Practice Healing-Centered Engagement Via Affirming Interactions

In response to recent protests and uprisings by young people in this country, it is imperative that social justice defines the ways we interact with one another.  Deeply tied to ensuring social justice is that we share a healthy respect for diversity and individuality everywhere we go.  What is urgently needed is more inclusive, equitable and anti-racist frameworks in child and family-serving programs and systems, especially community-based organizations  and public education institutions.

The most avoided acknowledgement of this country is the centuries long harm done to the groups of people whose central plea represents a strong and unwavering demand for justice. What has been a continued reality for these folks, is characterized by  persistent culturally and racially-based structures and systems commitment to inflict harm upon their daily lives.

Awords and  sincerity with which There are concrete actions to take both at the organizational and individual levels, that will build supportive service-oriented, people-focused and healing-centered work  and learning spaces.

  For Organizations:

  • Make inclusion, equity and anti-racism a priority, in policy and practice
  • Require accountability from everyone in the organization, at all levels
  • Recognize exemplary staff and departmental units, to reinforce positive actions
  • Provide resources to support these efforts[ like training, time, budgets]
  • Identify and implement best practices, such as racial equity frameworks
  • Utilize SMART[specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound] goals to strategically align with objectives

For individuals:

  • Take personal responsibility for your actions and failure to take actions
  • Educate yourself about equity issues, which includes listening out to the voices who “
  • Practice the platinum rule: treat others the way they want to be treated
  • Become more mindful about equity issues in your daily life
  • Work within your areas of influence to be a positive force for change
  • Discover and disclose the uniqueness of others around you
  • Engage in affirming interactions every day.

What are ‘Affirming Interactions’?

Affirming interactions are positive micro-message or micro-affirmations that show others that you value and respect them. Central to these messages is the language used when they are expressed or demonstrated to others. Words are important and actions support and align with the words. Whether in policy, practices, or perspectives, the words we use will be reflected in our actions and will define our approach to engaging and empowering others.

Examples include:

Advise       Advocate     Apologize     Acknowledge     Assist

Believe      Commend    Compensate     Consult           Credit

Educate      Empower     Empathize      Entrust           Guide

Inform       Listen            Mentor              Notice          Recognize

Reward       Sponsor       Support             Train              Trust

Understand      Value       Yield, etc… 

In creating equity, and inclusion in anti-racist frameworks, it is critical that there is a shared understanding of key concepts and terminologies.  Thus, there must be common definitions of each by which we are informed, beginning with the concept of ‘race’.

Race is “a social and political construction—with no inherent genetic or biological basis—used by social institutions to arbitrarily categorize and divide groups of individuals based on physical appearance(particularly skin color), ancestry, cultural history, and ethnic classification.” (CSSP, 2019)


Inclusion is when everyone feels valued and respected.
Equity is “the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.” (CSSP, 2019)
Racial Equity is “the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.”
Anti-Racism is an “active process of identifying and challenging racism, by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes, to redistribute power in an equitable     manner.” (CSSP, 2019)
Anti-Black Racism is “any attitude, behavior, practice, or policy that explicitly or implicitly reflects the belief that Black people are inferior to another racial group. Anti-Black racism is reflected in interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels of racism and is a function of White supremacy.” (CSSP, 2019)

How Often Was Your Child Suspended From School?

The stats are here! Parents, schools and the general public can finally see exactly how often and how many of their children were suspended from school. These are U.S. public schools. By state, the public can view the ratio of suspensions by race. The results are disappointing, but expected in recognition of the problematic perspectives and unjust practices of law enforcement personnel around the country, specifically as it pertains to engaging people of color. Criminal first, guilty by default and ever-threatening to the innocent white people of America. One caveat to everyone is that the statistics reflect numbers from the 2013-2014 academic school year.

The numbers should come as no real surprise to anyone, because this is America, and we know all too well about what plagues our society. Therefore, we should take this data as confirmation of that which we already suspected. African-American students are suspended from school at staggering and appalling rates as opposed to white children and everyone else.

