• What If All White Leaders Thought Like Jeff?

    by David Morrill | Jan 10, 2019

    Racism surfaces in unexpected ways.

    I had a surprising encounter recently while facilitating leadership training for approximately fifty early career principals and assistant principals. During a break, one of the attendees - let’s call him “Jeff” - approached me to engage in a conversation. To be honest, Jeff did all the talking. I listened, a bit uncertain how to respond in the moment.

    A tall, relatively young principal who identifies as a white male, Jeff is the leader of an elementary school. Nudging up his glasses, leaning forward with purpose, Jeff underscored his comments with a “this-is-total-B.S.” tone of voice. He spoke with the certainty of conviction and punctuated his monologue with a series of questions that surprised me.

    “Why are black and brown people expected to teach white people about race and systemic racism? White people created and perpetuate the problems, so we should lead our own learning and hold each other accountable for solutions. I mean, talk about the epitome of inequity…it must be exhausting for you as person of color to face racism on a daily basis while, at the same time, teach white people about it? Seriously, how does that make any friggin’ sense!?!” - Jeff

    After he stuck the landing from off his soap-box, I walked away from Jeff with a pursed smile, eyebrows raised. My equilibrium a bit tilted, I could only exhale wondering, “what if all white leaders thought like Jeff?”

    It was unexpected, albeit brave, for Jeff to share his thoughts. We’d just met and transparency about one’s feelings on race and racism can be tricky. The psychological and sociological functions of race are complex and often laden with emotions. As fascinating and ubiquitous as race is, despite being woven into the fabric of our thinking and dynamics of our culture and systems, we typically avoid conversations about it. Clearly, Jeff’s frustration allowed him to push through the social norms that typically keep the topic of race at bay.

    As I reflect on my interaction with Jeff, I can’t help but juxtapose it with three articles from the Seattle Times. I recommend the articles as quick reads in the order they appear below.

    So what can you take away from the three columns and my experience with Jeff? Here are some key questions to keep in mind, for yourself, your staff, and your students:

    1. How does race and racism impact people of color in ways you might not think about or be aware of?
      • How do you remain open to this question, even once you think you know the answer?
      • How do you learn more about the impacts of race without asking people of color to teach you?

    2. What if white people are socialized in ways that inhibit their understanding of race and racism?

    3. How does being white – and chances are, if you’re principal in our state, you are – affect your experience as part of a group?

    4. How might you get “meta” about how whiteness shapes your perspectives, thinking and behavior?

    Jeff’s statement reflects the humility and understanding shown by columnist Danny Westneat. It also expresses an awareness of the intellect and grit displayed by people of color like columnist Tyrone Beason, who work to dismantle racism despite the “double-toll”. Critical to being able to lead the school-wide culture and systems all students deserve, Jeff has clearly taken some steps to learning what it means to be white and embarking on the life-changing journey towards racial literacy.

    “What if all white leaders thought like Jeff?”


    Want to start thinking like Jeff? Here are a few resources we like to get started:

  • AWSP News for January 9, 2019

    by David Morrill | Jan 08, 2019

    Welcome to our first episode of AWSP News for 2019, where we discuss:

    • the upcoming legislative session,
    • our next episode of AWSP TV with resources for tobacco use and vaping,
    • the important role our PAC plays in supporting principals,
    • the Building Hope Together workshop with WEA and Kids at Hope,
    • our Principal Leadership Academy happening soon in ESD 123,
    • our partnership with PEMCO and VEBA,
    • the Future School Leaders Day workshop we’re putting on,
    • a possible 24-credit graduation requirement summit, and
    • an opening for students on AWSL’s Executive Committee and the State Board of Education.

    Prefer to read the news? Check out the script.

  • The Power of the Principal

    by David Morrill | Jan 08, 2019

    When you enter into conversations about education with people, it’s natural and easy to reflect on who we had as a favorite teacher or coach. We can all describe that one adult in our lives who made the difference, left a lasting impact, and potentially, redirected the trajectory of our lives. There is no question about the important role teachers played in our lives.

    At AWSP, we believe wholeheartedly in the importance of teachers, but also feel just as strongly in calling attention to one of the most under-recognized and overworked group of educators in the system, school principals. Effective principals are foundational and essential components of a successful educational system. Simply stated, principals matter.

    Principals enter into a building and begin creating a student-centered climate and culture. From there, they work to dismantle antiquated, ineffective, and inequitable systems in order to establish good-for-kids systems. As the culture develops and is sustained through the leadership of the principal, the outcome is increased learning for all stakeholders. A principal sets the culture, systems support that culture, and learning is the result. Again, it starts with the principal. And, principals matter.

    The problem with our current system is principals we are asking to do more, be more, and solve more than ever before. Their plates are overflowing with increasing responsibilities, expectations, and demands. The relentless pace of “principaling” is carrying a toll, illustrated through alarming turnover rates of building level leaders. And, every time a principal leaves a building, the school starts over in the process of creating culture, building systems, and increasing learning. Principal churn is bad for kids.

    AWSP is working hard with other stakeholder groups to call attention to the unrealistic demands placed on principals. We want the world to know school principals have the best job in the world, and at the same time, the most exhausting. We need everyone to engage with us in discussions about how to better support today’s principals. We need to build systems to support the longevity and sustainability of highly effective principals.

    At AWSP, that is our main focus, but we can’t do it alone. If principal churn is bad for the entire system, then shouldn’t the system be working together for solutions? Our kids and teachers deserve high quality and consistent leadership.

    We can all remember our favorite teachers, but can you remember your favorite principal? What was it about that principal that left a lasting impression on you? How did they impact the school’s culture, systems, and learning? We believe every school deserves the best principal in the world. Join us in our mission to ensure everyone can remember a favorite teacher AND favorite principal.
  • Outdoor Education for All

    by David Morrill | Jan 03, 2019
    While we welcome the thousands of students and staff who visit our facilities, it is the dream of all of us involved in Outdoor Environmental and Science  Education to have a component in each school year. Here is an exemplary approach:

    Grand Rapids Schools to Offer Outdoor Education to All Students

    by Monica Scott | mlive |Dec 21, 2018

    Grand Rapids Public Schools announced plans to pilot an initiative that will create outdoor education experiences for all students beginning in the 2019-20 school year. The outdoor education pilot is a collaborative partnership with multiple organizations committed to environmental education and access to the outdoors, including C&NN’s Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative. The pilot is funded by a three-year grant and enables four teachers at each grade level to work together to develop an outdoor-based curriculum. [+] read more

  • Black and Brown Faces in America's Wild Places

    by Marty Fortin | Dec 23, 2018

    I heard this speaker several years ago. Nice message that all students need multiple outdoor experiences. 

    The Black & Brown Faces In America's Wild Places: African Americans Making Nature And The Environment A Part Of Their Everyday Lives (Watchable Wildlife (Adventure Publications))

    by Dudley Edmondson

    Dudley Edmondson, an African American wildlife photographer, believes it is critical for people of color to get involved in nature conservation. He sought out 20 other African Americans with deep connections to nature and asked them about their personal experiences, how they came to value nature and why African Americans seem under-represented in our parks and conservation efforts. The result is a compelling look at the issues that are so important to the future of our public lands. These personal profiles are not only interesting but provide insight into the past, present and future practices for our environment.
  • The Changing Face of the Outdoors

    by Marty Fortin | Dec 19, 2018