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)
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