My Week in Montgomery

The featured image is from the EJI Memorial. These jars are full of soil from lynching sites in the State of Alabama.

I have the great privilege to be on the current Advisory Board for Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance. Our first convening of the new board was last month and it took place at the Embassy Suites in Montgomery, Alabama. It was my first time to The South since I was 16. When I was a teenager, I traveled with my family to Missouri and Indiana to visit with my mom’s side of the family. Yes, I know that’s not technically The South, but I remember going to my grandfather’s birthplace, standing on the bank of the Ohio river, and looking across to Kentucky on the other side. That’s close enough to The South for me.

My dad, brothers, and I stood out as Mexican and mixed-race people. Our darker skin seemed to make many people uncomfortable, all of whom were blood relatives. After that visit, I vowed to never go back to The South and was apprehensive about what I might experience in Montgomery, especially considering the most recent stories of misogyny and racism in the era of Trumpism.

My passion for racial justice won out and I went to Montgomery, Alabama excited to meet and work with social justice educators from across the country. I was not disappointed by the talent and passion I met in that conference room. I met Dr. Stephanie Jones who is mapping out racial trauma in schools, particularly racial trauma caused by curriculum. I was so excited to learn about her work because it’s directly related to what I’m working on for my dissertation. I got to know Matilda Morrison who is working on LGBTQ topics for kinders in Ventura, California. I spent some time listening to stories told by Kevin Cordi who has a PhD in storytelling. How cool is that? I learned all about the coolest places to visit when I go to New York this winter from Geneviève DeBose Akinnagbe who teaches in Los Angeles. There are so many other people who are doing important work, and if you want to learn more about them, you can here.

Though I am going to be critical here, I want to start by saying Teaching Tolerance is a rich resource for anti-racist educators. I look forward to learning more about what they have to offer and how they are staying current with these problematic times. We need them, and I am committed to doing what I can to help them continue to be at the forefront on a national level in the fight against hate. Please take a moment to dig into their resources for educators.


The heat and humidity aren’t the only oppressive things in Montgomery. The history is oppressive. I don’t know if it was the eerily empty streets or the spirits of the past that hit a melancholy nerve as I walked the streets of Montgomery. I’m going to jump ahead in this story a bit to the Friday I spent in Montgomery. We had gone through all of our work as an advisory board and had Friday to explore on our own. Part of our experience with Teaching Tolerance included tickets to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

I had an idea of what I was in for at the museum and memorial, but I was not prepared for simply walking down the street. I started out walking down a street called Tallapaloosa and came to the first intersection where Commerce St. and Tallapaloosa met. To my left was this statue of Hank Williams, so I went to check it out and noticed the street led down to a river, so I headed that direction.

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I learned from the placards that this is where enslaved Africans were brought to and from market and then later forced to load cotton bales onto boats for transport. I was expecting something along those lines, so at this point I was feeling adequately prepared to face history.

I walked back up Commerce Street and ended up in a place called The Alley where I was excited to find a Mexican Restaurant! I have this thing where I try to find Mexican food in each new place I visit. I had my lunch then headed back out onto Commerce to just go explore. Not even 100 yards in, I found this placard explaining how the buildings along Commerce St. served as warehouses for enslaved Africans waiting to be bought and sold.

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Had I just had lunch in a building that was used to torture human beings? The idea was sickening. Nearly all of those buildings currently house various restaurants except for the space occupied by the EJI. Did the other patrons know what they were doing?

I kept walking toward the Rosa Parks museum. I didn’t go inside, but there was something surreal about standing in the spot she was arrested for unapologetically taking up space that was reserved for whiteness. At just about that moment, a thunderstorm rolled in out of nowhere, and giant water drops quickly drenched me. I wasn’t mad, though. It was hot before that!

I started back toward the EJI, and while I waited for a crossing light, a big, black pickup truck entered the intersection with a Stars and Bars license plate. I’m not used to seeing that in Seattle, and was startled, though I know I shouldn’t have been. On the way back I also passed a beautiful fountain that I later learned was where slave auctions were held.

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By the time I made it back to the EJI, which was only a few blocks away, I was dripping wet and glad to be in out of the rain. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to experience. I wasn’t.

I don’t have pictures from inside the EJI because cameras are forbidden. I understand why. The emotional weight of that museum is overwhelming. People were openly sobbing, holding their children a little tighter. It was an interesting contrast sometimes; mothers and fathers with tears in their eyes as their toddlers ran around laughing and playing. If you’re hoping for a feel good, Civil Rights museum, EJI is not the place you’re looking for. You are confronted full force with the evils of whiteness. Images of torture, incarceration, murder, and the commodification of human beings are on full display. I couldn’t help but cry. Only people who have lost their humanity wouldn’t. I tried to hold myself together as much as possible because I felt selfish as a non-Black person taking op that space when there were far more Black families there grieving. I’m not surprised there weren’t many white people, but it’s still disheartening.

The EJI provides a shuttle to the monument about a mile away. I cannot even begin to describe how I felt walking through that monument.

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Again, I tried to take up as little space as possible for the same reason. The monument consists of smaller monuments to the lynching victims of each county in The South. Some are marked “unknown.” When you first start out in the space, the individual monuments are at eye level, then, as you go around the square, the individual monuments begin to rise above you. When they are fully above your head it becomes a daunting, haunted space.

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At eye level you are confronted with the “reasons” for lynchings, most of which are related to the innocence of white women.

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As I turned the next corner and saw the monument to all of the undiscovered victims, I literally could not go on. I sat there for a long time quietly crying.

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How can humans do this to other humans? It’s hard to even recount this here. In the center of this space, with the lynching monuments still above my head, was a glass container with layers of soil from various lynching sites in The South. All I could think about was how we have covered up this gruesome part of our past and it’s making a comeback because of our willful ignorance. There are reminders, but they’re too unsettling for many to look at. How do we make people look at this and truly see it for what it is – past and present?

Toward the end of the memorial are duplicate monuments. The curators of the museum have invited each of the counties to pick their respective monument up and display in remembrance of those who were lynched on their soil. So far, not one has been picked up. I went back to my hotel feeling  – I don’t even know. Right now I vacillate between rage, despair, renewed energy to fight, and disgust. I’m sorry it took me so long to go back to The South and look this history in the eye. I return to Montgomery next summer for another advisory board summit, and I am ready to learn and see more.


Here, I’m going to backtrack to my experiences during the advisory board work. While there are many educators doing amazing things, there were some things that happened I didn’t expect. I should know better. I’ve been in enough social and racial justice spaces to see people who probably shouldn’t be there put their feet in their mouths. I probably said or did something that offended others in attendance, too. Sometimes I get excited and words just fall out of my mouth! We all need to do reflective work and own our mistakes. I have work to do.

There were several times, however, when I felt like it was more than the typical reflective work. I had a couple of moments where I felt like my identity was being challenged. That seemed like such an obvious microaggression that I wasn’t expecting it. Fortunately, I was able to confront the person who committed it and they were receptive. We worked through it and I’m confident we can become good friends and colleagues.

I was surprised at the number of white participants. While I firmly believe white people should be part of this work, I also believe people of color, particularly womxn of color, should have the largest share of leadership. While there are strong people of color on the advisory, particularly Black womxn, there were only one or two who seemed to be in leadership positions with Teaching Tolerance.

I was struck at how delineated the terms “social justice” and “racial justice” felt. I recognize this is because of my own paradigm around those terms. For me, if we say “racial justice” we are including every single social justice issue because people of color experience them all. I’m wondering how I can advocate for more leaders of color and for shifting the language or perception that racial justice is only about race. We have work to do. We can’t go back to the past that haunts the streets in Montgomery. We can’t.

