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Social Justice Leading in Schools

This is a reflection for a course where this book described 7 keys to creating an equal and equity school.


The two most basic keys to becoming a Social Justice Leaders from the book “The School Leaders Our Children Deserve” by George Theoharis are Key 3: advance inclusion, access, and opportunity to all and Key 5: create a climate of belonging. These are important because as learned in “Capturing Kids Hearts” training this past year, “If you have a child’s heart, you have his head.”™ – Flip Flippen (http://www.flippengroup.com/education/ckh.html) Students need to feel welcome and included. A student cannot feel welcomed in your classroom if they are pulled from your classroom all the time.

In the first high school in which I taught, my superintendent and principal were both very inspiring to create the kind of climate that students felt included and welcomed. In opening ceremony one year, Roy Crawford, the superintendent, stated, “You [the teachers] may be the only smile that the student receives all day.” Those words hit home with me. Previously when I was teaching adults, I had a situation where an adult student arrive one hour late to a beginning Excel class and expected me to stop and get her caught up. My first reaction was to be angry and unwelcoming to her, but I asked her if we could talk at break. It turns out that the adult student was a new mother who needed to learn Excel for her job and was thrown up on by her baby while leaving the house that morning. Not only did she need to change herself and her child, she also needed to find alternative childcare before rushing to the Excel class. I think about how true this quote is: ““Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Wendy Mass, The Candymakers.

If we go through life assuming only we, ourselves, are important, most of the world would see our classrooms as a very unwelcoming room. We must make an effort to open our own hearts to do this. Some teachers may have become teachers because they like to teach, not because they like the students. The same superintendent, Roy Crawford, started the motto at Manitou Springs School District of “R20 – Relationships, Rigor and Opportunity.” During their interview process, prospective hires were asked what comes first, relationship, rigor or opportunity? There was no wrong answer, but the leaders wanted to see how you approached what they meant. I believe that they are all very equally important but without the relationship it is hard challenge the students with rigor and risk-taking that involved new opportunities.

Theoharis writes on page 29 of our book, “inclusion is building services, collaborative teams, climate, and instruction practices that give all students access, success, and a sense of belonging in general education.” If we do not allow the access to all, how can all succeed? Teachers who do challenge their students are constantly surprised at what these students can achieve. Students who are pulled out constantly do not have the welcoming feel to their classroom as others do. We need them to be in the classroom more than they are out of the classroom. Teachers need to work together to figure out how this will work most successfully for all students. Parents and staff must be flexible and open-minded on trying these ideas. But the bottom line is that students must feel welcome in the homeroom classroom by being included.

My current school has almost all teachers trained in the “Capturing Kids Hearts” program. Although this should program should go hand-in-hand with inclusion, we are a pullout school, meaning students leave the classroom for instruction. As an International Baccalaureate school we should be inclusive with all instructions, but we still have many changes to make to our structure. We are a magnet for English as a Second Language (ESL) and Severe Special Needs (SSN). Therefore, we are fortunate that we have the resources to pull these students out of the classroom. Both the ESL and SSN teachers create opportunity for our classroom teachers to learn more about inclusion in the classroom, but those same teachers still use the pullout method for many instructional opportunity for the students. To be able to push in must be a decision between all staff and leaders at our school. If the internal school community is not strong on the decision to have inclusion, the external school community will fight the philosophy. Leaders must show the teachers first why inclusion is important. The teachers will then show the students and families.


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