Who Knew Distance Could Be So Intimate & Insightful?

Posted by Andrea Hopke on Fri, May 08, 2020

We just completed a Zoom call with 45 leaders from a local high school and school district (Marietta, GA). The degree of candid sharing, support and empathy was beyond belief. Who knew?

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These leaders are part of an ongoing commitment to build cultural fluency through a series of interactive workshops and sessions designed to unveil what keeps us all from creating educational equity, justice, diversity and inclusion or JEDI, as Principal Keith Ball refers to it.  

Launched in January, we had physically met several times. Then in March we all slammed into the wall known as COVID19. 

We immediately started to shift the design of interactions. Keep in mind this is education, so the teachers and staff were already enmeshed in figuring out lesson plans for online work, new technology, how to stay connected to the students, how to grade. 

So, how to collectively maintain positive momentum for JEDI was and is our creative challenge for the 45 school/district leaders and our Clearwater team. So that we all continue to learn with and from each other, sharing insights and what ifs. 

Here is what we're learning with and through them:

  • Creativity abounds when authentically engaged with a compelling purpose: we collectively figured out ways to invite the leaders to continue dialog, build awareness, express vulnerability, and identify opportunities. 

  • Respect and acknowledge the moment: in the early days of distancing, we respected that the leaders had A LOT already going on, lives and work disciplines completely disrupted. We held weekly check-ins with the core team of 8 acting as our allies and partners in this work to acknowledge them - asking, how are you feeling, what are you grappling with, how can this work continue to come to life, how can we keep the leaders engaged in the work without adding to overwhelm? 

  • Narratives are key: in our experience, one way biases and judgments start to shift is when the story you tell yourself about someone else meets the reality of that person. We found ways to bring the broader leadership team together to share stories, to talk out loud about things they may be pondering silently. Truly getting to know each other, and then encouraging each other to reach beyond the group they normally hang with - such a human trait we all share, to stay stuck in the comfort of folks like us. 

  • Commit to getting uncomfortable in a space where you can be candid: we created small group "pods" - 3 to 4 people gathering virtually to check in with each other, to watch a video (example: see the link below to the Victor Rios TED talk), read an article, ask each other what they think, get curious about who they are, probe, explore.

Finally, in the words of Principal Keith Ball, as we go forward, may we all pay attention to our "heart posture." Because it is through that lens that we respond versus react, that we listen well, we adapt, we drop the anchors that tether us to what doesn't work and figure out, person by person, student by student, a better way to understand, appreciate and support each other. 

Great TED talks to check out -

https://www.ted.com/talks/victor_rios_help_for_kids_the_education_system_ignores

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

https://www.ted.com/talks/verna_myers_how_to_overcome_our_biases_walk_boldly_toward_them

https://www.ted.com/talks/mellody_hobson_color_blind_or_color_brave

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