13 Things Not to Do When You’re Called the “R” Word; And two things you should

Yes, thirteen things. I know that seems like a lot. Usually these types of pieces stick to a nice, neat number like 3, 5, or 10, but 13 is the number of things not to do that I counted in a single response written by a white woman whom I called the “R” word (R = racist), and it’s only 13 because I combined some of them!

I am an educator of color in Seattle whose job is anti-racist work within the school district. Seattle is very white – nearly 70%. It’s also one of the most liberal cities in the US, and these liberal, white Seattleites hate being called racist, but the thing is – a lot of them are. The reason they hate it so much is because of this idea that a racist is a bad person. Robin DiAngelo calls it the “good/bad binary.”

There’s been a phrase created in the past couple of years by a white Seattle educator to describe the type of racism that exists in Seattle: Passive Progressive. A Passive Progressive is a white person who espouses progressive ideals, especially racial justice, but only to the degree it earns them points for being progressive enough to be a Seattlelite. A Black professor I work with put it best, “White people love to put ‘Black Lives Matter’ yard signs on the lawns of the neighborhoods they’re gentrifying.”

I’ve been calling out a white woman, who considers herself an “education advocate,” as a racist very publicly on my social media. We’ll call this woman Becky. I decided to do this intentional calling out when I became witness to how Becky’s Passive Progressive racism was derailing a curriculum adoption process that was widely supported by families and science educators of color. I wanted people to know that most of the opposition was coming from a racist. Becky writes for and moderates a kind of “watch dog” community forum where she “reports” on various school district goings on. I could give you a “All the Ways Becky is Racist” list that would be so much longer than this post, but just know she thought a joke about fried chicken in a discussion about racism on her forum was “much needed levity.” But Becky is one of those people who believes she is inherently not racist because she is progressive. She wrote a public response to my call outs that I am using to generate this list. The quotes below come directly from her response.

It’s important to note that Becky self identifies as white. It’s also important to note that I use the definition, “prejudice + power = racism,” which means people of color can’t be racist because we’ve never held systemic power, so this list of “things not to do” only applies to white folks!

Ready? Here we go!

Number 1: Don’t expect the person of color who called you a racist to meet you on your terms.

In her response to me calling her a racist, Becky writes:

“When you are dealing with zealots who believe they are the ones who speak with purity about all things race, ethnicity, and the intersection of those for all of us, there’s nothing you can say that will satisfy them if you can’t pass their purity means testing.  You will always be shouted down.”

We’ll get to the “zealot” and “shouted down” parts later, but here I want you to note how Becky expects me to listen to and understand her definitions of the intersections of race and ethnicity and have a discussion with her instead of “shouting” her down. I never yelled. In fact, I’ve never talked to Becky in person. I’ve only ever called her a racist on social media.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 2: Don’t try to prove the person of color who called you a racist is, in fact, a racist themselves.

I’m a PhD student and I post some of my papers on my blog because my doctorate of philosophy is in education, and I write an education blog, so it’s relevant. In one paper I was writing about how to create an anti-racist data culture. Becky didn’t like my ideas and thought they were reverse racist and she, a white woman, knows better who should do the job:

“Below is what she wrote at her blog about Dr. [Xxxx Xxxxxxxx], head of Research and Evaluation, who admittedly is a white male, but also someone who I have found to be smart and well-qualified.

An additional factor to consider is that the research and evaluation team in Seattle Public Schools consists primarily of white people, with the director being a white male (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b). When the goals of the district, including the Strategic Plan, specifically call out racial disparities, it would make sense that the data culture be led by a person who identifies with impacted groups. A racial equity literate (Gorski, 2015) person of color would be better suited to set the parameters and purpose of data collected than a white male who cannot fully understand the needs of students of color.

Emphasis added by Becky.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 3: Don’t denigrate and belittle the person of color who called you a racist.

“Castro-Gill seemingly flails around, ‘Look at me! Why aren’t you looking at me?’ about her work. And that points to a sad, pathetic person.”

My work speaks for itself. I don’t need people to look at me, but if they did, they’d see I’m a successful, professional, grown-ass 44-year-old woman of color with three children, one grandchild, three college degrees under my belt and a fourth on the way. I’ve lived through drug dependency, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, and being widowed. I want people to look at Becky and how she thinks I’m “unsophisticated” and “pathetic.” That tells you more about Becky than me.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 4: Don’t contact the person of color’s employer to try to have them fired.

Yes, Becky really did this; not once, but thrice. Oh, Becky. Becky took a comment from her forum and sent it to my superiors claiming it was from me. The comment clearly did not come from me and was against everything I stand for as an educator. Here’s what Becky had to say about sending the comment to my bosses:

“My spidey sense (and common sense) tells me it was her.  She denies it was her and has threatened to sue me for saying so.  Yes, I should have been more circumspect and said something like, ‘It sounds like her’.”

Emphasis from Becky.

Here, Becky admits to knowing she wasn’t positive it was me, and she admits she reported it as if she was positive. If she wasn’t a racist, she would understand how challenging it is to be a woman of color working inside a racist institution doing racial justice work and not add fuel to the fire. But, I digress.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 5: Don’t engage in respectability politics AND Don’t tone police. defines “respectability politics” as “the set of beliefs holding that conformity to socially acceptable or mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a member of a marginalized or minority group from prejudices and systemic injustices.” defines “tone policing” as “a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner.”

Becky says:

“She’s so righteous about her positions, she believes she’s entitled to run amok anywhere she pleases.  I’m not sure that’s the mark of someone who listens.”

Run amok? Besides Donald Trump and his crew, I’ve literally only ever called out this woman publicly as a racist.

Oh, then there’s the whole “zealot” thing:

“And please take note; this won’t be just me.  Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.”

“I find it hard to believe this kind of attitude and willingness to go after people viciously and with glee is really going to move the needle on ethnic studies in this district.”

Emphasis by Becky, again.

Here we see Becky dictating how racial justice advocates should properly conduct business. We aren’t supposed to be angry or hold steadfastly to our ideals. We should meet white people where they are. See #1 above.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 6: Don’t use dog whistles.

Becky is a sly one using two examples of what not to do in one statement:

“Racial equity is going to be used as a club in this district and the zealots are going to happily wield it.”

This is both respectability politics and dog whistling. defines “dog whistling” as “a political strategy, statement, slogan, etc., that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support the message.” Becky’s warning white folks that Black and Brown folks are gonna be coming for them. Zealots = angry Black and Brown folks!

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 7: Don’t speak for people of color you think would vouch for you AND Don’t tokenize people of color as proof you’re not a racist.

Here we get two in one, again! Becky says:

“I know that [Xxxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx], head of [XXXX], has spoken up for me and even to Ms. Castro-Gill, who seems mightily annoyed that [Xxxxx Xxxxxx] just doesn’t seem to get it.

I know [Xxxxx Xxxxx], who is the head of [XXX], and is a colleague friend would not agree that I’m a racist.  (And boy, would I love to see Castro-Gill take her on; [Xxxxx] does not suffer fools gladly.)”

Even if these people agree that Becky isn’t a racist, speaking for them is racist, not to mention the fact that many people of color have internalized oppression and engage in whiteness themselves. I’m not saying these particular people do either, but using people who do is tokenizing. Think: Ben Carson.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 8: Don’t use white people’s opinions of you to prove you’re not a racist.

Becky spoke for three people who she thinks would vouch for her not being a racist. Two were in the above example of what not to do. The third is a white person.

