After the Charlottesville incident where racist white nationalist battled counter-protesters and three deaths occurred President Trump gave a statement, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides,". Was this a strong enough statement? When domestic terrorism raises it’s ugly snout in the form of alt right racism, in such a visible, 1960’s manner, there is a process many school leaders go through as we try to process the event and the media and political circus that follows.
Should we address the event
The answer isn’t as easy as you would think. The reason for this is because every school is different. Is there a strong culture of courageous conversations in which people feel safe touching the live wire of emotion that speaking about race based topics can ignite? Often times the answer is no. This can be especially true if you’re a new principal and you haven’t yet learned your staff. Even if you’re a veteran leader your school culture might not lend itself to these types of intense conversations. Wondering if we should even address the issue is often the first step in the reflective process.
Composition of staff
Is having a conversation around this worth the potential disruption between staff? Does my staff have strong enough relationships with each other where a difference in perspective will not negatively impact the day to day operation of my school? These are at least two of the questions that I ask myself as I take in the current visible reality in our America.
Student and Staff interaction
If you bring the conversation to the students, does all your staff have the capacity to lead the conversation and diffuse tensions as necessary? Often times there are one or two staff members that are able to constructively have the conversation and work through the emotions that inevitably rise. Typically these are classrooms where teachers have strong relationships and high expectations with their students. These types of teachers aren’t as numerous as we would hope. The reason more than the one or two highly competent staff is necessary is because the other staff members will need to work with the same students that just got hyped up in the previous class. This is the third question that must be pondered when deciding if a discussion about overt racism should be endorsed.
These are all questions a building leader must process before making a decision; should the event even be addressed, is the staff composed of the “right” mix to have the conversation amongst themselves and finally is their a strong enough relationship between most of the staff and students. Often times you may be able to answer one or two of the questions positively. Knowing this is an opportunity for authentic learning are those great enough odds to take the risk. For me, the answer is almost always yes.
What is your process for working through these types of intense situations? Share your strategies in the comment section below.
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I'm a Principal and an Entrepreneur. I'm the former owner of a food venture Hustling Hoagies, the author of the children's picture books Detective Dwayne Drake and the Alphabet Thief, Detective Dwayne Drake and The Case of the Mathematical Misfit and the ebook Making it as a Male Model in Michigan. I've worked professionally as a model and commercial actor......