Who could dare say that there is no evidence of a systemic racial problem in this country. The numbers continue to tell the truth. We could say that the disparities are evident in certain states only, but that would be untrue. Every state produces equally disturbing numbers. Before we see some examples of what happens in public schools around the 50 states, let’s chat a little.

If you feel that education- school climates and cultures– represents the society of the future, the society we wish to see, then that would be wrong. However, your opinion is respected. Sadly, education and its framework curriculum is still grounded in the past, when it should be designed as a futuristic community. Education is supposed to prepare children for life in the future, as the disruptive force in our society. The focus IS the future. In preparation for the future, one assumes that the past is taught, fully explored, critically examined and understood. Otherwise, how do we know that we are moving forward?

In exploration of the past, the present is also examined, looking for a connection. The information helps to better understand how to plan for tomorrow. It enables young people to envision changes in the world- kinder, gentler, more collaborative.

Schools should not mirror today’s climate, but present windows into tomorrow. The problems of discrimination, racism, implicit bias and micro-aggression, inequity, disparities, and injustice are not to be expected within the learning setting.

Schools are supposed to be safe spaces that motivate and challenge, inspire and affirm, inform and encourage. They are supposed to reflect places that every child should be able to learn absent trauma, unencumbered and un-bothered by violence, abuse, neglect, and deficiency views. Children should feel safe from any harm. It should be the one environment where they feel their most free and where they are not regarded as though they have nothing to contribute. It should be their happy place.

Children should feel excited and invigorated every day that they enter the buildings or log in for online learning. While we are in this transition period, where learning is either blended or remote or in-person, the framework of education needs to be re-visited to identify and revise that which works as originally intended. Any aspect of the school climate, culture, policy or practice that produces outcomes that align with original intent, must be re-designed.

Why do we insist on delivering instruction and sharing content explicitly and strategically selected for being palatable to white people’s appetite for truth? It was/is easier on the ego  to believe white supremacy is real and that the country was built and wealth accumulated by them alone. A myth is easier to digest and propagate when the truth in retrospect does not look or feel very good. That is how we got here today, caught up in a divisive, conflict-ridden society, ignorant of our own history.HANDS IN FACE

There is a quote that I appreciate that says, The survival of white people in America does/did not depend upon its knowledge of their history. Their survival required their ignorance of history.” 

It is that history that evidently is too ego-deflating, down to the very core and contradictory to their belief of supremacy over all others. The realization of the harm and atrocities at their doing, ancestrally and present, has caused so much push back against equity, and in particular,  public education. We teach about everything in public education except our full history, which if taught, would thus demand a more just democracy.

It is the very purpose of education to teach complete facts and indisputable truths in preparing children for the world and life as adults. That, in the U.S., is undesirable because the facts, unadulterated, will cause more harm to white people than the ‘other’. Therefore, it is far better to continue to harm the ‘other’, generation after generation. But that’s another article completely.

Let’s review some examples of the data about elementary and secondary grades public school suspensions from just a handful of states.

  • Alabama  All Students 8%  White  4.5%   Hispanic 3.0%     Black 15.2%    Asian 1.6%
  • Florida     All Students 5%   White 3.7%    Hispanic 3.9%     Black  9.9%    Asian  1.0%
  • Illinois      All Students  6.8%  White 2.9%  Hispanic 5.4%    Black  21.9%  Asian 0.9%
  • Iowa          All Students  2.6%  White 2.0%  Hispanic 3.0%    Black 11.0%   Asian  1.1%
  • New York  All Students 3.2%   White 2.7%  Hispanic 2.3%   Black 7.1%     Asian 0.5%
  • Wisconsin  All Students 4.0%  White  2.3%  Hispanic 4.2%   Black  17.0%  Asian0.8%
  • United States All Students 5.3%  White 3.4% Hispanic 4.3%  Black 13.7% Asian 1.1%

This data completely demonstrates issues on a systemic level, greater than the students, the schools themselves or the states producing these numbers. To the uninformed, the numbers indicate that in all 50 states, black children are the most disruptive, maladaptive and violent, requiring their formal education discontinued by out of school suspension.