“I know Dr. [Xxxxx Xxxxxxx], a lifelong educator and support of lifting up students of color in our district, would not agree.”

White people don’t get to decide what is and who is racist. Hard stop.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 9: Don’t use your volunteer experience in impoverished communities as evidence that you’re not a racist AND Don’t use your volunteer experience in communities of color as evidence that you’re not a racist.

I’m combining these two because they are similar and I am making a distinction between them because here we can see Becky conflating poverty with race:

“This librarian has seen me come into her Title One elementary school, week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out…for three straight years.”

In the above quote Becky is referring to a librarian who agrees with me that Becky is a racist. Becky is dumbfounded the librarian would agree that she’s a racist when the librarian is witness to her volunteer work with Title 1 (low income) kids. Not all Black and Brown people are poor! And using this as evidence you’re not racist IS racist.

Becky goes on to say:

“If I’m a racist, it’s odd how I’m working mighty hard for kids of color.  Putting in time and money and sweat into helping kids of color in public education, that’s how I hide my racism.”

Think: “voluntourism,” the phenomenon in which white people go to far off countries full of Brown and Black people to bring culture and knowledge into spaces otherwise devoid of such. This type of thinking is deficit minded. We’ve already seen how she conflates poverty and race. This is just further evidence she should be nowhere near kids of color.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 10: Don’t use proximity to people of color or where you grew up as evidence you’re not a racist.

“That growing up – right on the border with Mexico – in a small, rural town that was majority Mexican, that means nothing. My Mexican-American friends from high school would laugh right in their faces to learn that anyone would think I’m a racist.”

In this prime specimen, Becky uses where she grew up, proximity to people of color, AND speaking for people of color she thinks would vouch for her. It’s like she was reading DiAngelo’s White Fragility as a guide for how to be a racist!

In another statement about her volunteer work she says:

“I’m in a diverse classroom and my teacher is black.”

Never once in her defense does Becky talk about what she learns from the people of color she’s in proximity to. She only uses them as props and shields. This is a form of tokenizing and, guess what Becky? It’s racist.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 11: Don’t use blood quantum to prove you can’t be a racist.

It’s important to know that Becky identifies as a white woman. She has never claimed to be a woman of color, but whenever Becky is called a racist, she resurrects her abuela as a shield:

“I’m a quarter but apparently, my quarter doesn’t count.  My abuela would be spinning in her grave if she heard that one.”

Ok, but then Becky admits that she doesn’t identify as a woman of color:

“That I don’t identify as Mexican-American does NOT mean that it is not part of who I am and that I am not proud of it.”

What’s most racist about this is the racist history of blood quantum ideology and, again, she’s not telling us what she learned from her abuela or how that impacted her identity development, just that she has one and that makes her ¼ Mexican – oh, and she’s proud of it while she doesn’t claim it.

Also, you don’t get to identify as, live as, and benefit from being white and then call up your abuela when you do racist shit.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 12: Don’t be a “non-racist.”

Becky frequently allows comments on her forum that are blatantly racist. One commenter blamed an educator of color for white students engaging in racist vandalism, including writing the words “KKK” and “white power” outside their classrom, because the educator of color was teaching ethnic studies and the white kids were just “sophomorically rebelling” (Becky agreed with the commenter, btw).

Becky claims she leaves these racist comments up for reasons:

“And when I read a comment that is racist or completely bizarre, I do sometimes let it stand. You know why? Because sometimes it’s better to say nothing and let that person’s shameful words speak for themselves. Because sometimes my readers are much better at letting someone know how very wrong they are than I am.”

Ok, Becky… Here, it’s important to note she frequently deletes comments she doesn’t like. Often in the comments section you’ll find the notice, “Comment removed by moderator,” but the racist ones? Naw.. those can fly. Becky, you’re either anti-racist, non-racist, or racist, and many people believe if you’re not the first, you’re the last. An anti-racist person would call that shit out. There’s no such thing as neutrality when systems of oppression exist.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Number 13: Don’t be a self-proclaimed ally.

“I’m a natural ally and yet because I don’t pass their litmus test, then I’m out.”

That’s right, Becky! You don’t get to decide. We do.

What Becky should have done when a person of color called her racist: Listen and reflect.

Listen and reflect. You were probably thinking, “I get it… ‘listen and reflect’,” but it’s been my experience that white people don’t like to hear that’s the answer to how to respond to the anger and pain of people of color. Notice I’m not saying, “Take Tracy’s word as gospel.” If I were the only person calling Becky a racist, Becky may not be a racist, but a lot of people of color – and white people – call Becky a racist. Instead of listening and reflecting, Becky deletes their comments when they call her out and she deflects, using racist tactics to “prove” she’s not a racist.

I hope Becky’s racist Beckfoolery can be used for good and this piece will help people identify how they are being racist when responding to being called a racist. Don’t be like Becky; instead, listen and reflect.

Positive Social Change Special PhD Edition: Philosophy of Leadership

A new quarter brings a new PhD special series (or two). One of the courses I’m currently enrolled in is called “Evaluating Curriculum to Promote Positive Social Change.” Like last time, the instructor has us breaking down a rather lengthy paper into chunks. I present to you here one of the chunks!

I was asked to write about my philosophy of leadership. I know I’ve done this before on the blog, but it’s good to document how my thinking has evolved – if at all – thanks to new learning and insights. (spoiler: I don’t think it has, much. Maybe it’s more polished…)


In an education setting, there are many layers of leadership. Students, family members, community members, support staff, teachers, and administrators all play leadership roles in some form. Over the decades, the definition of leadership has shifted from one of authoritarianism to one of coach or “influencer” (Northouse, 2016). In systems with changing demographics, in which students, teachers, and communities of color come from more collectivist cultures, leadership needs to take a more collectivist approach to meet the needs of everyone in the system (Yi, 2018).

In Seattle Public Schools there is a movement to shift pedagogies from what Paolo Friere (1968) called “banking” education to culturally responsive teaching. In her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain; Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Zaretta Hammond outlines how shifting from the “sage on the stage” to a facilitator of learning centers the skills, learning and cultural wealth of students, making learning more student centered and encouraging learner leadership, or what Hammond calls “independent learners” (2016). To achieve this goal, adult learners need to practice and model the same leadership style of collectivism and collaboration.

Types of Leadership in Seattle Public Schools

The leadership in Seattle Public Schools is hierarchical. Staff in different levels of the organization chart are actively discouraged, and sometimes forbidden, from interacting or collaborating with people higher than their position in the chart. Most of the leaders in Seattle Public Schools fall under the label “assigned leadership” because they have been promoted through the ranks instead of being identified and named as effective, inspirational leaders (Northouse, 2016). This is the systemic climate, but there are some leaders who buck the system.

Seattle Public Schools uses a “site-based” model of leadership. This creates different sets of hierarchies. There is a hierarchy among the central office staff and hierarchies in each school site. The central office consists of various departments, including teaching and learning, human resources, students support services, communications, etc. Each of these departments have chiefs who lead them, and these chiefs are part of the “small cabinet” that reports to the superintendent and the superintendent reports to the board of directors. Below the chiefs are executive directors, directors, and managers in that hierarchical order.

The author of this paper serves in a manager role and has been told they are not allowed to contact the superintendent or the board of directors. There is a chain of command one must go through to resolve issues and make decisions. Professional development is given to people lower on the organization chart by those higher on the organization chart or sometimes laterally. Those with more power in the hierarchy rarely collaborate with their subordinates, but instead instruct them on what to do.

