Columbine High School – A Community Defined by Unity

I’m pretty lucky.

I get to spend a large amount of my time hanging out in schools where people care really deeply about building inclusive environments where everyone feels safe.  Just this week I got to spend a day learning from some committed educators at the high school I graduated from, educators who are going above and beyond to serve traditionally marginalized students.

Most of the time when I’m working with a school, though, there is a laundry list of problems laid out by students, staff, parents, and administrators: cyberbullying, teachers feeling bullied by administration, students feeling bullied by teachers, students treating other students like crap, students feeling like no one cares for them in the building, etc.

Even if it’s a minority of voices, I can always find people to talk about the trials, the challenges, and the difficult stuff that the community is facing.

Thus, when I was asked to work with Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, I was pretty sure what I would encounter.  What I wasn’t sure about was how Columbine’s history would impact how inclusive it is today.  I had all sorts of preconceived notions about the community based in the media frenzy surrounding the community since the shootings there in 1999, but what would the community actually be like?

No matter what my expectations may have been, what I found was not at all what I expected…

Columbine is proof that when people dedicate themselves to inclusion and building safe educational environments, individuals can have a powerful impact.

In the case of Columbine, this spirit of inclusion grew out of tragedy, but it doesn’t have to be that way for your community.  Need tools for building an inclusive school culture and climate?  Look no further than CivilSchools.

Advertisements

The Holiday Family Freakout: Calling Family In to Dialogue About Justice

Few things give me more anxiety than thinking about spending the holidays with my entire extended family.  Don’t get me wrong; I love them! And much of our time together each year is joyful and loving.

But inevitably someone is going to say something idiotic (read: racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, religiously bigoted, or otherwise infuriatingly offensive).  And for years, I’ve struggled with how to navigate these family spaces.

After all, confronting the bigotry directly has been known to lead to all-out Christmas or Thanksgiving verbal brawls with shouting and crying and people walking out.

And I know full well that calling my anti-immigrant uncle out and starting verbal wrestlemania isn’t going to change his mind.  He revels in pissing people off with his political beliefs.  He’s the ultimate internet troll (except that he’s sitting on my grandmother’s couch).

Yet as I walk the precarious path in trying to be an accountable ally, I feel a calling and responsibility to address this stuff.  It’s tough to know what to do.

When talking with a friend the other night about whether or not to engage, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the controversial but surely-quotable Tim Wise:

“The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.”

As I think about whether to engage, I should consider less whether I want to fight with my trolling uncle than about who is listening.

Christmas_fight

Because I’m not going to change his mind, but I very well may plant the seeds of resistance in the minds of my young nieces and nephews.  They are listening.  And at 3, 5, and 7, few times of their lives will be more formative in their development of self and in their construction of “other.”

Further, I might empower someone else in the family to speak up.  Maybe they’ve been just as fed up with the nastiness and bigotry but felt alone at family gatherings.

Inclusiveness CAN Be a Family Value

And while a resistance to bigotry and a commitment to seeking justice are currently not family traditions or ethics, but they certainly can be.

When I saw Cornel West speak at the 2013 CIRCLE Conference, one of the many parts of his talk that stuck with me came in the Q&A.  I can’t remember exactly what question was asked, but he spoke to the need for an ethic of allyship and solidarity as a value.  He talked of needing to highlight more White allies in history, and he talked of needing more vocal allies working with others who share their identity to shift tides of oppression.

But that doesn’t just happen by buying our kids gender-neutral toys or books with fantastic messages.  Instilling inclusiveness as a family value requires some tough conversations.  Yes, these conversations should be respectful and carried out with love, but they need to happen, and they need to be public so that everyone in the family can understand that it is okay and encouraged to challenge someone on a statement that furthers oppression and marginalization.

But it’s also about timing.  If my uncle corners me alone in the kitchen to goad me into a a debate about how Phil Robertson is a perfect example of how Christians are the oppressed minority in the United States today, I’m probably not going to take the trolling bait.

But if during the meal, someone makes a statement about how immigrants are ruining our country, I need to find a way to challenge it and call them in to a discussion.

