “Being young and naive—not arrogant or overconfident—I thought ‘the sky is the limit, why not risk it.’”

She tells me about many “nasty” attempts to prevent her from succeeding—from usurping her intellectual property to attempting to discredit her in key circles. She recalls plenty of meetings where prospective donors, policymakers, or powerbrokers cut her off in mid-sentence, posed questions to her male colleagues even though she was the CEO, or didn’t acknowledge her presence at all.

I got mad just listening to her, remembering my own battles. Like me, she learned how to advocate for herself. “I’ve gotten good at saying things like, ‘you cut me off, I need to finish my thought or it’s going to be tough for us to have a productive conversation,’” she tells me. “This may come off as me being curt or even mean, but we have to do things to make our voices heard.”

She also shares the important role others have played in addressing inequity. “I am lucky to have male colleagues who are real partners in the work…in one meeting, [my male colleague] said, ‘Actually I’m going to have my boss answer that for you.’”

Personally, I was struck by this example. I am hard-pressed to remember many times when a male colleague was this overt of an ally. Larisa reacted to my surprise. “Sometimes I have to ask or explain,” she said. “The men in Armenia often only shake the hands of other men. I now tell the men I work with that I’d like for them to shake my hand. They weren’t aware it was a problem.”

This exchange makes me wonder if I have been explicit enough with male colleagues about what allyship looks like—I always just felt it was my responsibility to figure out a way to be heard. “Maybe this is a sign of progress,” I remarked, “both that men have been such clear allies for you and that you are so clear about how they need to show up.”

Embracing Meditation and Love

I can’t help thinking about how much is on her shoulders, so I asked her what she likes to do outside of work and how she takes care of herself personally. She shared that for her first few years starting and running the company, she didn’t think much about this and she felt like she paid for it.

“At one point, it caught up to me,” she admitted. Like others I’ve interviewed for In The Room, she started to struggle with anxiety, and eventually experienced full-blown “panic attacks that would come out of nowhere.” They were so profound that the first time it happened, she actually called the doctor because she thought she was having a heart attack.

She came to cherish and prioritize people in her life who gave as much as they took. She embraces and understands the importance of sleep, which she said she took for granted when she was younger. And, she found transcendental meditation. She said she tried yoga, mindfulness, and other things—but meditation was what finally worked for her. It’s become an integral part of her day.

Our most intimate moment came when we talked about our respective life partners. Larisa married someone she describes as her soulmate, who deeply inspires her. She was “introduced” to him on the shelves of a Phoenix bookstore, where she spontaneously purchased a memoir he had written about his family.

Moved by his story—and the cute photo of him on the book jacket—she connected with him briefly online, but they never met. (I admit this highlighted for me the generational divide between me and Larisa!).

Three years later, while pitching a funder, she ran into him at a coffee shop in Armenia. The rest, as they say, is history.

They make time for each other, by scheduling calls and date nights, even it if is just 30 or 45 minutes. They make it a point not to get disconnected even as they are both working on literally solving the country’s biggest problems. “Like me,” she says, “he doesn’t distinguish work and life. It’s not one and then the other—just one big thing.”

Larisa makes me hopeful that the next generation of leaders is up for the task of solving big things.

Forbes.com

Lessons From Christy Coleman, The Woman CEO Retelling The Story Of Slavery and American History

Christy gives talk during MLK Day

Whether it’s at the Oscars, the statehouse or on the floor of Congress, much of our country’s ongoing struggle with racial hatred and racial healing traces back to how we memorialize our history of slavery, the Civil War and the Confederacy. Few are having such a direct impact on this critical and messy conversation as Christy Coleman, the first woman and first African-American to lead the American Civil War Museum. In fact, Time magazine recently named her one of “31 people changing the South.”

From her office in Virginia, Christy talked to me about leading and change, as well as life lessons from being in the room and pushing uncomfortable conversations.

Follow your passion, even when it means breaking with convention.

“I was born breach, so my parents knew I was destined to do things my way,” jokes Christy, whose personal decisions and career pathway haven’t always aligned with conventional wisdom.

Growing up in Williamsburg, Virginia—a city known for tourism centered on Revolutionary War artifacts and actors reenacting scenes from colonial times—Christy’s passion for how history is memorialized started at a young age. Though it wasn’t her original plan, by her late 20s she realized that “the museum world was for me.”