At the school site, principals are seen as the leaders, and despite efforts by the education association to foster educator leadership, principals frequently interfere with these efforts. This is evidenced by the need for, and current implementation of, each building leadership team attending trainings on how these teams should be collaborative and not led by principals.

There are a few leaders at both the district and school sites who have chosen to be more transformational and collaborative in their practice. These leaders are the exception, however. They tend to be people of color or white leaders who have chosen to be anti-racist or social justice leaders. These are the leaders who collaborate with the educators and students in their building, provide leadership opportunities for both, and remove as many barriers as possible for their subordinates, often by managing up.

Opportunities and Challenges

There are many emergent educator leaders in Seattle Public Schools. There are many examples of educators taking the lead on racial justice, specifically. For example, when a family support worker planned to host an event in which Black leaders in the community lined the walkway to school to give students hi-fives, conservative media stoked fear and hate to the point the school received bomb threats. This family support worker, DeShawn Jackson, refused to back down and held the event anyway. After he went to other educator leaders for support, including Jesse Hagopian and an educator activist group, Social Equity Educators, thousands of educators in Seattle organized in support of the event and wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts to school and taught lessons about systemic racism. That was in 2016 and since then, educators across the country have joined in and established a national network of educator leaders. The day of action has become the “National Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.”

Within the education association in Seattle is a program called the Center for Racial Equity. This program was founded the same year as the first Black Lives Matter day of action. This program fosters educator leadership specific to racial justice in Seattle Public Schools. The program has been instrumental in supporting the work of the national network, in the district’s racial equity team program, and in the emerging ethnic studies program. The district is beginning to partner with the Center on critical racial equity work, which is strengthening both organizations’ efforts and improving outcomes for all students.

With the site-based model of leadership, one challenge is the barrier principals frequently create to leadership opportunities for educators. If educators do not take the traditional path of teacher, building administrator, district administrator, they have little chance of obtaining a leadership role within the district. Most leadership roles are through union work. The fact educators are discouraged or prevented from collaborating with their supervisors or their supervisors’ supervisors also limits opportunities.

Proposed Changes

The first step to create greater opportunities for transformational and shared leadership is to dismantle the site-based decision-making model. This model galvanizes the hierarchy that prevents authentic collaboration and stifles emergent leaders. If there is a more fluid exchange between educators, building leaders, and district leaders, collaborative and shared leadership could be engaged in. This model would create space for leaders to learn from each other and from their subordinates. Additionally, removing barriers to collective leadership can lead to transformational leadership which inspires subordinates to have increased motivation and job satisfaction (Northouse, 2019).

Another change would be to give more weight in decision making to emergent leaders who have demonstrated successful transformational leadership. These emergent leaders should be recruited into district leadership positions instead of pulling from the principal pool for the sake of maintaining hierarchies. Emergent educator leaders should also be supported in moving into principalships if that is their goal. The district should work with the education association, especially the Center for Racial Equity to identify these leaders and offer scholarships, training, and coaching to move into building leadership roles.


Transformational, collaborative, and collectivist leadership is instrumental to creating a learner leadership style. Strict hierarchies in a system inhibit this style of leadership and should be dismantled as much as possible. Fostering emergent leaders is key to creating systemic change and creating pathways for emergent leaders will encourage more to step forward. This leadership style will improve the outcomes for all students and model the type of leadership educators want students to engage in.


Friere, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Hammond, Z. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain; Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yi, J. (2018). Revisiting individualism-collectivism: A cross-cultural comparison among college students in four countries. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 47. Retrieved from

PRIDE in My Child

I am the mother of three, and it just so happens that my youngest child, Elysia, is queer. For the month of Pride, I would like to tell you a little bit about them; how wonderful, kind, funny, and smart they are. I learn so much from them and have fun watching them become the person they are.

My Only Daughter

I have a strained relationship with my mother. That may be an understatement. I’m a fairly radical atheist and consider myself a far left anarchist who fights for racial justice. My parents are both Trump supporting Republicans. I don’t think I have to explain why our relationship is strained, but it’s more so with my mom for some reason. I never felt like I’ve been good enough for her. She’s white and my dad is Xicano, and my mom has had this “inside joke” she shares often with others and with me. It goes like this: “I always wanted a blond-haired, blue-eyed child. I guess I married the wrong man,” followed by laughter.


To make matters worse, my cousins – her sister’s daughters – are both fair skinned, one with blond hair and green eyes, the other with gorgeous red hair. My mom has always been very public about how beautiful she thinks they are. I honestly can’t remember my mom ever telling me I was beautiful, or even pretty. She used to always remark about the bags under my eyes that reminded her of my Grandma Chavez, or chastise me for wearing tight fitting clothes because my hips, butt, or thighs were too big.

My two oldest children, both male, were born while I was a teenager, and the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to conceive after my second son because of serious hormone imbalances. I became pregnant with Elysia, or “E” as I call them, when my youngest son was 10. I was so ecstatic when I found out I’d be having a girl. I went out and bought fairies and frilly purple things for her room. It was more than just having a girl to complete our family; I wanted so badly to have a fulfilling mother-daughter relationship. I saw this as my chance.

People Change

From birth to around the time of the 4th grade, E was as girly as a person could be. Over time, though, things started to change. They started to hate wearing dresses. They wanted to cut their hair short. One day, while riding in the car, E said, “Mom, I think I’m transgender.”

short hair

“Oh?” I replied. “Why do you think that?”

We had a long conversation about a book they were reading about a transgender child and how they didn’t feel like they were really a girl. We talked about body dysmorphia, and E decided they were ok with their body, but not ok with gender stereotypes as they felt they didn’t fit into any of the assigned female roles. Luckily, my teaching partner also facilitated the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and had some reading materials for me to share with E. After learning together, E has settled on a non-binary, or gender fluid identity.

In the 5th grade, E had a really cute “relationship” with a boy at their school. They were boyfriend/girlfriend until E moved schools in the 7th grade. Around this time, E started saying they were bisexual. We talked about what that meant, too, and E started dating girls at their school. They went from bisexual to gay, and when their girlfriend came out as trans, E discovered they are pansexual, and now they just refer to themself as queer, which is all encompassing of their gender expression and sexuality.

My Child Is My Teacher

I would like to say this has been super easy for me and all of these discoveries E’s experienced have had no impact on me, but that’s not true. Of course I’ve been supportive and love my child as they are, but it has stretched my understanding of gender and sexuality and encouraged me to educate myself on each. I still suck at getting the pronouns correct. It’s not easy when you’ve gone 40 years in a binary world, but I try my hardest and apologize when I mess up.

I’ve also had to defend E from attacks from their father and brother and my side of the family. While on vacation in Europe, I sent E’s father a picture thinking he would like to see E enjoying our trip. He went on a tirade about how I let his daughter look like a “dike.” So, not only do I have to defend E, I have to build them up to prevent these attacks from tearing them down. It hurts to see their tears caused by a person who is supposed to love them unconditionally.


Watching E’s resilience and openness gives me so much pride in and respect for them. They are unapologetically who they are and they love everyone with their whole heart. I haven’t lost a daughter. I’ve gained a happy and fulfilled child who fearlessly expresses their authentic self. That’s better than what I expected from the mother/daughter relationship I craved. Their unconditional love makes me want to be a better person. I wish I could have grown up in a household where love was at the center of all decisions made; truly at the center in practice, and not just words. I want all children to be able to explore and discover who they are without judgment. I see in E what is possible when that exists – Love and Joy.

Happy Pride Month!


