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The Courage to Challenge Insensitive Comments

April 30, 2019

At a recent community conversation, a discussion arose regarding ignorant and insensitive comments.  When considering equity, diversity, and inclusion, how should one address a speaker when culturally insensitive comments are made? It is awkward, at a minimum, to confront or challenge a passionate speaker. Yet, failing to do so gives the subtle impression that we are in agreement with the speaker. Beginning the conversation is a start, yet few have the skill set or requisite background knowledge to interrupt and correct a speaker. Knowing when to interject with sensitivity and stop derogatory comments takes confidence.  Fortunately, modeling inclusivity and assertive speech are skills that can be taught.

In group settings, individuals may make insensitive, hurtful, or thoughtless comments about others. Such comments may be racist, sexist, or rudely offensive. These comments can come in the form of jokes or slurs. Usually, speakers are unaware of their own biases, old terms, and blind spots. How should one respond?

  • If a comment is made maliciously or deliberately, respectfully state that the comment is inappropriate and ask the speaker not to say it again.
  • If the speaker is unaware of the faux pas, take the person aside later and explain how the comment may have offended others.
  • .If you have a question about a comment that you are about to make in a group setting, err on the side of caution.  If you feel that a comment could be misinterpreted, misconstrued or viewed as insensitive to the group, hold the thought.  For example, using the term, “Pow Wow,” when referring to a meeting or gathering is disrespectful toward a Native American tradition.

We can all get better. Read, talk, and share experiences. Agree to group norms at work and set hard lines where tolerance is concerned. Building an inclusive culture takes time, just as learning takes time. Start by having conversations at work. Discuss an article, such as this one, published by Harvard Business Review.  How to Respond to an Offensive Comment at Work Once the adult conversations begin, talking with young people is much more comfortable. Being confident in the conversation and knowing when/how to correct another’s offensive, condescending, or derogatory comments is a skill that we can all develop with practice.

Ambiguity Tolerance

April 28, 2019

Years ago, I introduced the concept of being good at “change” by scheduling meetings with building staff and then sharing what I thought was a simple and direct message.  After my first visit, (sorry, Heritage School staff) I learned that the message was anything but simple. My message intended to convey the idea of being flexible and open to positive change; a growth mindset comes to fruition.  Unfortunately, the talk invoked a fear of unwanted and needless change. Staff members interpreted my message as “change for change sake” rather than one of encouraging growth.

In reality, change is inevitable.  School leaders must become adept at dealing with uncertainty. That skill, known as ambiguity tolerance, involves embracing unpredictability and the unknown, both as vehicles for positive growth.

School leaders notoriously control the environment and seek order.  Helping leaders to learn how to let go of the desire for control is challenging, yet necessary. Once school leaders can accept the discomfort that comes with not always having the answers, growth begins. To be effective in my role as Superintendent, I need to resist the urge to move too quickly.  The desire to solve issues expeditiously or rush to innovate without enough information can result in poor implementation. While I may have a vision for what needs to take place, unless I carefully weigh all possible outcomes, involve critical stakeholders, and trust the process, the vision will fail.  

Conversely, not embracing the need to make sound decisions and move forward means accepting the status quo. Mediocrity might be comfortable; however, it is not future-focused and innovative. Those of you familiar with Saline Area Schools mission, vision, and learner profile and know that accepting the status quo is not an option.

Does educational nostalgia hold us back?

April 24, 2019
Liberty School in the 1970's
Liberty School in the 1970’s

Earlier this week, we received the picture (above) of Liberty School. It was pleasing to see the building in the background with the students (and pony!) in the foreground.  This is Liberty School, constructed in 1959, in its infancy! Ann Arbor-Saline Road certainly looks very different! I reflected on that era and thought about the many positive aspects specific to the social and emotional health of young people during that time. A simpler time, no doubt. However, I also began to reflect on the limitations to educational options and technological access in that same era.

The 1970s in Saline pre-dated the concept of inclusion for students with special needs. The curriculum was narrow, there were limited extra-curricular options, and most students followed the one-size fits all path toward high school graduation. Society has changed dramatically over the past forty years. What society asks – even demands –  of public education has changed as well. Primarily, the curricular changes must reflect the needs of the students as they prepare for the adult world. That adult world is changing at exponential speed, however. Some of the careers that today’s high school students will enter do not even exist today. Building upon the strong foundation that has historically been the Saline Area Schools is a calculated approach, tradition-bound, yet future-focused.

I am proud of the foundation that Saline Area Schools was built upon, including the 1970s era. I also look thoughtfully at present and to the future.  We must continue to focus on curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular improvements that benefit the student experience. Ultimately, preparing an informed, involved citizenry is our most essential task.

Does school have to be boring?

