“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin
In light of the most recent events concerning the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor Ahmaud Arbery, and a very long list of others, the moral fiber of our country has been tested once again. Chancellor Carranza shared in a letter to staff that racism, “is systemic—woven deeply into the fabric of our institutions, our economy, and the systems that make up our shared community. That is true in New York City, as progressive and forward-thinking as we are, including in our public school system.”
As the largest school system in the country, we are accountable to addressing the ways in which our institution perpetuates racism and inequities. Accountability is reflecting, understanding biases, prioritizing learning and educating oneself, engaging in conversations with young people, community members, family, and colleagues about race, racism, and racial violence, listening, unpacking the root causes of our current state, and most importantly, taking action against racial injustice. In the absence of this individual and collective commitment to our shared humanity, learning, and action, we stand to replicate the inequities that are harming our Black students, families, employees and communities, and ultimately, us all.
This toolkit is designed to provide an easily accessible resource guide for DOE staff to learn, reflect, build equity literacy, and engage with one another, our students, families, and communities about inequities, specifically race, racism, and our current climate. By using these tools as a resource, we are also hopeful that it will spark the desire for our students to become change agents to combat racial injustices and inequities on a national and global level.
Equity and Excellence
These resources are intentionally aligned to the NYC Department of Education and Chancellor Richard Carranza’s vision and goals for Equity and Excellence for All. In order for us to achieve this vision, the Chancellor has challenged us to tackle inequities in all forms throughout the system and invest in historically underserved communities (with resources, time, attention, and direction). Three major questions guide our thinking and action: 1. Where are we perpetuating inequities? 2. What role did we play in rendering the system in its current state? and; 3. In the context of our respective work, where can we interrupt these inequities?
In addition to targeted initiatives aimed at tackling specific inequities in our system such as access to quality early childhood education (3K and Pre-K for All), rigorous coursework (AP for All, Algebra for All, Computer Science for All), College and Career readiness cultures (College Access for All and the support of our STEM through CTE programs), and many more, the DOE is working to operationalize equity and excellence in all aspects of its institution.
For the purposes of this toolkit, we wanted to center two DOE frameworks, the Division of School Climate and Wellness’ Supportive Environment Framework and the Division of Teaching and Learning’s Instructional Leadership Framework. These two frameworks are not meant to be used as standalone documents, but rather complementary resources to support the “whole child;” the academic and the social, emotional, and physical needs of our students.
We encourage all DOE staff to explore these resources with an open mind, being eager to listen and learn from multiple perspectives in order to effect change, particularly within our educational institutions.
Now is the time for us to exercise our compassion for our students and colleagues and commit to focusing on the root causes of our current social climate so that we can all live in a more fair, just and equitable world where all voices are welcomed.
- We invite you to share your suggestions, ideas, lessons or activities with us.
- We also want to hear what resources are most effective for you and why, and how you are using the resources in your authentic practice.
Where To Start?
Kasserian Ingera: And How Are The Children?
The Masai of Kenya greet each other with the words “Kasserian Ingera” which translates to “and how are the children.” The Masai respond back with, “All the children are well” when life is good. These traditional greetings are shared among the Masai regardless of whether a person has children or not, and reflects the value the Masai place on children’s well-being as a reflection of the well-being of society as a whole. At its essence, the purpose of the DOE is to serve and support children. Unsurprisingly one of our core values is “Children First.” Children First states:
“Children's social, emotional, and academic success drives every decision, action, policy, and resource allocation to provide each child with the highest-quality education. Putting children first respects each child's culture, purpose, talent, and ambition, thereby optimizing their potential to become agents of change.”
This value is about centering children. In order for us to determine where to start in our racial equity journey, we must understand how our students are doing. Consider the ways you can engage and hold space for our youth to assess their needs. From there, consider what you need to do, and with whom, to act on what you learned. Listed below is important guidance for ensuring sustained equity work:
Check-in on yourself and others
- Consider the mental, emotional, and physical health of our students, colleagues, families, and ourselves.
- People process trauma in various ways and are experiencing many emotions in real time. Do not take it personally. Listen and ask what you and others need in this moment and throughout this time.
- Prioritize self-care. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Make a Commitment to Educate Yourself and Work to be Anti-racist
- Educate yourself not only on the current moment, but the historical and structural context of why we are in our current state. Resources are everywhere!
- Reflect on your own identities, biases, privileges, positionality, and how they form a lens in which you make sense of the world and how you see and make decisions on behalf/with our students and families.
- Build your capacity to recognize, respond to, and address biases and inequities in the short and long-term.
- Do not rely on communities of color to explain what is going on, teach you, or tell you what to do.
- Ask yourself: What am I willing to do and give up for justice?
“Having a desire for change is different than having a commitment to change…” - Andra Day.
Engage Our Students, Colleagues, and Communities
- Assess your own readiness - willingness, comfort, and ability - as well as your community’s readiness to engage in dialogue and action. Where are you and your community in your collective equity learning journey?
- Discussing the historical context of racial inequities and the current climate of death, violence, and systemic oppression can cause trauma and harm without intentional planning and care. Consider what might be ground rules or community agreements for engaging in these conversations.
- Discomfort is inherent in conversations about inequity and race. What does it look like to be in a productive space of discomfort but not panic?
- Be patient. This should not be a “one-and-done” conversation but rather ongoing, deep-level work that takes place over time (often many years). If the solution to systemic racism and inequities were easy, we would have solved these issues a long time ago. This is multi-generational work.
An Additional Note on This Guidance
Just as we suggest conversations with your communities should not be a “one-and-done,” this guidance is meant to serve as a foundation for ongoing dialogue and action steps for the future. This guidance cannot (and does not) provide resources on all areas of identities and oppression that our students, communities, and ourselves face on an everyday basis. It also does not provide a “road map” for how to do this very complicated and adaptive work. There is no road map or one way to go about this work. While there are effective practices (many of which are referenced throughout these pages), it is incumbent on individuals and organizations to assess what might work best given the context and the needs of the students, staff, families, and communities.
It is also critically important to do intentional planning and learning as you engage with students. The “urgency” to speak with your student community without the “competency” to do so can be incredibly harmful to students. Consider providing students an “opt-out” option. Even with intentional planning and amazing facilitation, these conversations can be re-traumatizing to our students, particularly our Black youth.
We look forward to continuing to strengthen this guidance as we collectively work towards a more just NYCDOE and society.