Action Plan

This is the final post in my special series, “Special Edition PhD Series: The Devil in Seattle Public Schools’ racial equity data.” This paper was written in response to the data analysis papers I’ve shared previously in this series. All of the papers are supposed to be read together as one, giant analysis and action plan.

I got some ideas on how we can align data, leadership, and implementation to prioritize critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, at least in the Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction department. There are some fairly big changes coming to leadership, so now would be the best time to do this alignment! Just remember, you read it here, first!

District-Wide Instructional Goal

As a result of Seattle Public Schools’ new Strategic Plan that calls for “…[eliminating] opportunity and achievement gaps…,” “… high-quality, world-class education,” for all students, and “educational justice” (Seattle Public Schools, 2019), it is the goal of the Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction Department to move beyond culturally responsive teaching practices and into critical pedagogy in the service of delivering ethnic studies content. Culturally responsive teaching strategies are integral to the end goal of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, but culturally responsive teaching is not an end goal because it, alone, is not anti-racist (Castro-Gill, VanDerPloeg, Alonzo, Charlton, Au, Guzmán, 2018).

Ethnic studies and critical pedagogy have been proven to increase results in all the data measures the district has set forth as indicators of successful implementation of the Strategic Plan. Increases in engagement, literacy skills, higher-order thinking skills (critical thinking), multi-lingual and multi-cultural literacy, math skills, science literacy, identity affirmation and safety, leadership and civic engagement, graduation rates, college attendance, and standardized test scores have all been linked to ethnic studies programs (Sleeter, 2011).

Critical pedagogy is a necessary practice in the successful implementation of ethnic studies content (Sleeter, 2011). Critical pedagogy was championed by Brazilian educator and activist Paolo Freire. In teaching literacy to mostly illiterate, poor, laborers in Brazil, he combined the practice of andragogy with the concept he called critical pedagogy. He argues oppression is, in part, the result of “banking education,” in which students are objects, or passive learners, in whose brains knowledge is deposited by oppressors. His answer to this is inquiry-based education in which students learn skills through solving problems they relate to in their own communities, thus transforming them from passive objects to active subjects of their learning and lives (Freire, 1968).

Ethnic studies is the critical study of the histories of various groups of color. It centers the history of power, oppression, resistance, and liberation. Ethnic studies challenges students to explore their racial and ethnic identities and how those things position themselves in history and the present. Ethnic studies expects students to act on their world, much like Freire’s vision of critical pedagogy (Castro-Gill, et al, 2018).

In addition to the goals of the Strategic Plan, the district’s stated vision is, “Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community” (Seattle Public Schools, 2019b). Critical pedagogy and ethnic studies are proven effective strategies to meet these goals (Sleeter, 2011). As the core of teaching and learning in the district, the Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction cannot delay on implementing an action plan to achieve these goals.

Benchmarks and Timeline

Several deficits in the current system have been identified that need to be categorized and prioritized to reach the goal of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies. These are outlined below along with acceptable timeframes for implementation.

Leadership changes.

In the current structure of Seattle Public Schools, the human resources department is leading goal setting and professional development on instructional practices. There is no shared understanding about why this task has been assigned to human resources when the district has a large curriculum, assessment, and instruction department. The ethnic studies program is housed in the CAI department, so in terms of alignment to meet the goal of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, instructional goals and professional development should be housed together with ethnic studies.

Michael Fullan identifies what he calls, “Big Ideas for Whole System Reform.” Two of these ideas support the need for this shift in leadership on instruction: resolute leaders that stay on message, and strategies with precision (2010, p4). The ethnic studies program manager in CAI was selected to lead the work of creating a new, ethnic studies program because she is an activist that worked with the NAACP to push the Seattle School Board to adopt a resolution in support of ethnic studies in the district. She has been recognized for her work in the region on racial justice in education (Castro-Gill, n.d.). The executive director of CAI has an undergraduate degree in ethnic studies. Both leaders are educators of color committed to racial justice. The resolute leaders who have consistently stayed on message for critical pedagogy and ethnic studies exist in CAI, not in human resources. The alignment between the executive director and program manager will facilitate the development and implementation of precise strategies. This shift in leadership in instruction can and should happen immediately.

The next step in leadership change is to align the leadership within CAI so that critical pedagogy and ethnic studies are the focal point of all curriculum, assessment, and instruction. The department of curriculum, assessment, and instruction consists of the various core content programs and specialty programs like the arts and library services. If critical pedagogy and ethnic studies are to be universal, all decisions made about adoption of curricula, resources, instruction, and assessments needs to be filtered through an ethnic studies lens. Therefore, the ethnic studies program manager should be elevated to director status, just under the executive director in the organization chart.

Currently, the model is that the ethnic studies program manager is at the same level, institutionally, as the program managers of all other content areas. Other content area managers are under no obligation to follow the lead of the ethnic studies program manager. This does not facilitate the development and implementation of precise systemic strategies as outlined by Michael Fullan (2010). This shift in leadership also can and should happen immediately.

Lastly, to be sure alignment of goals, values, critical pedagogy, and ethnic studies reaches school buildings, and therefore, students, the practice of site-based decision making needs to be dismantled and replaced with a tighter version. Effective systems find the right balance between too tight of control and too loose of control (Fullan, 2010).

The current, site-based model is too loose because building administrations frequently choose to opt out of district adopted goals and curricula, or they implement goals and curricula in ways they were not intended. For example, the district recently adopted a new, K-5 literacy curriculum and even though the collective bargaining agreement between the district and educators’ union has an academic freedom clause that gives educators the right to use professional judgment in instruction (Seattle Education Association, 2015), principals have been reported to sit in on classrooms with a script from the curriculum to be sure teachers are teaching it with fidelity. Dr. Kinoshita, the Executive Director of CAI, has explicitly stated on several occasions that he is opposed to “fidelity” in implementation of curricula, and culturally responsive and differentiated instruction should be employed. Conversely, principals have refused to implement ethnic studies (Castro-Gill, 2019) even though it is a board goal (Seattle Public Schools, 2019a).

This inconsistency is a result of the too lose status of alignment between district goals and vision and site-based decision making. Fullan suggests a remedy to this is to have clear non-negotiable goals that must be met by each site while allowing freedom for each site to determine the best way to achieve the goal (2010). The fact that so many principals are opting out of doing any work on critical pedagogy and ethnic studies is dismissive of the fact that this is a prominent goal of the district that the community has repeatedly demanded (Dornfeld, 2019).

Data changes.

In response to the overwhelming evidence of the inherent racism in standardized testing (Au, 2008; Kendi, 2016), the first change to how data is collected and used to drive decision-making in Seattle Public Schools is to not use standardized test data in any decision-making. This change must happen right away. Outlined below is the process of eliminating and replacing standardized test outcomes in data-driven decision-making.

Begin with historical data and missing data.

To align with best practices in data analysis outlined by Dr. Bernhardt, a longitudinal analysis of data needs to be initiated as soon as possible (2016). Unfortunately, some historical data is missing or incomplete, particularly disaggregated student and family perceptions data, data on achievement for all subject areas, needs data from families and students, and racial equity literacy levels of educators. A gaps analysis needs to be conducted for the types of data that are missing that have not already been identified. To build collective capacity and intelligent accountability, this should be performed with various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, students, families, and educators (Bernhardt, 2016; Fullan, 2011).

