I am an example of why racial issues perpetuate in US schools


When I saw this visual on Facebook, it caught my attention. The death of George Floyd hits close to home and I want to do something. My challenge is...what? My logical brain tells me that one white, small town mom isn't really going to make an impact. This topic seems so huge and messy, emotionally charged, and complex. Fear creeps in and I think maybe I'll say something wrong and make it worse or messier, so best to just keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. 

That's my small self talking.

And then...there's my big self. 

My big self says, "screw that, Betsy." Speak your mind. Speak your heart. Speak your truth. Write your truth. That's one thing you can do. So, here's my truth. It's not necessarily pretty. I'm not proud of my role in it. But, it's where we're at. It's where I'm at. And as I always say, awareness is the first step. 

This fall I teamed up with an innovative group of people doing extremely important work regarding race, equity, and access for school districts in the Twin Cities area. They complete equity audits for school districts by interviewing the students, parents, leaders, and staff. They gather data through classroom observations, attending school board meetings, and by having each individual complete a self-assessment called the  Intercultural Developmental Inventory, which attempts to measure an individuals implicit bias on the topic of race. They then compile and share the results with district leaders and provide recommendations and interventions for how to improve.

What they are finding when they do their deep dive audits is slightly horrifying. The stories that are being unearthed and the degree to which ignorance and denial continues to pervade our educational systems regarding the issue of race is very much real and alive.

As I listened to their stories, I would leave wondering how these folks do their jobs day in and day out because what they are finding is so disheartening. I can see how bringing me on to address issues of burnout is a value add to their team. If I had to be immersed in what feels like this immovable and uphill battle every day, I might be on the brink of burnout too.

Because this is our education system. If this system is as inherently biased as it seems to be, then how are we shaping the next generation to be any different?

The good news is....this issue can no longer remain dormant, stewing and festering under the surface. We've hit a pain threshold in our schools and our society that can no longer be denied. The violence that we are witnessing is a growing awareness that somethings got to give. We need to be willing to call upon resources in our school systems that can help us take a good hard look in the mirror, assess where we're at, and figure out how to be better. 

As part of partnering with this team, I was more than willing to partake in the Intercultural Development Inventory and get a pulse on my own implicit bias. What I found surprised me. And not in a good way. I generally think of myself as an open and accepting person, so I expected that I would fall into the category of well..."Acceptance." Nope, where I landed on the continuum was in "Minimization." 

I'm not going to lie. It was a bit of a punch to the gut to realize that in this way, I am part of the problem. The IDI provides a nice clear visual of how you perceive your intercultural competence and where it really is. I was humbled to discover that I overestimated my competency...and as much as I rushed to judge others, in fact there was quite a learning and growth opportunity for me here too.

The nice thing is, once you take the IDI assessment, you're not just left hanging. This tool utilizes an approach very similar to coaching.

1. You assess where you are now so that you are crystal clear where you are starting from no matter how ugly or painful it is.

2. You figure out where you'd like to be, and you notice the gap (awareness is the first step!)

3. You develop a plan to close that developmental gap and you do the work until you get there.

Here is how the IDI describes a "Minimization Mindset":

When I thought more about it, puzzle pieces began to fit together. I tend toward a "universal love, we are all one" view of life and of humans. But I could suddenly see how my "one love" framework has its drawbacks. Holding strong to the aerial view that "we are all the same" or "all equal" actually minimizes the different experiences and viewpoints that people bring to the table. Because I'm so insistent upon finding common ground and ways that people are similar, it doesn't allow for the awareness, recognition, or appreciation of how our differences impact our experiences, our rights, and our freedoms. I was minimizing the details, the intricacies, the everyday realities that aren't part of my awareness because they haven't had to be. 

So what to do with this new awareness of self? Taking this assessment and going over the results with my colleague left me feeling naive. Vulnerable. Exposed. Stirred up and confused. And then I said to myself something I often say when I'm teaching or coaching others, "confusion means you are about to learn something new." So sit in this feeling of discomfort. Let it spur you into new action. Learn. Grow. Develop. Get schooled in this area of your life and have fun with it while you do.

When you're in conversations with people from a different racial or cultural background, remind yourself of your minimizing tendencies. Let that be the cue to listen and observe the interaction more deeply. To pay better attention to what they are saying (and not saying) with more presence and more curiosity.

And for heavens sake, open up. Talk about what you're experiencing. Goodness knows, you're not alone. The internal messiness you feel is clearly a mirror for what's happening in the larger culture, and I of all people understand that keeping my experience in the dark out of shame or guilt or embarrassment isn't going to contribute to the solution. What will is open, honest, vulnerable conversation. 

So that's what I've been doing. When I have the opportunity, I've been talking to school leaders about the results of my IDI. How I'm processing it. What surprised me. What I've learned. Where my growth edge is on this topic and why I'm excited about it. I ask questions on this topic with my Guest Experts in my Balance Not Burnout: Educators Edition online course and I ask encourage them to get vulnerable about it too.

I believe that as educators, as public servants...our job is to be willing to sit in the discomfort of recognizing that we need to "get schooled" by the people that we serve, just as we are offering them a form of schooling. Because this is how the best leaders truly LEAD. Not by knowing it all, but by knowing thyself and being willing to improve thyself. 

I openly talk about the fact that in some ways I am the face of what's wrong in American schools. I'm a white, educated, middle class, big hearted woman who wants to make the world a better place, and yet tends to minimize the degree to which constructs such as race impact the reality of how we each experience life differently. Admitting this, modeling that I can own up and strive to be better....perhaps that is me doing something. 

 Live Your Light and Leadership,


Fulfillionaire Facilitator, Educational Psychologist, Inspirational Speaker


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