In 2020, hopefully, the adults are more informed and enlightened. The benefit of being an educated professional, having gone to college, specializing in a concentrated area of study, and having acquired some basic statistical understanding, is that this allows a much deeper and coherent view. There are implications reflected in this data that says the systems are not working for these students.

The system does work, however. It works for white children, who happen to be the intended beneficiaries of public education from its inception. Six years after this data was compiled, offers ample time to reflect, revise and re-purpose strategies regarding discipline and disciplinary practices and policies. Therefore, the overall perception of black children will be altered accordingly. Their behaviors, attitudes, aptitude and their place in school communities requires critical examination. Empathy, not sympathy, encouragement and culturally responsive and affirming engagement ought to describe the school climate–in full alignment with disciplinary policies and practices.

time for change sign with led light

Must we start from scratch? Perhaps that would be most wise. Begin with defining the purpose of education as a purely constructed learning resource. This definition thereby will demand that education is not to be framed as a political weapon. Acquire a full comprehensive understanding of the role that schools play and the impact they have on the lives of the children who enter these environments. Futures are laid out right here, and most of all, the decisions made can have life-long effects on them, even into adulthood.

Learn who these children really are as individuals. Administrators, teachers and decision-makers need to  collectively embrace and meet their responsibilities to understand and learn the historical facts and backgrounds of the children with whom they engage everyday. They must be the first people who seek and obtain comprehensive truths about how and why they face challenges outside of the school building. Identify them.

Learn how they got there. Nothing in life happens in a vacuum. There are always external factors involved. Find out what they are. The pathway to empathy and understanding your populations is research. The answers will never be found in today’s textbooks. The answers are found in true journalistic fashion. Journalists seek answers that are not simply handed to them in books. They go deeper. They go outside of the obvious and immediately seen.

Journalists talk to others, look in places that ordinary and generally lazy people care not to go. They put in the work. Once you put in your work, you will understand your students better, and are better poised to develop meaningful relationships with them. You can identify their existing strengths, recognize barriers, and can address and anticipate their needs. You can better understand the messages they convey through behavior and you will see more clearly who these young people are. You will understand their families and want to engage with them and partner and empower them. You will also realize their strengths and power and honor them.

Before educators serve the very first day in their assigned learning environment, there should be a requirement that they learn the community, culture and traditions, and gain some understanding about their lived experiences. Cultural responsiveness must be mandated for teaching staff and support staff on an ongoing basis throughout their tenure. Learning about the community, getting the ‘feel’ of communities, cultivating partnerships with parents, community-based organizations, stores, parks and playgrounds and police.

In order to eliminate the disparities and the outcomes, especially because white educators dominate in school staff, there is work to be done. It is not to be seen as additional work, but required work. If we want to deliver and promote desired outcomes for ALL children, particularly black and brown, then educators must build their capacity to do so. Black children should not summarily outnumber every other group in suspensions in any school, no matter the location. The numbers, at their worse, should match their representation in the general population and at their best,  should always be lower than their representation in the general population.  It is completely unacceptable that these students are suspended at 4-5 times the rate of whites in public schools.

As the numbers stand, it does not look to be an issue of implicit bias, but incompetence and negligence on behalf of the adults who are responsible for all that happens in each environment. If there were such an entity as a ‘racism police’, how would your school staff and the outcomes measure up against an equity meter? Do you believe, as a collective, that fundamentally, all black kids are bad, disrespectful, disruptive and do not deserve the right to a necessary quality education in you school, district, state? That is the real question.

To see the chart of suspension rates for all 50 states( pg. 53} and read the full report with graphs outlining The State of America’s Children 2020,  click here.

Wanted: The MultiCultural Teacher, Agent of Social Justice and Change

Have you ever had a special teacher who you thought was ‘real’? That teacher, who happens to be a white woman, truly ‘felt’ you, believed in you and respected others like you. She was interested, concerned and demonstrated her concern by always managing to teach something about people who look like you, came from where you did, and shared similar experiences.