And while doing so might cause a collective family meltdown, the risk is worth it if we manage to have a powerful conversation that sets the precedent that we can talk through the tough things in our family. After all, doing so makes it clear to those little ones that our family is one that engages, not disengages, with the harsh realities that are the context both inside and outside the walls of our family celebration.

From a Consultant: Why Your Business Doesn’t Need a Consultant

I originally wrote this essay as part of a GRE practice test, and as I completed it, I couldn’t help but think of the corporate clients I’ve worked with who could benefit from its sentiment.  In some ways, it departs from my usual content on here, as I rarely write about the business world, even while I am occasionally consulting within it.

In the end, though, the lessons here are ones for people in any industry or field: bring on board a tremendously diverse workforce, empower them, listen to them, and you will be the most successful entity in your field.

—————–

From a Consultant: Why Your Business Doesn’t Need a Consultant

There’s an old business adage that says, “If you want someone to state the obvious, hire a consultant.”  Yet business consulting and organizational development is a billion-dollar industry in the United States.  Often, though, these consultants are hired before the organization even looks to the brilliance of its own team for solutions.  In the knowledge-based economy, businesses that rely on outdated, top-down structures of leadership are being left behind.

Businesses that maximize the power of the team through effective feedback mechanisms while encouraging and fostering creativity in their team are far less likely to need a consultant to help them grow and prosper.

Listen to Your Employees

Listen to Your EmployeesFor the vast majority of consultants, the consulting process begins with a period of data gathering.  This data can range from expenses and profit margins to personnel files, but more often than not, it draws upon the experiences and voices of every member of the organization to diagnose any problems that may exist and to help the business create a plan forward.  In short, consultants are hired to tell businesses what they should already know.

Through interviews with employees, surveys with clients, and an analysis of the leadership structure, effective consultants can determine with little effort whether a business is exploiting the collective brilliance of all of its team and easily offer plans for doing so more adeptly.

Notably, then, businesses that have a structure for listening to team members and for fostering creativity in employees are those least likely to benefit from the services of a consultant.

This is because those that need consultants to tell them how to proceed are far more likely to be operating from outdated business models based on top-down leadership structure where creativity is seen as primarily driven from those “appointed” as leaders within the organization.  The problem, though, is that this business model was designed in the time of a different economy.  The strictly labor-based economy dictated that “creative” employees designed products that the “labor” would simply execute and build.

To Succeed in the Knowledge-Based Economy, Empower the Creative Brilliance of Everyone

Continue Reading

10 Keys to Creating an Inclusive Classroom Community for LGBTQ Students

Lately I have been facilitating a lot of professional development sessions for teachers on building inclusive environments for diverse student populations, and one thing is clear to me: most teachers want to be as supportive as possible to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students but aren’t sure how best to do so.

The unfortunate reality is that few schools are safe spaces for LGBTQ students.

  • 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
  • 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
  • The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
  • Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
  • Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.
    Source: GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey

As a result, more and more teachers are looking for help in supporting their LGBTQ students, and schools are looking for proactive ways to create a safer environment for students of all sexual orientations.  To try to offer support, I have compiled a list of 10 things teachers can do to create a more inclusive classroom environment for LGBTQ students.  Though these can in no way be comprehensive, they are meant to be a starting place for better supporting our LGBTQ students in the classroom environment.

The Ten Keys to Building an Inclusive Classroom Community:
Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students

