Certainly, I’m proud of the progress I’ve seen in my lifetime. There have been monumental shifts in gay rights bestowed by the Supreme Court: Bowers v. Hardwick, Romer v. Evans, U.S. v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges. There have been incredible changes in public perception of the queer community: a long-running Gallup poll asked whether relations between consenting gay adults should be legal has shifted from 57% against in 1985 to 79% for in 2021. With greater acceptance has come greater visibility and ability for those in the queer community to come out: 7.1% of Americans identify as something other than heterosexual, with more than 20% of Generation Z doing so.
And yet, with all that progress, queer youth still struggle, as the lived reality of LGBTQ+ students is a world of mixed messages about them belonging. In 2015, the CDC began asking students about their sexual orientation in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning experienced higher levels of bullying, suicidality, and depression than their straight peers. And, the trends continued in the 2017 and 2019 surveys, as this chart created by the Brookings Institution shows.
In addition, there is the predictable backlash to progress made. In the first few months of this year, more than 240 bills were introduced in state legislatures targeting the queer community (mainly targeting transgender Americans), with many of the bills specifically limiting how schools can support queer students. As more bills get introduced and passed, new legislative efforts seem to get bolder: this week a Texas legislator introduced a bill banning drag shows in the presence of minors, while at the same time saying that there should not be any changes to gun laws as a result of the Uvalde school massacre.
In the face of backlash and with an understanding of mental health challenges for queer youth, it is imperative that Academic Leaders work to make sure that LGBTQ+ students feel welcome, safe, seen, and protected in our schools. Let’s commit to that this Pride month.
We’re thrilled with the response to our preview. Join the Association for Academic Leaders as we get set for the official launch in July, we'll be expanding offerings and introducing our member portal. Reach out to Sarah Hanawald with any questions!
We thought we’d share a little of what our preview participants have to say here:
Live on Wednesdays:
Marking the Moment:
When I began my work in department leadership, I wanted a minute-by-minute job description for what I “was supposed” to do. But now, looking back, I think having a checklist-type job description wouldn’t have captured what I needed to learn about leadership within the department.
The most important thing I needed to do was to know my department– to know the people, to talk to them, to visit their classes. The phrase “lead from behind” captures part of that mindset. I saw my work as supporting teachers, knowing their professional goals, and thinking about the ways I could support them in realizing their aspirations. This meant the biggest mistake I could have made would have been sitting in my office and not having those conversations. I’m very intentional about popping into a space, finding out what ideas people are having, and how to make those ideas move forward. There’s so much potential in each educator. I believe that uncovering and nurturing that potential is the most important thing you can do in the department chair role.
As part of that aspiration, I set the expectation in our department that we will visit each other’s classes. I’ll walk into the class of a colleague just to see what’s going on. Those visits aren’t part of formal observation or evaluation. They happen because I believe that witnessing colleagues’ work is an essential part of growth, for both of us. In the same way, my door is always open to my colleagues. I don’t want people to feel they have to make an appointment to talk to me–I want them to walk in and start talking, to debrief what’s happening in their classrooms.
As teachers, we’ve all had phenomenal classes and we’ve all had clunkers. Those are the best moments to talk it out with your colleagues and department chair. As a department chair, being available is essential to my ability to do my best work. When someone comes to my door, I put away what I’m doing, because I want to prioritize people. The moments of reflection and conversation made a difference, and they help teachers to maintain their health and wellness.
So many things in my work bring me joy. I love seeing a teacher who’s struggling begin to build confidence and competence over the course of the year. We can use our department as a laboratory for innovation and new ideas. When you encourage faculty to have that perspective, they start to ask to try new things. My responsibility as department chair is to see where those new ideas take us. It happens because I set the expectation that it will happen. Working with people I respect and value, and having conversations about new ideas—I can’t ask for anything better than that!
The Identity Conscious Educator: Building habits and skills for a more inclusive school by Dr. Liza Talusan. Review by Joel Sohn, Upper School Director, University Prep (Seattle)
At a time when schools and educators are facing a call to move beyond listening and understanding in order to take actionable steps toward living out our missions, Liza Talusan’s book offers actionable strategies and reflective activities that address real-world challenges and scenarios in our schools.
The book begins with the premise that since individual identity shapes how we interpret and engage with the world around us, educators must cultivate their own sense of identity as they work with students and others in their school communities. This is a prerequisite for understanding the humanity of others and creating safe and equitable environments that affirm all learners.
“I remember most when they failed to include me. I do not have a single memory of adults speaking up on my behalf,” writes Talusan. “I remember their silence” (16). This personal narrative is buoyed by case studies and research that highlights ways for educators to include all students and move beyond simple awareness.
We know that validation of one’s identity in an inclusive environment accelerates student success and learning. Therefore, educators must demonstrate competency and regular practice in the area of equity and inclusion to help their students thrive.
The book begins by challenging educators to look inwardly first and reflect on the earliest messages received about difference. The book also asks educators to examine their engagement style around conflict and their ability to move toward difficult conversations.
Broken into three parts — Getting Ready for Identity Work, Building Your Identity-Conscious Practice, and Turning Planning Into Action —the book is easy to follow from start to finish or when used as a resource to address the area that an educator is immediately facing. Each chapter also ends with reproducible activities that educators can use time and again when encountering difficult situations or even when they need time for reflection. Each chapter functions like a mini-workout that forces the reader into practice, not just understanding. The book shares a wide array of tools that can help when challenges come up in schools and, even better, recommends ways to operationalize those habits and skills in the classroom.