Christy knew it was necessary to pursue higher education to move up in the industry. Conventional wisdom says you should get a doctorate, but Christy elected to get a master’s degree instead, so she could stay close to the work. “The year I considered pursuing my Ph.D.,” she noted, she had already landed her first CEO opportunity.

Not only has Christy pushed for hard changes, but she’s also broken multiple ceilings. The museum industry, especially at the C-suite, is dominated by men and white people. As just one example, at this high point of her career, people still presume that her biggest career aspiration as a Black woman would be to run the Museum of African-American History—as opposed to any of the countless other esteemed museums she’s clearly qualified to lead.

As someone whose career pathway has also been described as “non-traditional,” I personally resonated with Christy’s story (even down to the detail of turning down a doctoral program). Research shows that women have to fight much harder than men to establish their credibility as leaders, regardless of their track record of success or qualifications, and that’s even harder for women of color.

Pushing change means embracing trouble, but only for a higher purpose.

Christy’s career is characterized, among many things, by a fearless spirit to ask tough questions and break barriers. “To paraphrase Harriett Tubman,” she says, “you want change in your life, don’t be afraid to trouble the waters.”

Early on, she became the director of public history for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and managed to convince the organization to allow her to envision, lead, and execute a reenactment of a slave auction. It was a remarkable achievement at an institution many think of as whitewashing history. “Uninformed people thought it wasn’t the appropriate place to deal with slavery…like Disneyland but without the rides.” But her rationale was clear: “American history is messy and we need to look at it to deal with it.”

Practically overnight, Christy became a sensation. Calls from TV networks and talk show hosts poured in. But so did calls from critics. Some questioned her motives, while others questioned her very right to expose this part of American history at all.

I asked her if she was hoping for the kind of attention she received, if it was purposeful. “No, [I was] purposeful at trying to be innovative and trying to find larger historical truths…[my goal was to] turn over the tapestry to see the threads on the backside.” Like former Harvard President Drew Faust, who I interviewed for another In The Room column, Christy has always been driven by a higher purpose and impact, not by fame or recognition.

Build a base of support.

Christy recognized early in her career that persevering through challenges requires support.

Her experience at Colonial Williamsburg was jarring. “I was 30 years old so it was really nerve-wracking…the Foundation chose to make me the face of the discussion because it was my program.” With that level of public scrutiny, she continued, “I had no experience.”

She relied on, “a skilled public relations team, a strong personal network, and the faith…humility that is required for the work.” She also garnered strength from the letters she received from people thanking her for her courage to speak the truth.

All along, Christy has always kept close, informal mentors who believed in her and set an example for what was possible. She mentioned two women in particular who “have passed on…but [their] legacies are blazed on my soul.” She credits a “sisterhood” of black women in particular who “gather over dinner and genuinely check in with each other.” She credits male mentors with “opening doors.”

This is about “building one’s base of support,” she said.

Christy also wasn’t afraid to seek professional help. For a period of time—partially because of the stress of public pushback—she developed a fear of crowds. With the help of therapy and her support circle, she got better. “[It] came down to having a sense of control,” she explained, “once I let go of that things got better.”

I’ve had so many conversations with leaders, particularly those from groups not traditionally represented in the room, about the stress and personal toll it takes to break ceilings. So many will benefit from how openly Christy shares her strategies for healing and self-care.

Make your own balance.

One of the most striking ways Christy tended to her own needs came in 2008. After making a name for herself at Colonial Williamsburg and later becoming the CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Christy affirmatively “stepped back to a smaller organization to be home with my children.” 

After having her son, Christy was initially able to meet her career and mom goals. She brought her son on the road, took breastfeeding breaks at work (she could get home and back within an hour), and adjusted her hours to spend quality time with him.

But a more difficult pregnancy with her daughter and having two kids made the trade-offs between work and home more stark. So, she made the decision to spend a few years consulting and advising others as opposed to running something big. “I could not keep up the pace and I did not want to feel like I was not fulfilling my duties,” she shared.

“I had no interest in having it all,” she explained, “I had interest in doing what I love well.” She continued, “I want to be a mother, I want to be available to my children and my husband…with a fulfilling career.”

Plenty of friends and detractors warned her this would be a mistake, but Christy followed her path. At one point, a board member told her point blank that she needed to choose if she wanted to be a CEO or a mom. When she pushed back on the inappropriate nature of his remarks, many of his colleagues—even some of her own supposed allies—defended him.

