Monday, 9 May 2011

Courageous Conversations about Race - Part 1

As a leader, how comfortable are you with conversations about race?

We believe that the racial achievement gap exists and persists because fundamentally, schools are not designed to educate students of colour, and educators continue to lack the will, skill, knowledge, and capacity to affirm racial diversity. 

We have labelled the formal structure that exists for this type of dialogue Courageous Conversations, defined as utilizing the agreements, conditions, and compass to engage, sustain, and deepen interracial dialogue about race in order to examine schooling and improve student achievement.

Specifically, a Courageous Conversation

  • engages those who won't talk
  • sustains the conversation when it gets uncomfortable or diverted
  • deepens the conversation to the point where authentic understanding and meaningful actions occur
If we understand the need for dialogue about the racial achievement gap, the question becomes how we open ourselves up to have a Courageous Conversation about these questions:

  • Why do racial gaps exist?
  • What is the origin of the racial gaps?
  • What factors have allowed these gaps to persist for so many years?

From:  Courageous Conversations about Race by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton
Published by: Corwin Press


  1. These conversations are the most essential ones to initiate and continue having. It is only through open conversation and challenging the deep rooted biases that evolved, informed understandings will develop. As a leader, our role is to lead by example and to actively open the dialogue about racial concerns and misconceptions. Within a school and every classroom, the lense of cultural proficiency must be consistently used. This lense cannot be an add on or an after thought, it must be the first thought for all decisions within every school. It is only with this continued practise and these courageous conversations that we will see change for students in our schools, our staffs, and the communities that we are supporting. These are the conversations that must never be avioded.

  2. In many ways, I believe we have been afraid to speak about race in an open and direct way. This posting challenges our thinking about this behaviour. The three questions are so simple, clear, and succint, yet they could open up countless conversations where we need to face the realities of who is served by the school system and who is not served.

    There is a great deal to think about and to discuss here.......

  3. I agree with you - Shanti and Taro;these conversations are necessary and many people are afraid to have them. I think the three questions are helpful, but they make us feel uncomfortable. I suppose my approach in entering into conversations that are uncomfortable is always to start from evidence - marks, attendance, student work, etc. - and then open up the conversation with some questions that invite people to think about possible explanations - put everything on the table without judgement. This helps us to surface our beliefs and then as a group we can start to see and challenge our own biases. We need to be able to see our own biases rather than look to others to place blame.

  4. Heather Gollob11 May 2011 at 15:41

    I support what Theresa has said with regard to confronting our own biases about race and ethnicity. I truly believe that biases come from a lack of understanding or knowing. By putting oneself "out there" and having frank and meaningful conversations is the starting point in making inroads into the systemic issues facing our students and families.
    I offer the example of the recent influx of Roma students into the TDSB school system. As educators we have been struggling to work with the students and the families and it was only after reaching out to Roma community activists that we were able to begin to understand the cultural background and issues these students face as they attempt to integrate into the school system. It required some frank admissions of ignorance on my part (where they came from, what political discrimination they faced in their home countries, who they actually are, etc). Through pointed and focused discussions amongst teachers, parents and students, we were able to discuss the needs of this unique community and also to articulate the schools' expectations for these students (e.g., coming on time, expecting girls to attend as well as boys on a regular basis, staying all day). Planning the emotional and physical supports these students and families need only happened because we had confronted our preconceived notions of the Roma community which moved the discussion to a plan of action.

  5. This is so interesting Heather. I was in Paris last year and was really taken aback by how Roma people were approached by police officers. It seems to me that if people come from places where they are treated with suspicion and mistrust that there would be much work to do to build positive relationships. This based on my limited experience and observations. As an immigrant to Canada I also suffered some culture shock, but my family managed the transition well with the support of our Scottish friends! There are preconceived notions about all groups.

  6. Heather make a comment that has really struck a cord with me. She stated, "...we had confronted our preconceived notions of the Roma community..."

    Recognizing the we often do have preconceived notions is a huge step in the direction of beginning to understand. As leaders, we are more culturally proficient when we acknowledge that the changes start within ourselves and the need to build our own understandings.

    Heather, thanks for restating a really critical idea for us.