Disaggregated student and family perceptions data will replace standardized test score data as the central focus of measuring success in data-driven decision-making. While testing mandates are beyond the control of district leadership, how the district operationalizes racial justice and equity is not. Research has concluded that focusing on racial justice initiatives like critical pedagogy and ethnic studies increases all measures of success, including standardized test achievement (Colgren & Sappington, 2015; Sleeter, 2011). The focus of the district moving forward will be on creating safe and just learning environments in which students and families measure how successful the district is at accomplishing its goals, instead of test scores, via disaggregated student and family perceptions data. The district has the capacity to begin this strategy immediately.

Align goals, data, practice, and accountability.

To create an alignment between the goal of achieving racial justice via critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, data needs to begin to be collected on the levels of racial equity literacy among educators. The measurement tools needed to collect this type of data will be created, again, with all stakeholders. The data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender of educators. The development of measurements can begin immediately and be concluded within the next 12 calendar months.

Professional development has already been developed by SEA’s Center for Racial Equity. The district will partner with and learn from CRE to build capacity for all educators in the district (Seattle Education Association, 2019). This can happen concurrently with the development of measurements. At the end of the 12-month period, a process will be created to add racial equity literacy as a component of evaluations for all educators, including administrators, teachers, and instructional assistants.

Systematize and sustain goals and data.

Currently, the district lacks a consistent and reliable data feedback loop. Protocols that require regular reflection on data and action based on reflection do not exist. Frequently, professional development and PLC work consists of “analyzing” data, but, because of the site-based decision-making model, there is no way to determine if action is taken and on what level or with what degree of fidelity. Part of the work of aligning goals, data, and implementation is to create a data feedback loop that includes district and building implementation of practices (Mandinach & Jackson, 2012).

A strategy to systematize the alignment of goals, data, and implementation at the building level is to require that schools remove testing data as a measure from success in their continuous improvement plan and replace it with student and family perceptions data and other measurements previously indicated. Currently, most school CSIPS do not include any perceptions data, which is in direct conflict of best practice (Bernhardt, 2016). This change in the systemic use of data can happen immediately.

Systemic changes.

The goal of the district is to achieve educational justice for students of color. It is counter-intuitive to start with data to achieve that goal when data did not create the injustice. Systems of power and oppression laden with racial bias created the disparate outcomes between white students and students of color. In order to correct the disparities, the focus should be on racial equity, not data or the measurement of data. Currently, professional development on “closing gaps” is heavily focused on analyzing data. This needs to immediately change to focus on racial equity literacy. Equity literacy is defined as putting equity at the center of all decision-making and systems (Gorski & Swalwell, 2015). It challenges the deficit model of starting with gaps (Bernhardt, 2016).

All professional development will start with racial equity literacy before educators are tasked with analyzing data and finding gaps in the types of data that are available. This will give educators a more critical lens to evaluate data for racial equity. This work needs to be on all levels of the system using systemic PLC models. A feasible goal to align racial equity PLC work between district, building, and educator level is no more than 12 calendar months. The work needs to start at the top, so leaders have a deep understanding of racial equity literacy before they create and facilitate racial equity professional development. Racial equity literacy frameworks need to be employed at each PLC level to ensure educators are recognizing bias and inequities, responding to immediate needs to correct them, redressing long term bias and inequities, and creating and sustaining policies and protocols that systematize racial equity in every aspect of their work, including data analysis (Gorski, 2017).

When racial equity literacy is embedded in every level of PLC work in the district, collaboration and collective capacity for racial justice will be effectively facilitated between district, buildings, and educators (DuFour & Reeves, 2013). The changes in district organization and leadership will streamline this collaboration. A focus on racial equity literacy instead of data and standardized testing outcomes will make the work of meeting the goals to implement critical pedagogy and ethnic studies a reality.

One immediate way to get closer to racial equity is to center the wisdom and leadership of educators and administrators of color who have high levels of racial equity literacy. There has been a recent shift in leadership in the district that included demoting leaders of color, particularly Black men. This trend needs to be reversed immediately. Those leaders of color who are still in the district need to be immediately restored to their previous positions. This includes the executive director of CAI, who previously held the title of Chief of CAI.

Leaders of color tend to be inherently more versed in racial equity literacy, since they personally understand the impacts of racial bias and discrimination. Educators of color tend to be inherently better equipped to lead on the creation and implementation of critical pedagogy and ethnic studies because they are the subjects of their own histories and experiences. This is not to say any educator or leader of color is preferred. Racial equity literacy is still a prerequisite, but people of color should be at the core of this work and decision-making.


While the goal of this plan is to implement critical pedagogy and ethnic studies, the result of working toward that goal will be a shift in the system that creates a space made with and for students and families of color with leaders and educators driving the work. The current structure of the district, its initiatives and structure are for white leaders, students, and families who are trying to save students of color. This is the essence of white paternalism and saviorhood. One of the themes of ethnic studies as defined by Seattle Public Schools is “history of resistance and liberation,” which highlights the work of people and communities of color fighting against oppressive systems (Castro-Gill, et. al, 2018). This is the route Seattle Public Schools needs to take. This is what critical pedagogy and ethnic studies can and should create in the goal to achieve educational justice for students of color.


Au. W. (2008). Unequal by design: High-stakes testing and the standardization of inequality.

New York, NY: Routledge.

Bernhardt, V.L. (2016). Data, date everywhere; Bringing all the data together for continuous

school improvement. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

Castro-Gill, T. (n.d.). TenaciousT; The “activist teacher”. Thoughts on Racial Justice from an

Activist Teacher. Retrieved from

Castro-Gill, T. (24.03.2019). Student performance data and assessment and instruction. Thoughts

on Racial Justice from an Activist Teacher. Retrieved from

Castro-Gill, T., VanDerPloeg, L., Alonzo, A.R., Charlton, J.D., Au, W., & Guzmán, G.

(03.10.2018). Seattle Public Schools anti-racist content and practice definitions. Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies and Culturally Responsive Teaching Programs in the Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction. Retrieved from

Colgren, C. & Sappington, N.E. (03.2015). Closing the achievement gap means transformation.

Education Leadership Review of Doctoral Research, 2(1). P 24-33. Retrieved from

Dornfeld, A. (07.02.2019). Seattle schools need fewer cops, more counselors, students say.

KUOW. Retrieved from

DuFour, R. & Reeves, D. (2016). The futility of PLC lite. Phi Delta Kappan, 97(6), 69-71 DOI:


Fullan, M. (2010). All systems go; The change imperative for whole system reform. Thousand

Oaks, CA: Corwin, A SAGE Company.

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leaders; Learning to do what matters most. San Francisco, CA:

Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.

Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Gorski, P. (26.11.2017). Equity literacy for educators: Definitions and abilities. The Equity

Literacy Institute. Retrieved from

Gorski, P.C. & Swalwell, K. (03.2015). Equity literacy for all. Educational Leadership.

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Kendi, I.X. (20.1.2016). Why the academic achievement gap is a racist idea. Black Perspectives.

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Mandinach, E.B. & Jackson, S.S. (2012). Transforming teaching and learning through data-driven decision making. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Seattle Education Association. (01.09.2015). Collective bargaining agreement between Seattle

Public Schools and Seattle Education Association certificated non-supervisory employees 2015-2018. Seattle Education Association. Retrieved from

Seattle Education Association. (2019). SEA Center for Race & Equity Racial Equity Team

Partner Program. Seattle Education Association. Retrieved from

Seattle Public Schools. (2019a). Eliminating Opportunity Gaps. Seattle Public Schools.

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Sleeter, C. E. The academic and social value of ethnic studies; A research review. National

Education Association. Retrieved from

Reflections on the Week April 28-May 4, 2019

The past couple of months have been rough. My last reflective piece was about feeling like I’m constantly under attack. That still exists in a real way, but this past week I’ve had some time to reflect on the beautiful work that’s happening in our district and across the country.