Black history was important to the learning process, and it didn’t have to be Black History Month for her to teach you about ‘your’ people. She taught about the Portuguese, indigenous peoples and the Pilgrims, enslaved and slave owners all throughout the school year. No special occasion needed; nobody told her that she had to do it. She just did, because she saw you-all of you.

She would make sure that you were engaged in the classroom, calling on you, not to embarrass you, but  inviting you to think and contribute. She didn’t always understand what was going on in class between you and a classmate, but she surely made it her business to know you. Forget about it.

She also had a good relationship with the adults at home. That was not always a good thing-for you. But, it was a really great thing for your best interest.

This teacher, in a class with both black and white kids, made sure that instruction wasn’t all about the white people’s experiences. She brought equity into the room. Everyone learned about everyone else, and in so doing, she became an agent of change and fostered social justice in her classroom.

Because the instructional context is balanced, for cultural responsiveness and relevance, your classroom was without race-based cliques. You know what it looks like in many multiracial environments; black kids with black kids and whites with whites. This as if we live in separate societies. Our realities and experiences may be different, but everyone coexists with the others in her classroom.

A multicultural teacher, practicing inclusive pedagogy, makes concerted efforts to explore the cultural dynamics of a select group in as non-stereotypical fashion as possible. She is more open than closed off from  recognizing the intersectionality of identity and its influence on learning outcomes. Inclusive pedagogy is an approach that attends to individual differences between learners while actively avoiding the marginalization of some learners and/or the continued exclusion of particular groups, for example, ethnic minority students, those from culturally diverse backgrounds, non-native language speakers, students with additional needs, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may be disadvantaged by poverty.

This list of identity markers is neither exhaustive nor unitary but is intended to denote some of the aspects of individuality that account for individual differences and may interact with other variables to create barriers to learning that can result in underachievement.

The strategic idea of teachers as change agents in reducing educational inequalities is linked to research showing teachers are the most significant in-school factor influencing student achievement. The idea of an inclusive education is built upon learning how to respect and respond to human differences in ways that include, rather than exclude, learners from what is ordinarily available in the daily routines of instruction at school.

The act of extending what is ordinarily available, as opposed to doing something ‘additional’ or ‘different’ for some is a complex pedagogical endeavor that requires a shift in thinking away from commonly accepted ways of providing for everyone by differentiating for some. It is distinctive in that it accepts the notion of individual differences between learners without relying predominately on individualized approaches for responding to such differences.

Further, the inclusive pedagogical approach is distinguished from conceptualizations of inclusive education that focus specifically on students with special educational needs. Research, since the 1980s, has clearly shown how school structures can create special educational needs that have disproportionate effects on vulnerable groups.

Teachers can and should be prepared if they are to contribute to a justice agenda by working in ways that avoid the repetition of exclusion and the perpetuation of inequitable educational outcomes for some groups of learners. Preparing teachers as agents of change to promote social justice and inclusion requires clarity not only about what teachers need to know, do and believe but how they will exercise their agency as teachers when adopting this approach.

One of the most relevant areas of competence for promoting inclusive practice to be developed in teacher education is  teachers’ understanding of how broader social forces influence exclusion and disadvantage. Furthermore, teachers committed to social justice and inclusion must be capable of building appropriate professional relations with students and other actors in order to respond adequately to students’ diverse needs. Supportive relationships and knowing students is particularly important when teaching students from diverse backgrounds.

Teachers who are able to act as agents of social justice  need experience of working with families from a variety of cultures and social contexts in order to understand how home (and other) environments influence educational outcomes.

Begin with an acknowledgment that teachers are complex agents whose practices are highly contextualized and they cannot simply be regulated to do things differently. It is necessary to make theoretical sense out of how teachers make a difference, and how they engage with school practices that are effective for addressing exclusion and underachievement.

