By Tosha Woodard, Minding My Bs&Qs
Two recent conversations with an 8-year-old—who often doubles as her mother’s conscience—became my teachable moments, only she was the teacher and I the student.
In the first, I listened with amusement as this little person shared various “talents” of fellow third-graders to include creative tongue rolls, skips like so, eyebrow arching, and certain nostril flares. And as the list grew slightly longer, I decided I had better break the news that not all of these qualified as talent. Her response: “I consider it talent. Why don’t you?” And of course, I had a response for her—a very smart one. Only, I didn’t. Instead, I quietly wondered the same thing.
The second conversation began in a more probing but equally genuine manner: “Mom, can you guess which color is expected in class when I’m asked [by other students] for the “skin-color” crayon?” After saying I was unsure, she responded, “Peach.” So, I—rather robotically—advised her to lend the brown crayon instead the next time around. She considered this for a moment and responded, “No. The next time, I’ll ask which one they’re referring to because—it could be practically anything.” “Ahh. Better,” I said.
These conversations served as persuasive reminders of the importance of diversity of thought. But they were also an organic, unique show of authenticity and inclusion working in tandem. As adults and educators, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and serve as both teacher and student—and less imposing of old habits—we are also able to see and accept the talent of many. When we can see the child with dreadlocks, or a student who is also transgender, or a child with autism as positively extraordinary, then this is a start. Being able to also recognize the same student when appropriate as the top reader, mathematician, or artist (different from among the top) is the essence of inclusion.
Both my professional and personal study affirm that the commitment to diversity of thought, culture, and practice must be pervasive—existing throughout the building and its perimeter. When children are expected to leave portions of themselves behind—subtly unwelcomed in the school building—then the brilliance of the whole child is also left behind, leaving them with fewer tools to excel. Undoubtedly, there should be diversity among faculty, but stakeholders should be as intentional in the makeup and outreach of parent organizations, clubs, and school committees. For example, minoritized parents should be sought as readily for their service on parent organizations and serving as room parents as for international night or committees geared specifically toward matters of equity. Students should be sought as aggressively in gifted identification as when seeking to assist (remedial or otherwise) historically underrepresented students. Also, what processes are in place in the selection of hiring committees and are they inherently exclusive? Are playgrounds adequate for attending students? Even the parking lots should be considerations since serving as the entryway and a face of children’s exposure. From bumper stickers to license tags—displays of intolerance, exclusion, or hate should be fair game for questions, examinations, and accountability.
We equally share the responsibility to secure environments indicative of the talent and ability of our youth—those that foster trust and security in the building, support deeper learning and enhance partnerships. As authenticity—owning and appreciating the power of one’s unique story—and the purest attributes of inclusion are seen in the youngest among us, hopefully each of us is inspired to be better, to do better.
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[Tosha Woodard is mom to five square pegs in round holes, educator’s wife, law grad, courageous conversationalist and impassioned advocate in pursuit of social justice and the next challenge—of purpose.]