I am blessed with a vast network of friends who happen to also be CEOs, both men and women. Every single one of my female friends has been given some version of this “talk” and none of the men, even those who prioritized fatherhood.  When I shared this with Christy, she echoed my concerns, saying that unlike the treatment of mothers in the workplace, “We value men when they want to be both a parent and professional.”

She had people who supported her decision too. Her female mentors helped her understand the “balance was mine to make.” Several of her male mentors reassured her that she’d be fine and would be able to step back into a leadership role as long as she stayed connected to the work and kept her name in the space.

And that’s what happened. After a fulfilling several years prioritizing motherhood, Christy landed her most high-profile CEO role at the American Civil War Museum.

Have a sense of purpose…and a sense of humor.

We ended our conversation talking about her current work. For some, the fact that Christy, a Black woman, is leading a museum about our country’s most troubling legacy causes discomfort. She also leads a commission in Richmond, Virginia—not far from recent white supremacy rallies—that seeks to update and add context to Confederate monuments.

She shared, “If my presence helps people understand [racism’s] impact is still relevant, then I’m fine with that.”

Ever the philosopher, Christy added, “The good lord has an extraordinary sense of humor with me.”

Despite her obvious fortitude in the face of criticism and her bold leadership in breaking barriers, her one piece of advice for aspiring change agents is simply to listen. “Sometimes the best thing to do is sit down, shut up, and listen…I practice listening. Not just listening for agreement but for better understanding.”

Throughout, but especially at this part in the conversation, I am struck by her moral clarity and personal purpose, but also her willingness to be vulnerable. “I am exactly where I need to be,” she says. And boy, are we lucky that’s true.

A path forward on school discipline in the shadow of Betsy DeVos’s dismantling of protections


By Layla Avila, Evan Stone and Cami Anderson

As education leaders, we take our commitment to students and families very seriously, not only to provide them with an excellent education that affords them access to the fullest range of life’s opportunities but also to ensure they are emotionally and physically safe and supported.

That’s why we are dismayed at the Trump administration’s decision to dismantle protections for our most vulnerable students by repealing much-needed federal guidance guarding students from discriminatory discipline practices. This damaging move was announced just before Christmas, even though thousands of teachers and more than 100 educators, advocates, district and state leaders, charter school operators, unions, and other education leaders called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Justice Department to maintain the guidance protecting all students — particularly students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning. Educators are not alone in our concern: DeVos also received letters from a wide swath of groups on this issue, such as state attorneys generaland the civil rights community.

Over the past year, DeVos met with teachers from across the country and promised to listen. But the concerns of families and educators clearly fell on deaf ears. Rescinding the guidance without putting forward a concrete plan for schools to end unjust discipline practices is another baffling example of how the Trump administration is abandoning students and families.

The problem: Too many of these practices are the exception, not the rule.

While there has been progress, a steady drumbeat of data reveals we have miles to go. A study by the bipartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office last year found persistent racial disparities in student discipline. And the 2015-2016 federal Civil Rights Data Collection showed the same trend. Black students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended from school than their white peers — often for the same behavior as their classmates. Latino students also saw troubling disparities compared with white students. Students with disabilities, who make up about 12 percent of public school students, account for nearly a quarter of students referred to law enforcement, arrested for a school-related incident or suspended.

The consequences of inaction are dire. Students who’ve been suspended just once are three times as likely to be incarcerated later on. Continuing to use biased and harsh discipline with students from historically underserved communities — students who probably already have a mountain to climb to succeed in school and beyond — limits their trajectories in life.

The good news is that some schools are pioneering innovative practices — rooted in research — that point the way forward on school discipline:

  • Administrators can focus on hiring and retaining staff members who build strong, inclusive classroom cultures and who reflect the diversity of students.

We believe the federal government has an important role to play in safeguarding students’ civil rights, which can be accomplished without stifling state and local decision-making or teachers’ autonomy in their classroom. Without federal action, it can be easy for systems to lose sight of these disparities and their long-term effects. Or schools and systems may choose what’s politically easy and expedient over what’s best for students. Despite this setback, our coalition will continue working in cities and states across the country to effect change — and the federal government must continue to enforce laws that ensure all students have the opportunity to thrive.

We can and must do better. Our students’ futures hang in the balance.

Cami Anderson is the founder of the Discipline Revolution Project.

Layla Avila is CEO and executive director of Education Leaders of Color.

Evan Stone is co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence.