At One Schoolhouse, one of our foundational values is “build for belonging”. We believe that the future of education - and of our world - rests in building equitable and inclusive institutions. We seek out diverse voices, listen intently to each other, and build experiences that honor identity. As an expression of that value, we began to acknowledge heritage months and identity recognitions about 18 months ago as a part of our weekly newsletter. The response was immediate and unanimous–our readers told us they appreciated the new features. As we completed the first annual cycle, we took the opportunity to clarify and iterate our practices. Here are our takeaways:
Our goal is to amplify heritage months and identity recognitions of minoritized groups in the United States.
In our newsletter, this means that we want to reflect the diversity of our readers. To borrow the iconic metaphor of “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” created by Black scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, we strive to offer mirrors of lived experiences for our faculty, staff, and readers through recognition of heritage months and identity-based celebrations. For readers who don’t share those experiences, we want to provide windows for curious and respectful inquiry. And there’s a reason we call this newsletter “Open Doors”: We hope we open the doors of dialogue between Academic Leaders, about both their professional work and aspirations, and the personal experiences that have shaped them.
The history of recognitions and celebrations is different from the history or culture that’s being recognized.
Recognitions and celebrations offer only a partial representation of a culture's history and traditions, and they serve as a reminder that there is much more to learn and explore. It’s all too common for predominantly white institutions to recognize minoritized groups and experiences only in their prescribed months. We wanted to make sure that our acknowledgements didn’t fall into that problematic pattern. That’s why we decided to focus our explorations on the history, resources, and narratives of the recognitions themselves. In exploring the complexity of a recognition or celebration, we can lay the foundations for the complex conversations that identity, justice, and liberation must inspire throughout the year.
We prioritize resources and voices that are created by people of diverse cultures and identities.
When you tell a story, you make two sets of choices: what to include, and what to leave out. Those choices can reify power or subvert it; they can enforce oppression or resist it. Whenever possible, we want the subject of the story to be the teller. To ensure that we bring you resources that are diverse, authentic, and compelling, we aim to read more than we write and listen more than we talk. We are humble in the work of curation, and we know we have much to learn.
We’re learning and growing as we do this work. We’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to keep striving.
You might have noticed that our format has changed recently. Rather than having observances and recognitions pop up as the days or months approach, we’ve started to have the first newsletter of each month devoted to some of the recognitions and observances the month contains. When we dedicated a whole newsletter each month, we discovered that we gained flexibility and space to include more acknowledgements and expand the resources we can offer. Even in this new model, we know we won’t get everything right. Despite our best efforts, we know we will make mistakes and omissions. (If we do, we hope you’ll let us know!) We’re aiming for excellence, not perfection.
We want to honor joy, resistance and resilience.
In our acknowledgements of heritage months and identity recognitions, we want to respect and reflect communities’ full and rich experiences, which include both struggle and celebration. Culture and identity aren't monolithic; they are layered and multifaceted, intersecting and evolving. One Schoolhouse is a hopeful organization. In honoring these complexities, we hope to empower our staff, our faculty, our students, and our readers to cultivate diversity, equity, inclusion, and to ensure that every person feels seen, heard, and valued in our work.
LGBTQ+ History Month
Indigenous People’s Day is Monday, October 9
National Coming Out Day is October 11
The more I’ve attended family education events, the more convinced I’ve become that most schools’ programs aren’t actually designed for adult learning. Sarah Hanawald, our Senior Director, Association for Academic Leaders, says that best practices in adult learning direct educators to include practical applications for new concepts and information. We’ve moved beyond “the sage on the stage” in our classrooms--so why are so many schools still teaching parents and guardians this way?
As adults, we recognize the feeling of sitting in a classroom and listening to an expert. That familiarity is inherently reassuring. Whether it’s an author or a local professional, experts have the star power to bring parents and guardians to school in the evening. One challenge arises, however, when schools locate the expertise about children and adolescents outside of their school community. This is a missed opportunity for a school to demonstrate their deep well of experience with the social, emotional, and cognitive experiences of their students specifically.
When education for parents and guardians centers on hiring outside experts, it reinforces a framework that contributes to anxiety. The overload of information generated by social media, online sources, podcasts, and more has created the sense that it’s impossible for any person to know all they need to know in order to raise a “successful” child. Family education event question-and-answer sessions run the risk of being performative (the humblebrag can be raised to an art form in these exchanges) which can create a culture where families with students experiencing challenges feel like outliers.