I spent Monday catching up on email and preparing for the various presentations and meetings I had lined up. I also had to get ready to attend the 2019 UCLA Teaching History Conference where I presented on the work I and my teaching partner, Andrew Chase, created in our 6th grade classrooms on ancient world history and ethnic studies. Usually, Mondays are rather stressful, but this past Monday brought me unexpected joy as I had an opportunity to reflect on accomplishments as a teacher and administrator.

On Tuesday, I met with Jon Greenberg and an educator from North Seattle College to begin to implement the partnership I cultivated earlier in the school year to provide college credits to high school students at Center School for taking an ethnic studies course. On top of providing college in the high school, our hope is this partnership will encourage more students to enroll in ethnic studies in high school and college. It’s exciting to see a seed I planted in September start to sprout!

I was invited to Cleveland High School’s racial equity team meeting to give an update on ethnic studies and how educators could get involved. Putting together this talk and presentation was so refreshing and helped me remember the great effort and collaboration that so many people have put into this new program we are creating. It helped remind me that I am not an imposter! This is something I, and my friends, struggle with frequently even though we are taking on this heavy lift and having considerable success!

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, table and indoor

I was able to share about the work of our Ethnic Studies Advisory Group, who, despite barriers and limitations, has produced tools that are being used by educators across the country! I got to talk about the curriculum development and partnerships between higher ed. and community leaders to co-create a preK-12 ethnic studies curriculum.

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I bragged just a little bit about being lucky enough to work with one of my best friends, Marquita Prinzing, on creating a series of professional development workshops to help educators teach ethnic studies. There’s also some exciting work being led by educators on creating recommendations for cross-crediting courses at the secondary level to support an ethnic studies graduation requirement! The teacher leaders in that cadre have given so much time and careful thought to this work and have produced some bold recommendations to move our work forward!

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I talked about some of the partnerships I’m creating with community leaders and organizations and how some of those came together in January at our ethnic studies event, co-led by the NAACP Youth Coalition: Learning the Truth to Better the Youth!

Image may contain: 5 people, including Kyle Kinoshita, Marquita Prinzing and Tracy Castro-Gill, people smiling, people standing

I invited people to join our Ethnic Studies Summer Institute, which is an idea I dreamed up last summer when Jon and I were working on our “super sophisticated plan” to sustainably implement ethnic studies in Seattle Public Schools. This is another seed that has sprouted and is ready to fruit! I’m so grateful to be able to partner with Marquita and Center for Racial Equity, as well as Julie Kang and Charisse Cowan-Pitre from Seattle U, and to have a bad-ass, Kyle Kinoshita, for a boss! Look at us! Charisse said, “Look around the room at who’s here. We need to document this,” so we did.

Image may contain: 12 people, including Tracy Castro-Gill, Lara Davis, Jesse Hagopian and Tina LaPadula, people smiling, people standing

I also had the opportunity to share on behalf of Gail Sehlhorst, visual and performing arts manager, about her leadership on our collaboration to bring Theatre of the Oppressed to Seattle Public Schools. Teaching artists are taking educator created ethnic studies units and transforming them using Augusto Boal’s methods of liberatory art! It’s a magical thing. This is an exciting collaboration that we’re hoping we can expand next school year.

Right now I’m in California after a long day of presenting at the 2019 Teaching History Conference at UCLA. There I shared some of the work that we’ve produced in Seattle, including tools for educators, but what I had the most fun doing was sharing what my students were capable of accomplishing when they were challenged to think critically and engage with college level learning. People in the room were audibly impressed with the level of sophistication my 6th graders were demonstrating in their work. It made me miss the classroom, and it made me realize I’m in exactly the place I need to be. I’m sharing all of the work I outlined above with educators across the country. Keeping this in my classroom would have been easier and more narrow in reach. Everybody needs this everywhere, so I’ll keep working and sharing until I can’t anymore!


Technology Audit

This is a break from the special data series to talk a little bit about systems thinking as it pertains to educational technology. In the Information Age, the term “literacy” needs to be redefined. What do students need to be literate in? The answer can no longer be a single one. Students need to be literate in many things, but before we can lead that learning, we need to address our own illiteracy.

Currently, there is a push from the Seattle Public Schools Board to ban cell phones in K-8 classrooms. This is, in part, a response to our own digital illiteracy and our ignorance about the shift in how technology is being used by our youth. Here is an essay that challenges the ban that is backed by research.

Implementation and Trends

The state of implementation of educational technology in Seattle Public Schools is lacking according to the SAMR model (Common Sense Media, n.d.). While there is some evidence of individual educators achieving the “modification” and “redefinition” levels of the SAMR model, the district as a whole is still at the “substitution” level. There is currently an adoption process underway for science curriculum that would qualify as the “augmentation” level that will be district-wide once complete.

Image 1 (L., 2017)


Most use of technology in the classroom is to supplement or substitute learning, or what Dr. Puentedura calls “enhancing” learning (Common Sense Media, n.d.). Teachers use programs like Read 180, websites like Quizlet and Newsela, or services like Flocabulary to deliver 20th century content with 21st century technology. The tasks are the same with only a change in delivery. In some rare instances, teachers are using more student-centered instructional design that includes students using technology to create, including assessments using technology, like podcasts, vlogs, and the like.

It is a challenge for many teachers to do blended learning of “flipped classrooms” because of inequitable access to hardware and Internet services. An over emphasis on standardized test scores creates an environment in which teachers are pressed to teach to the test, which leaves no time for direct instruction on how to use technology. Many educators, themselves, are unfamiliar with applications commonly used by students, including Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Short-term Goals

            The priority for Seattle Public Schools to implement efficient education technology is to build the capacity of leadership around education technology. While it is important to build leadership capacity among administrators at the district and building levels, it is also important to tap into the natural leadership among all educators (Fullan, 2011), because some individuals are already at the top levels of the SAMR model.

One way to build this capacity is to use the “Visionary Leadership” standards from the ISTE administrator standards (ISTE, 2009). The first step in creating visionary leadership around educational technology is to create a shared vision and goals for how to implement technology with the goal of moving the entire district to the transformative use of technology as defined by the SAMR model (Common Sense Media, n.d.).

Whatever vision is produced from this process needs to be fluid enough in language to address the speed at which technology and information changes (Daly, 2012) and firm enough to convey the urgent need to catch up to 21st century technology. Seattle Public Schools tends to “adopt” or subscribe to technology packages, which are designed as a semi-permanent one-size-fits-all solution that becomes obsolete in a matter of months. The goal should include understanding the technologies students already use and how educators can incorporate a variety of technological tools and resources to transform their instruction (Kim & Bagaka, 2005). If the language in the strategic plan for educational technology is flexible enough, this will allow for educators to alter their practice with advancements in technology.

Once a shared vision is set and goals are created, the next logical step is for leadership to engage in professional development. In Seattle Public Schools there are consistent opportunities for teachers to engage in professional development, if disjointed and heavily focused on high-stakes testing, but there is no protocol for, or consistent access to, high quality professional development for content area program managers. The ISTE standards for administrators have a section titled “Digital Age Learning Culture” which requires educational leaders to model the practice of technological education infusion in their own practice (ISTE, 2009), but there is no indication in the Seattle Public Schools Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction, that the content program managers have the necessary knowledge of educational technology to model these skills.