This is important because it is how teachers address the issue of inclusion in their daily practice – reflected in their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about learners and learning, as well as in the things that they do, and the responses that they make when the students they teach encounter barriers to learning – that determines their inclusive pedagogical approach.

Training Teachers in Mental Health First Aid is Critical in 21st Century Schools

covering face

Colorado bill to expand mental health first aid training for teachers moves forward

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Erica Meltzer on February 6, 2020

Facing alarming teen suicide rates, Colorado could put another $1 million a year into training teachers in what’s known as mental health first aid.

The Senate Education Committee on Thursday unanimously supported two related bills, one authorizing spending on training for teachers and another that would allow students to take an excused absence for mental health needs, like anxiety or depression.

Just as regular first aid courses teach lay people how to staunch bleeding from a wound or perform CPR, mental health first aid trains them how to talk someone through a crisis and recognize warning signs, as well as better understand the resources that are available to people in crisis.

“Our educators are on the front lines,” said state Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. “They see the risk factors, a child being sad when they were not the day before or when they’re more emotional. Our educators can redirect that situation and make sure that student gets the help they need.”

Kathryn Brown, a counselor at an alternative high school in Englewood, a south Denver suburb, described a recent incident in which a student with a history of self-harm grabbed a pair of scissors, ran from the classroom, and locked himself in a closet. Two teachers had to talk to the student through the door until help arrived.

But Brown also cautioned that mental health first aid, while critically important, cannot be a replacement for adding more counselors, social workers, and school psychologists, noting: “We need professional development for teachers, and we need more mental health staff.”

Both bills came out of the Interim School Safety Committee, which convened through the summer and fall, in the wake of a fatal shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Other bills recommended by the school safety committee would create a working group to explore further solutions and make changes to Safe2Tell, Colorado’s once-innovative anonymous tip line.

In a separate hearing Thursday, the Safe2Tell bill unanimously passed the House Education Committee. Most calls to the tip line now involve children in mental health crisis, not threats to campus safety. At the same time, the tip line is sometimes abused by students who want to harass a classmate. The bill changes how calls are handled to better reflect that reality and creates an annual advertising campaign to raise awareness about the tip line.

The bill creating the working group passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

The Interim School Safety Committee steered clear of more controversial gun control legislation, but Democratic lawmakers separately plan to introduce a bill requiring safe storage of firearms.

The mental health first aid bill was introduced on the first day of the session as Senate Bill 1, indicating its high-priority status to lawmakers. It continues existing programs that were in danger of ending due to lack of funding.

That bill calls for Colorado to spend up to $1 million a year for the next four years on these programs. Legislative analysts estimate the state could train around 650 educators a year, while the demand is much higher, between 1,000 and 1,500 a year. The bill envisions a “train the trainer” approach in which educators can take what they’ve learned and teach it to other adults in their schools. Participation in the training would be voluntary.

In recent years, Colorado has passed a number of other bills to provide more training for teachers and other school employees in mental health and suicide prevention. Last year, the legislature even approved funding for more social workers and behavioral health professionals in schools, but only as limited grant programs. Many Colorado schools don’t have a full-time mental health worker of any kind.

Lorrie Yoshinaga, a third-grade teacher in the Cherry Creek school district, said she needs more tools to help her students. She has seen young children throw punches — and desks.

While the ultimate goal is lower youth suicide rates and more connected, supportive school environments, Yoshinaga had another measure of success in mind.

“Success is when teachers want to go to school to teach,” she said. “They’re not crying in their car. They’re not crying in a closet. Because they know how to help their students.”

Brown said that too often, training for teachers looks like someone explaining the brain science on how trauma affects children rather than offering practical tools.

“What teachers don’t have is really specific strategies they can implement in the classroom, ones that are both universal and help everyone but also that can help a student having a panic attack under the desk,” she said.

All four bills still need to pass both the full House and Senate before going to the governor’s desk. They are not expected to face opposition.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Continue reading “Training Teachers in Mental Health First Aid is Critical in 21st Century Schools”