A shift to a skills-based approach to family education can focus attention on the realities of raising children and adolescents, rather than on parents’ and guardians’ anxieties. That’s because this approach is based on a growth mindset, which sees students as constantly evolving and changing, rather than a fixed mindset which locks both children and their parents and guardians into “successful” or “unsuccessful” roles.
For example, take the discussions of resilience common in many schools and families. When an expert describes the qualities of a resilient adolescent, they’re contributing to the sense that some students are inherently resilient and others aren’t. When a presenter, instead, describes specific practices and approaches that build resilience in young people, there’s a way for every parent or guardian to implement the strategy, no matter where their student falls on the resilience spectrum. A skills-focused approach makes it clear that a singular standard against which parents and guardians can measure their children is, in fact, a fallacy.
A skills-based approach provides adults with actionable, real-world frameworks, which means that family education can make a difference in the lived experiences of families. When that instruction can be delivered by a person in your community, you help parents and guardians trust your experience and empathy. All learners acquire new information most effectively when they feel connected to their instructor, so bringing family education in-house provides the opportunity to take advantage of the trust your families feel in your teacher-leaders and counselors, making it more likely for parents and guardians to implement their learning.
Rethinking family education can shift the understanding of child-rearing as something that should be professionalized and optimized by experts, into an alternative framework that sees adults, adolescents, and children as part of a web of relationships and resources that can grow and respond to needs--a framework that all communities need to help young people thrive.
*Many schools still use the term “parent education” to describe programming for parents, guardians, and caregivers. At One Schoolhouse, we’ve chosen the term “family education” to acknowledge the wide range of family and care structures in school communities.
Want to more resources on supporting strong school-family partnerships? Association members, check out all of our parent-guardian resources in the Portal. Not a member? Learn more about the Association and join today!
Navigating interactions with worried or frustrated parents or guardians is a vital skill set for Academic Leaders. As school leaders, we understand that these conversations have two facets. On one hand, they're about the child and their needs. Yet, hidden beneath, there's the parents' personal journey—their beliefs about schooling, authority, and their role in their child's education. Recognizing these layers and practicing empathy can transform challenging conversations into collaborative opportunities. This approach not only eases communication but also minimizes conflicts, fostering a positive space where everyone's focus remains on the ultimate goal: the child's academic success.
Recognizing Protectiveness and Worry
A defensive stance is often a reflexive response when parents or guardians are worried about their child’s experience or emotions. Parents are their children's fiercest advocates. A protective stance can all too easily be misread as aggression or obstinance, immediately putting an Academic Leader on the defensive as well. In situations like these, it’s important to start with curiosity rather than challenge. Asking questions and listening to the parent or guardian’s point of view can give you better insight into their concerns for their child. This openness builds trust that can help bridge potential differences between you and the family, ultimately creating an environment where conversation is possible instead of conflict.
Navigating Perceptions of Authority
When parents and guardians talk with Academic Leaders, much in the conversation is shaped by the attitudes each participant brings to the room. Parents’ assumptions about school leadership is often shaped by their own experiences as students, at a time when leadership was all too often opaque. That contributes to an often-held view that Academic Leaders are powerful figures who wield influence over their child's education. This perception can color a family member’s interactions, unconsciously cuing an assertive or even confrontational posture. It's challenging to reconcile parents’ perceptions of school authority with Academic Leaders' true roles as stewards and facilitators. That's why building empathy is an important component of effective communication between families and school leadership.
Acknowledging External Factors
When faced with a parent or guardian's frustration, it might be easy to miss the broader picture. The conversation you have is being shaped by forces outside of your control, like challenges in the family's home, or at work. The source of a family member's exasperation may not lie within the school or its administration, but could instead be tied to other personal or professional pressures. You can open the door for that conversation by recognizing the challenging situation they're in, and inquiring about any other difficulties their student might be facing. This kind of approach is invaluable in creating a meaningful dialogue and fostering trust.
Empathy includes listening with compassion rather than simply hearing the words being said. It's about asking questions to help understand a parent's perspective while remaining solution-focused. Intentionally building connection and understanding helps parents see us not as opponents, but partners. When Academic Leaders approach challenging conversations with empathy, we not only foster a positive environment, but we strengthen our ultimate goal - every student's success.
As a part of our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, we’ll be recognizing observances and holidays that center the voices and experiences of historically excluded peoples in the United States. As an educational organization, we want to lift up the words of others who share our commitment to learning, and amplify Chicana/o/x, Latina/o/x, and Hispanic voices.
Here are some of our favorite resources for expanding curriculum, embracing the diversity of the Latinx community, and supporting students.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)