April 7, 2019
Saline High School
Hornet Hub at Saline High School

The New York Times published an opinion piece on Sunday, March 30, 2019, entitled, “High School Doesn’t Have to be Boring.”  The authors spent six years traveling about the US, visiting schools, and talking with students. Remarkably, nearly 75% of elementary-aged school children report feeling challenged by the schoolwork. This percentage drops to less than 35% by grade eleven. Older students do not feel academically challenged. To “cover the curriculum,” teachers skim, noting dates/times/events, yet rarely engage or challenge students to dig deeper into difficult content.

Surprising to the researchers was the discovery that the deeper dives into the curriculum were not happening in core academic classes. This discovery-type learning was occurring in extra-curricular areas, elective courses, and clubs. Personally, I was struck by the quote,

“As we spent more time in schools, however, we noticed that powerful learning was happening most often at the periphery — in electives, clubs, and extracurriculars.”

In these spaces – labs, theaters, studios, businesses, and outdoor learning environments – teachers and students are actively engaged and working in concert to discover, innovate, create, and learn. The authors report that these high school students were already engaged and motivated; no additional innovation was necessary. Activities such as these were seen in all high schools, not just those that were typically “high performing.”

In Saline, we are often criticized for the perceived over-emphasis on extracurricular activities.  The reality is – we do put a lot of emphasis on these experiences for our students. As the researchers learned in the New York Times article, the importance of a variety of elective courses, clubs, sports, and music/drama/theater activities is as important as a rigorous academic curriculum.  Saline High School boasts 81 different clubs and thirty-three varsity sports. These clubs and sports provide a plethora of critical and engaging learning opportunities. For some students, these clubs, athletics, and elective courses pique the students’ interests and keep them in school. The benefits that students receive cannot be measured by a test score or a grade. These co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences help shape students into well-rounded adults who become contributing members in society. For some students, a club or sport is the reason they stay in school. It is crucial for us to remember the value if these experiences beyond the surface of the activity itself.

Saline High School Wind Ensemble

School Quality Survey: Why It Matters

March 19, 2019

Our students are always learning and growing, and it’s critical that Saline Area Schools learns and grows along with them. That’s why we conduct our School Quality Survey every school year.

This year’s survey launched this week. If you are a parent, staff member, or student in grades 6-12 – you received an email titled “Take the School Quality Survey”

It’s easy for me to say you should participate in this survey. (And you should!) But why?

Saline Area Schools is committed to community involvement, transparent decision making, and effective use of our resources. In that spirit, Saline Area Schools makes improvements based on what we learn from our stakeholders in the School Quality Survey. For example, previous survey results have led us to provide teachers with additional training on how to make lessons more relevant to student lives. We also updated our school menus to increase the variety of nutritious and delicious food options.

Additionally, we’ll ask some questions about my performance as your Superintendent.  I take that feedback very seriously and will use it to more effectively do my job on behalf of our community.

Participating is easy and entirely confidential. Just grab your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and click the survey link in your email invitation. The parent survey is offered in English and Spanish.

Have questions about the survey or how we use the results? Let’s Talk! I look forward to hearing from you!

Talking about Race with Young Children

March 16, 2019

We’ve had several Community Conversations related to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Saline.  One topic that has come up by both parents and staff is the issue of talking about race with each other – especially our children/students.  Speaking with community member Channon Washington, she noted, “Families of color have to talk about race at early ages – often and always. It is a misnomer and does a disservice to White students if parents do not engage their young children in these conversations early.”

Recently, National Public Radio shared information on talking to young children about race. The story noted that even babies notice differences like skin color, eye shape, and hair texture.  Some of the ideas about how to handle conversations about race, racism, diversity, and inclusion, even with very young children are listed below:

A few things to remember:

  • Be proactive, helping them build a positive awareness of diversity.
  • Don’t shush or shut them down if they mention race.
  • Don’t wait for kids to bring it up.
  • When a child experiences prejudice, grown-ups need to both address the feelings directly and fight the prejudices.
  • You don’t have to avoid topics like slavery or the Holocaust.  Instead, give the facts and focus on resistance and allies.

Some additional Resources:

  • Babies begin to notice race at six months old – in fact according to this pair of studies by Professor Kang Lee at the University of Toronto, they actually show signs of racial bias by this age.
  • One in 10 children is multiracial – according to Pew Research Center.  This includes children with parents of two different races, plus those with at least one multiracial parent.

Community Conversations – January 24th & 29th

January 22, 2019
Community Conversation

Earlier this year I hosted two “Community Conversation” meetings to discuss issues of diversity in our community. They were well attended and we had some honest conversations about the challenges we face. I would like to host two more to continue the conversation. As always, other issues are open for discussion as well.

There are a lot of issues we can discuss – district growth, school calendar, social & emotional health, and many more… You bring the topics.  With that said, I would like talk about the issue of diversity, equity & inclusion as it relates to our community and Saline Area Schools.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

The dates are Thursday, January 24th from 10:00am- 11:15am at Brewed Awakenings and Tuesday, January 29th from 6:30pm-7:45pm at Liberty School Board Room. Please stop by, say hello and bring any thoughts about the district you feel I should know.

If you can’t make it, feel free to use “Let’s Talk” and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you,
Scot Graden

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