Taking Action in Our Sphere of Influence #sol20

Created and shared on Twitter by Ramon San Vicente (@RamonSanVicent2)

I haven’t read the article yet, but I appreciated the challenge in the title of an op-ed a friend shared yesterday: “When Black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.”

I think there’s something true about that. More than anything else, what I’m seeing online right now as a response to this 400-year emergency is the creation of lots and lots of reading lists and the commitment to reading all the books. And these are great lists with great books that will probably–hopefully–be life-changing for readers. I know from personal experience how much reading and reflection matter in having epiphanies, deepening understanding, and making internal shifts–all the learning and unlearning–that is part of an anti-racist journey.

But I hope we can also keep in mind that this is an emergency, and we have to take action now. We don’t have the leisure to spend the summer reading books and reflecting without also making plans for the actions we will take in the fall.

There are many good articles online about taking action in terms of donating, protesting, supporting Black-owned businesses (bookstores are a good place to start!), and voting.

We happen to work for one of the most complicit and oppressive institutions when it comes to racism and inequity. School funding is designed on purpose to create and exacerbate inequity. School policies, especially discipline policies, are designed on purpose to push out Black, Indigenous and students of color. School curriculum is designed on purpose to center whiteness. School testing was designed on purpose to be biased and to lead to the exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and students of color from institutions of higher ed that wanted to remain white. Racism is baked into every aspect of American schooling.

If we are serious about dismantling racism, we couldn’t pick a better place to focus than school–and that happens to be our sphere of influence (sphere of influence is a concept I first saw applied to teaching in Elena Aguilar’s book, Onward). The image above, created by Ramon San Vicente (follow him @RamonSanVicent2 on Twitter), identifies many racist school policies and practices that we need to disrupt and dismantle. Everyone should be able to find immediately actionable items on his list.

I intended to write my whole slice about my big news today, but then decided I wanted to write about taking action instead. My big news is that after 12 years as a teacher educator, I am leaving my position and returning to the high school classroom this fall. I’ve accepted a position at a high school in Detroit, where my family and I are moving.

In addition to all the packing and moving, I’m spending the summer making plans for what I will do to take action, especially in the areas that are most within my immediate sphere of influence–curriculum, pedagogical practices, and management/discipline policies in my classroom. Culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum and pedagogy and collaborative problem-solving and restorative practices based in strong relationships are central to my vision of my classroom. I am working to improve the opportunities students will have for positive racial identity development using ideas in Dr. April Baker-Bell’s book, Linguistic Justice, and in Dr. Christopher Emdin’s book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. Given the trauma that my students will have experienced this year and this summer, I am also working to learn more about healing-centered practices. I am trying to arm myself while I still have time and leisure to do research deep dives with more evidence about what makes standardized testing practices and dress codes discriminatory and racist, because I know I will want to be able to speak out and advocate for change in those areas. I want to look at schools that have already made changes so I can learn from the actions that others have taken.

Granted, part of this work still sounds like I’m joining a book club. But the books are very much part of developing and implementing the action plan.

Within your sphere of influence, what actions will you be taking this fall?





8 responses to “Taking Action in Our Sphere of Influence #sol20”

  1. arjeha Avatar

    You are so right – reading is important to help bring issues to light, but action is what counts. For so many years lip service has been give to the inequality of what is happening in the world while people turn their heads from what is going on in front of them. We need to stand united and with one voice demand actions be taken.
    Congratulations on you new job. Your students will definitely benefit.

  2. Completely Full Bookshelf Avatar
    Completely Full Bookshelf

    I absolutely agree with your points! Congratulations on your new job—I expect you’ll make a huge positive impact on your new students! Thank you for such an insightful post!

  3. Susan Apps-Bodilly Avatar

    Very well said and I agree. We’ve been learning and reading for a while, at least I have. Time to see what actual changes can be made. Good luck with your move and new job!

  4. glenda funk Avatar
    glenda funk

    This moment feels so overwhelming yet so necessary, and too many, sadly, gave lots of learning to do to even begin to understand the inherent racism in our education system. Knowing how racist standardized tests are is why I refused to teach to the test the entirety of my career. I first learned about the tests as a high school student when I research the topic for a speech. You asked what readers will do w/in their own sphere. This has been in my mind, so I’m reaching out in my district—even though I’m retired—to address racism in curriculum and action. I know two middle school principles who are participating in some online learning through NEA. I’ve been thinking about running for school board so I can be more influential. I’m figuring out my role w/in my sphere of influence. Lastly, congratulations on your move. I know your students will see you as an Antiracist ally.

  5. Terje Avatar

    You have your vision and mission and you have a plan. You can make a difference. I have been reading the news from across the ocean, reading the articles in newspapers, following what international educators say, figuring out what I need to know and understand and what I can do. I know that this is not only US issue but a global problem.

  6. Ramona Avatar

    Big news tucked in among important thinking. I’m reading and thinking and listening and your words are prodding me. Thanks for the much needed nudge. Big changes ahead for you and your family!

  7. Melanie White Avatar

    Ooph. That quote is powerful. And this is remarkable that I’m reading this and thinking so many of the same things. I’m scripting my discussions with my white colleagues, practicing racial interruptions with my family and asking the administration team to prioritize the marginalized students in our school. And, I’m going to buy Linguistic Justice – thanks for the book recommendation!

  8. Akilah Avatar

    Detroit!!! Omg, that is a big move. Wow. WOW. Have you lived in Detroit before? I got the impression you were born and bred SD for life, but I could be wrong, of course.

    And yes to all of this. Use that reading to get into action this fall! I love it.

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