Many district level administrators lack an ability to use basic technological tools like Google Drive or even Outlook email service. Many educators refuse to engage in social media tools like Twitter and Instagram because they believe it “dumbs people down.” This belief and subsequent practice inhibit their technological literacy and use of culturally responsive technological practices in the classroom (Polly, Mims, Shepherd, & Inan, 2009). While there may be a valid argument in this belief, it is also the technology students are most adept at using (Tausend, 2013). Instead of the entire system, from administrators to students, learning a new technology platform, systems should start with the strengths students already have: social media.

A considerable amount of professional development opportunities should focus on how leaders and educators can adapt to evolving technologies instead of how to use a discreet tool like Schoology or OneNote. Adhering to a concept of technology literacy is more helpful than teaching discreet skills and tools because of the rate at which technology changes. The International Technology and Engineering Educators Association defines technology literacy as “one’s ability to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology” (2019). ITEEA states that for a person to be literate in technology they must understand “what technology is, how it works, how it shapes society and in turn how society shapes it” (2019). This philosophy and definition of technology literacy aligns well with ISTE standards for students (2019b).

To assist with building technology literacy in the district, Seattle Public Schools would benefit from having a Technology Program Manager position. The Department of Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction consists of program managers for various content areas and CAI needs. For example, there are program managers for each content area, one for professional development, one for assessments, a library program manager, and an ethnic studies program manager. Anything having to do with technology is in a separate department called DoTS: Department of Technology Services. DoTS includes everything from coding, to tech support, and “experts” on district technology like Schoology. Having this department be separate, even in location in the building, from CAI signals that technology and technology literacy are separate from curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

A Technology Program Manager position would serve to bridge the divide between CAI and DoTS. This position could work directly with educators in buildings and administrators to develop and deliver professional development on technology literacy. This position could be responsible for tracking the evolution of technology and informing the other program managers of the newest trends and how to incorporate them into CAI. This position could also educate those in DoTS, who are generally disconnected from classroom experiencesand the needs of educators and students.

This leads to the third short-term goal: systemic improvement. As mentioned above, there is a lot of siloing of work that should be collaborative. One of the ISTE standards for administrators calls for “[e]ducational administrators [to] collaborate to establish metrics, collect and analyze data, interpret results, and share findings to improve staff performance and student learning” (2009). In Seattle Public Schools, there is very little collaboration in terms of organization operation, and zero collaboration on education technology at the district level.

The first step to breaking down barriers in systemic effectiveness is to collaboratively complete an audit of current hardware, software, and other IT services, including surveying staff to understand how user friendly these tools are. The guiding question to the audit should be, “How is district technology helping leaders transform their leadership?” If educational leaders are still in the “substitute” level of the SAMR model, they are not capable of leading educators out of the bottom rungs of the model.

Another strategy to break down barriers and collaborate is to partner with community-based organizations, preferably non-profit organizations whom are less likely to dictate policy and procedure than larger organizations, like the Gates Foundation. In his book, All Systems Go; The Change Imperative for Whole System Reform, Michael Fullan emphasizes the need to include all stakeholders in collaborative efforts. “[A] powerful feature of all systems go,” he says, “is that shared commitment, allegiance, and responsibility for results becomes collectively owned” (2010 p. 49). Partnering with community organizations, who may have greater access to and funding for the most up-to-date technologies not only strengthens the school district’s efforts and opens opportunities for student experiences, it also creates that collective accountability, or what Fullan calls “intelligent accountability” (2010). When students are successful, so is the community and vice versa.

Long Term Goals

            Once district and building leaders have built their understanding and skill in technology literacy, they can then lead by example. This is what the ISTE standards for administrators calls “Excellence in Professional Practice” (2009). As Will Richardson points out in Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, much of what education leaders do to “improve” their practice is to make better what they have been doing, which is rooted in practices that originate from practices 150 years old. Richardson argues that much of the information deemed important to teach and model 150 years ago can now be accessed with a quick Google search (Daly, 2012). If education leaders are going to model “Excellence in Professional Practice” they should do it in such a way that will promote the critical thinking and technology literacy students should be using currently and will need to use after high school.

Michael Fullan argues that theory will not motivate people to change. People are resistant to change and will be most likely to change when they see success for themselves. One characteristic of a great change leader is to “motivate the masses.” Fullan claims change leaders can do this through helping others realize the effectiveness of the change (2011). If educational leaders practice the change they are trying to convince others to partake in and can share successful stories, educators will be more easily motivated to try it out themselves.

One ISTE standard for administrators is to “facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture, and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology” (2009). Being experts in their own practice is the only way to effectively “stimulate and nurture” faculty and staff. Education leaders need to commit to being life-long learners, not only for their own practice and leadership, but to model the importance of this for their faculty and staff.

The second long-term goal is for educators to “Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments” (ISTE, 2019a). This goal will require educators to learn alongside district and building leaders who have developed their practice and technology literacy. Teachers will need to do their own work with identifying and understanding the tools students are using.

An important consideration during this phase of implementing education technology is creating curricula centered on critical thinking skills. As Will Richardson points out, finding information is easy. Assessing it is the tricky part (Daly, 2012). With the rise of questionable, online “news” sources (Adornato, 2016), teachers will have to first know how to assess information themselves before teaching students how to do it. The fact that 6 in 10 Americans get their news from social media (Gottfried & Shearer, 2016), which is where much of the “fake news” is shared (Adornato, 2016), supports the earlier claim that educators and education leaders need to take social media more seriously and include it in their technology literacy learning.

Much of the language in the ISTE standards for educators that fall under learning and assessments includes student-centered learning that is “customized” and personalized to address curiosity and different learning styles. They call for relevant experiences that use “contemporary tools” (2019a). This is more language to support the need for technology literacy and use of social media tools instead of large, expensive, and cumbersome one-size-fits-all “solutions” like Schoology.

The next long-term goal is to prepare teachers to facilitate learning for students, or what the ISTE standards for educators calls “Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity” (2019a). There is a push currently underway in Seattle Public Schools for culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. The ISTE standards for educators align with this work, but technology has not been part of the conversation. Part of this could be the result of administrators and educators not having the foundational knowledge as previously discussed.

Culturally responsive and relevant pedagogical strategies center student experiences and strengths, moving them from dependent to independent and co-dependent learners (Hammond, 2016). Since culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy is such a huge focus in Seattle Public schools, the time is ripe to include the ISTE standards for teachers and students. The fact that the district and school leaders are not prepared, however, is disappointing. There is still much learning on the part of adults before the two concepts can be effectively integrated. Therefore, it is a long-term goal.


For education technology reform to be systemic, district leadership needs to take the lead. There is some infrastructure at the district level, in the form of program managers, to build capacity in different content areas. Before this can happen, however, there needs to be an audit of current resources, practices, and organization structure. Barriers to collaboration need to be removed. Vision and goals for implementation of education technology need to be co-created with leaders, educators, and community members. The district needs to also remove internal barriers to collaboration and consider creating an education technology program manager position to facilitate collaboration between CAI and DoTS.

Before effective classroom teaching can be planned and facilitated, there needs to by systemic support at the district and building leadership levels. Systemic, effective professional development can only happen after district and building leaders have done their own technology literacy work. District level policy and practice needs to move away from one-off technology solutions to adapt to rapidly evolving technologic advancements. Policy needs to embrace technologies like smart phones, apps, and social media because that is what students are using most.

If these goals were realized, the district has the potential to move from the “substitute” rung of the SAMR model to the “redefinition” rung. Achieving “redefinition” cannot happen unless the reforms are systemic and barriers at all levels are addressed and removed. Starting with classroom practice and student learning will not achieve this. District leaders and educators need to redefine how they view technology, first.


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