  1. Use inclusive language
    – Use precise terms like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) rather than homosexual or gay as an umbrella term.
    – Use terms like partner instead of boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife.
  2. Never tolerate abusive language in your classroom or in the halls
    – Language like, “That’s so gay” or “You’re such a fag” is common in schools, and it actively creates an unsafe environment for LGBTQ students and LGBTQ Allies.  We must respond to (and be sure not to ignore such language).
    – Don’t simply be punitive with hurtful language.  Instead, explain why it is not welcome and is hurtful.  This helps students understand why they shouldn’t use the language rather than just making them avoid using it around you.
  3. Never assume heterosexuality
    – Building relationships with students is wonderful!  Ask about students’ lives, but don’t assume heterosexuality in your language.  A question like, “Are you seeing anybody these days?” goes a lot further than, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
  4. Maintain confidentiality within the confines of your professional responsibilities
    – There are certain things like abuse that we cannot keep confidential, but outside of that, make sure students feel safe by always keep what they share in confidentiality.
    – Create a space in which students can talk to you about their struggles, helping all students to understand that you are someone they can talk to during free time.
    – Be careful never to “out” an LGBTQ student, meaning that if a student is not open in their sexual orientation and they share that with you, be careful not to share that information with others.  Sometimes being out can be more dangerous than being closeted.
  5. Keep an eye out for bullying and act to stop it
    – It’s tough to know the best way to respond to bullying.  Sometimes it means interrupting bullying as it happens.  Sometimes it means talking to the bullies or the bullied afterward.
    – In responding to bullying, be careful to not make the target out to be the weak one in the situation, as that can make bullying worse in the long run.
  6. Respect the needs and wishes of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual students
    – Support them in their decisions and their needs, helping them to make safe choices that will help them be happy and fully realized as a young person.
    – Questions like, “Are you sure?”  “Could this be a phase?” are not helpful.
  7. Respect the needs and wishes of Transgender students
    – Respect the names students wish to be called and the pronouns they prefer.  When unsure, ask with empathy and respect.
    – Respect the clothing choices students make, supporting them as they figure out how they want to perform their gender.
  8. Encourage respectful disagreement on issues of sexual identity
    – Dialogue and discussion inside and outside the classroom are helpful and healthy so long as respectful.  Don’t shut down conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity, but make sure to facilitate the conversation down inclusive roads and correct misconceptions.
  9. Recognize that you’re not an expert.  You will make mistakes and occasionally be insensitive.
    – Humble yourself and apologize where necessary; learn from your mistakes, and always try to broaden your understanding of LGBTQ issues so you can best support all of your students.
  10. Acknowledge that building an inclusive community is better for everyone, and fight to make it a school-wide priority.
    – Inclusive communities experience less bullying and violence.
    – Inclusive communities are likely to boast higher achievement and are stronger school spirit.

For more ideas for building an inclusive community, check out the recommendations for positive interventions and support from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Oft the Afterthought: Diversity and Inclusion in Schools

In the past week, I have been fortunate to be in touch with many different people in the world of education from a wide variety of schools.  I am excited to be a part of the conversations in the Colorado Independent Schools Inclusivity Network, a collection of educations from independent schools who are committed to making their schools more inclusive communities.  I spent a lot of time in Seattle, visiting folks at a number of public and private high schools and having conversations with those at the University of Washington about their diversity initiatives.  I have been discussing ways that I can be a part of making schools more inclusive in Washington State, Colorado, and Illinois.

All of these conversations have really got me thinking about the place that diversity has in schools today.  Having taught in and been involved with schools for a number of years, it is clear to me and I am sure anyone who is even peripherally related to schools that DATA is the central focus of most conversations.  How can we help students meet our Adequate Yearly Progress goals?  Now, I am one of those in the world of education that think a focus on data can actually be great because it forces schools to ensure that all students are learning.  Does it always turn out to be positive?  No.  Are many kids over-tested?  Yes (my students in Chicago took over 20 standardized tests per year)!  Does that mean we shouldn’t focus on data to ensure that our students are learning?  Not at all.

A serious concern I have, though, is that in the push for data, schools are often ignoring incredibly important conversations.  In their thirst for data, schools are adding extra reading classes or math classes and cutting the arts.  Further, in the intense focus on student achievement through data collection, many schools are losing focus of how they can serve their students holistically.  It is simple common sense that students who feel safe and welcome in their school environment are going to perform better and learn more!  Yet so often in my professional conversations, I feel like I am working to convince educators or acquaintances that schools should care as much about building inclusive and justice-seeking school environments as they do about data-driven instruction.

Continue Reading