With a lens toward today's tensions on campuses across the country, the most relevant chapter was “The Role of Failure in Identity Work.” Like each chapter, it begins with a personal narrative. This particular narrative was one of vulnerability in admitting a moment of poignant failure that led to “shame, embarrassment, and fear.” Yet, the chapter focuses not on those emotions, but the way through them. How do we embrace and recover from failure? In a contemporary culture where recognition of failure comes quick, educators must also be equipped with the appropriate tools to recover from failure. The chapter outlines appropriate ways to do so and offers tools and tips for educators to consider as they continue developing their skills.
Perhaps that is the most important aspect of this book: that it is all about tools to address all manner of situations that arise in schools. The book helps educators and leaders operationalize these necessary habits and practices in their own classrooms and communities.
All educators today, and especially Academic Leaders, need the humility to recognize the need to study and internalize this type of framework. Doing this work then helps academic leaders reduce the cognitive load required for daily, in-the-moment, decision-making. The activities and charts in Talusan’s book act like checklists educators can use daily when they encounter something that gives them pause. Reading this book and keeping it as a resource refreshes the commitment toward building true habits and skills for more inclusive schools and will position educators to appropriately address the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Summer Reading List
What are you reading this summer? Please use the comment feature below to share or to add a comment on a book you see posted here.
Atomic Habits James Clear Recommended by Molly Rumsey, Harpeth Hall School (TN)
The Book of Hope A Survival Guide for Trying Times Jane Goodall Recommended by Elizabeth Smith, and Andi Shurley, both of Ursuline Academy of Dallas
Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities Susie Wise Recommended by Amanda Lucas, Blair Academy (NJ)
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy Jenny Odell, Recommended by Sienna Brancato, One Schoolhouse
I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times Monica Guzman Recommended by Tim Quinn, Miss Porter’s School (CT)
Bringing the Neuroscience of Learning to Online Teaching Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, Recommended by Connie White, Director of Learning Design and Innovation, Woodward Academy (GA)
The Identity-Conscious Educator: Building Habits and Skills for a More Inclusive School Dr. Liza Talusan Recommended by Justin Brandon, Ravenscroft School (NC)
High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out Amanda Ripley. Recommended by Liz Perry, St. Luke’s School (CT)
Not All Boys are Blue George M. Johnson. Recommended by Brad Rathgeber, One Schoolhouse
The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again Catherine Price. Recommended by Liz Katz, One Schoolhouse
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds David Pollock, Ruth van Reken and Michael Pollock. Recommended by Eric Walters, Marymount School (NY)
Important work needed to be done, and if we didn’t do it we would just start the next year behind. That turned out not to be true. We had a celebration and everyone excitedly moved on into summer. Work got done: comments were written, grades were submitted, but it was done asynchronously. Some people even met, but they had the autonomy to do it when and where they wanted. Instead of meeting, what we did was celebrate – on the same day as graduation – and then rest, both of which were well deserved and much needed. No one missed these end of the year meetings. Shocker, I know! In fact, I’ll confess that only one year after abandoning these meetings, I just had to look up old schedules to remember what we had met about in the “COVID before-times.”
Whether over or not, we seem to be moving on from the pandemic, and we are taking seriously the idea that in many ways we shouldn’t just return to “normal.” And one of the ways in which we are doing this at Miss Porter’s is by not going back to having end of the year meetings. While it hasn’t been quite as challenging a year as last, when we get to graduation, people will still be exhausted, and so the least we can give them is some autonomy with regard to how they use their time. Grading will get done, comments will get written, some departments and committees will meet, but they can schedule these meetings whenever they want over the summer, and the same will be true for one-on-one meetings that supervisors have with all faculty members. This takes some stress and pressure off of the end of the year, and that excitement we all feel at graduation can carry into the next week, without the dread of having to be in a meeting at 8am on Monday.
On an episode of NAIS’s New View EDU podcast this past winter, Jay McTighe said the following:
“I'm an advocate for summer work, whether it's summer curriculum work or designing for project-based learning, or more authentic assessments. Because what I call the heavy lifting of curriculum and assessment design is just too hard to do in the middle of the school year with occasional meetings here or a substitute day there. By the way, the implication should be straightforward, especially in schools that don't have a history of summer work. We need to build that capacity. We need to agree on what we need to work on. We need to invite the right people to come work on it. We need to set the dates well in advance so people can plan their summers accordingly, and we need to budget for it. We need to pay people for work outside of the teaching day.”
We were inspired by this, so one thing we have added this year is what we are referring to as our first annual curriculum writing institute. In place of meetings, teachers have been given the opportunity to opt into this curriculum writing institute, and they will get paid for this additional work writing curriculum for programs and courses that reflect institutional priorities. So for some teachers there will be work, but it will be optional, it will be generative, and it will be paid. McTighe is correct – this curriculum work can’t get done during the school year, especially when you are trying to do a complete overhaul of your curriculum as we are at Miss Porter’s in preparation for our transition to a full mastery-based program and the eventual issuing of a Mastery Transcript.
Thus, we’ve reduced some of the stress of the end of the year, people are given autonomy, and choice, some are able to earn additional income, and real important work that moves the school forward gets done. So go ahead, follow our lead and cancel those end of the year meetings. I promise your faculty won’t mind!
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)