“Naw fam. We been woke as hell.” Angela Rye
Have we, though?
For the past 2 weeks, I have had some real, real woke moments in my life that had me questioning my purpose. I took some time, sat down and reevaluated my calling as an educator. I realized I needed those wake-up calls to ask myself, “Are you really woke though?” I discovered I was not the only warrior that needed to be called to the carpet. Here are the two incidents that had me thinking.
Excited to grow and learn, I was sitting up straight in my chair with pen in hand taking notes from Dr. Robyn Jackson at the Builder’s Lab Conference. She was reinvigorating life into me. Her 3-day goal was to make me a better school leader by always putting children first and making sure every educator in my building did the same. The mission was for me to go back to my school with a 90-Day Plan to rebuild and ensure that 100% of our students were successfully aligned with our mission, vision, and values. Dr. Jackson grasped my attention when she asked, “Do all of your teachers and administrators believe in your school’s mission, vision and values? If so, that means that they will do all that it takes to ensure that 100% of your students will succeed.” My answer to her first question was, “Nope.” Then I whispered, “100%?!” Wow.
Dr. Jackson went on to say that a school’s mission, vision and values are the written promises educators make to children, families and communities. They are THE driving forces for all schools. They are the only reasons why schools exist. If all educators in a school don’t believe that 100% of their students will succeed, then those schools need to either reconstruct their thinking to align their mission, vision and values to include ALL students, fire and hire staff or shut down. Mind…blown.
Soooo…we have Woke Wednesday’s at my school and on that day we wear all black clothes, power fist t-shirts, dashikis, etc. to give the optics of our mad woke campus. For real, we woke as hell. Have y’all seen my Principal Sharif El Mekki?!! But, are we real, real woke if we are not meeting our mission, vision and values for 100% of our students who are about 99% students of color? Hmmmm…I don’t know.
Our school can check quite a few things off the are-you-a-successful-school list, such as, mad rigor in all classes, honors and AP courses, social justice and African American history classes for all of our kids from 8th to 12th grades, student engagement opportunities, all students completing community service, perennially on the top schools in Philadelphia lists, great student/teacher relationships, safe, clean environment, etc. But can we truly say we are woke as hell if we are not ensuring 100% of our students and staff are mission, vision and values driven? If so, what’s the data that informs parents that all children are on track to fulfill their dreams each year? Are we closing the opportunity gap? Dr. Jackson pushed me to move beyond hope and present measurable data to back up our claims.
For the next three months, my grade team will be entrenched in our 90-Day Plan pilot to execute with fidelity our mission, vision and values. That means, 100% of our staff will ensure that 100% of our students are truly ready for post-secondary success. Yes, we are planting seeds in our students and may not see the trees mature for 8 to 10 years. However, what a world it will be once we can truly say that 100% of our students are living their dreams…and that is straight up woke AF.
I was serving on jury duty. I won’t get into the specifics of the case; too much for my soul to bear. The plaintiff and defendant were people of color and around 25 years old. During the entire trial, I maintained an open mind, but kept thinking about the educations of the accused and the accuser. Were they afforded great educations? If they were not, who failed them? Parents? Communities? Schools? Would they be here if they graduated from college? Had Master’s degrees? Their education levels were not disclosed to us, so anything in my head was all speculation.
My mad woke moment was when the judge gave us instructions before we deliberated. He informed us that it was our duty to make a fair and impartial decision on the case. Our verdicts had to be unanimous and that we were bound by the Commonwealth to do so. The judge had many more instructions, but those stuck out to me.
Several times we were deadlocked and could not deliver a unanimous verdict and we would inform the judge. Each and every time the judge would review his instructions to us to let us know it was our duty to deliver a fair and impartial verdict and we were bound by the Commonwealth to do so. He would send us back into the deliberation room to work it out. After the third time, we let the judge know we were deadlocked and did not have a unanimous verdict, my “woke” moment hit me.
Would there be an achievement gap if each school system had a judge like the Commonwealth? Hear me out.
Each Principal and/or administrative team would have to go before someone like the judge after each report card period. The judge would look at the achievement of each student and the school would have to present their case as to why failing students did not meet their academic goals. The judge would then reiterate that all educators in the school were duty bound to ensure all students met their academic goals. Then he or she would send the schools back to do whatever it takes to guarantee all students were achieving.
How hard would those schools work to push themselves and students to academic success if they had to explain every 10 weeks why students were failing? After going in front of the judge a few times, would schools be proactive and deliver world-class lessons to all students all of the time? How would curricula improve? Would cities and states appropriately fund schools? Would school districts push schools to be more accountable to children and families? Would teachers finally earn what they are worth? Would schools have to include parents as partners every step of the way? Would it mean students would attend great schools no matter their zip code?
I know schools have accountability measures in place, but imagine if you were called to the stand as a teacher and had to explain why half of your class failed. Would you be able to say that you exhausted every possibility when educating your students? Think about it.
I will be back at school this week with a fresh 90-Day Plan and right off the heels of serving the commonwealth. Expectations for my students, team and myself will remain high. These past two weeks have taught me to embrace a new perspective of what it means to be truly “woke” as an educator. It’s more than wearing a Nat Turner t-shirt on Wednesday, giving the Wakanda forever sign to a coworker, talking the talk and/or walking the walk. It is actually doing what we are duty-bound to do as educators for 100% of our students, ensuring everyone around us does so as well and having the data to prove it each day. We will not close the opportunity gap unless those things happen…for real… Stay woke, y’all. One love…