Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

How Schools Can Foster a Better Racial Climate

By Tyrone C. Howard — May 30, 2019 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A recent photo of a group of teachers smiling and holding a noose at a Palmdale, Calif., elementary school has caused understandable outrage about the racial sensitivity of educators. As someone who has worked in hundreds of districts across the country—including Palmdale—on issues of racial literacy and cultural awareness, I must say that the noose incident was not surprising. While many districts have not had a noose incident, they can still be teeming with racially hostile staff, creating a challenging learning environment for students of color.

Here are several pivotal steps that schools and school leaders should consider to create a more racially inclusive and healthy environment:

1. One-time diversity professional development is not enough. Many districts and schools commit themselves to a speaker who comes in once to discuss diversity, equity, or implicit bias, and then moves onto other compliance or curricular issues. Harmful attitudes, beliefs, and ignorance are hard to eliminate. Therefore, schools must commit themselves to sustained and intentional professional learning around race, racism, implicit bias, school-induced trauma, and other equity-focused efforts. This work needs to be sanctioned and supported at the district level where all schools and staff are part of the learning. Even if some teachers resist, and object to professional development on racial climate, and make comments such as “we don’t need this type of training,” or “this training is a waste of time,” leaders need to double down and insist that everyone can improve in this area and proceed with the work that must be done.

2. Leaders need to lead. School leaders must play a pivotal role in having hard conversations and creating brave spaces to disrupt racist thinking and practices at their schools. Many leaders operate from a reactive point of view and not a proactive one. Leaders should be talking to their staffs regularly about how to create racially supportive schools and classrooms. Leaders must challenge their teachers around deficit-based thinking about students of color, and must let teachers know that there is zero tolerance for teachers when it comes to race-based jokes or pranks.

See Also

BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion Why We Weren't Surprised to See Teachers Holding a Noose
Shaun R. Harper & James Bridgeforth, May 14, 2019
5 min read

3. Bystanders need to speak up. In many schools, teachers often make racially inappropriate comments, say dismissive things, or state jokes that are racially insensitive. Their colleagues remain silent, do not disrupt such comments, laugh at them, and do not repudiate their colleagues for making offensive comments. Bystanders who remain silent in the face of inappropriate comments, gestures, jokes, and behaviors made by colleagues are complicit in creating hostile learning communities. Bystanders need to demonstrate the courage to call their colleagues to task about inappropriate behaviors.

4. Racially diverse staff must be heard. In many schools, teachers and staff of color are all too aware of the hostile racial climate that exists in a school. Many speak up about how they and their students are subjected to racially inappropriate work environments. When such comments are made, leaders must listen to them, believe them, and take steps to address them—immediately. However, educators of color should not be expected to do the emotional labor of fixing or addressing such issues.

5. Parents and students deserve a say. Our most important stakeholders, students and parents, are frequently not listened to about school climate. Many students are aware of teachers who make disrespectful or racially demeaning comments. Many students are keenly aware of teachers who engage in differential treatment of students based on race. When school leaders receive recurring complaints about particular staff members, they must listen and act. Moreover, many parents and caregivers are also aware of teachers who are often dismissive and disrespectful of parents of color. Leaders must create spaces to bring together parents and caregivers and listen to their experiences with certain school personnel.

A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2019 edition of Education Week as How Schools Can Foster a Better Racial Climate

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Should College Essays Touch on Race? Some Feel the Affirmative Action Ruling Leaves Them No Choice
After the end of affirmative action, the college essay is one of the few places where race can play a role in admissions decisions.
8 min read
Hillary Amofa listens to others member of the Lincoln Park High School step team after school on March 8, 2024, in Chicago. When she started writing her college essay, Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. She wrote about being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana, about growing up in a small apartment in Chicago. She described hardship and struggle. Then she deleted it all. "I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping," said the 18 year-old senior, "And I'm just like, this doesn't really say anything about me as a person."
Hillary Amofa listens to others member of the Lincoln Park High School step team after school on March 8, 2024, in Chicago. When she started writing her college essay, Amofa told the story she thought admissions offices wanted to hear. She wrote about being the daughter of immigrants from Ghana, about growing up in a small apartment in Chicago, and then deleted it all to avoid sounding like she was "trauma-dumping."
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Equity & Diversity Teacher, Students Sue Arkansas Over Ban on Critical Race Theory
A high school teacher and two students asked a federal judge to strike down the restrictions as unconstitutional.
2 min read
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs an education overhaul bill into law, March 8, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. On Monday, March 25, 2024, a high school teacher and two students sued Arkansas over the state's ban on critical race theory and “indoctrination” in public schools, asking a federal judge to strike down the restrictions as unconstitutional.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs an education overhaul bill into law, March 8, 2023, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark.
Andrew DeMillo/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion What March Madness Can Teach Schools About Equity
What if we modeled equity in action in K-12 classrooms after the resources provided to college student-athletes? asks Bettina L. Love.
3 min read
A young student is celebrated like a pro athlete for earning an A+!
Chris Kindred for Education Week
Equity & Diversity What's Permissible Under Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law? A New Legal Settlement Clarifies
The Florida department of education must send out a copy of the settlement agreement to school boards across the state.
4 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Students and teachers will be able to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms under a settlement reached March 11, 2024 between Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys who had challenged a state law which critics dubbed “Don't Say Gay.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Students and teachers will be able to speak freely about sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms under a settlement reached March 11, 2024, between Florida education officials and civil rights attorneys who had challenged the state's “Don't Say Gay” law.
Phil Sears/AP