I am currently reading Coaching for Equity: Conversations That Change Practice by Elena Aguilar. Each chapter ends with a series of reflective questions for the reader to consider in our own equity and coaching journey, and I’ve decided to blog some of my reflections. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Chapter 4: How to Talk about Race
This chapter is a great follow-up after the previous chapter on the history of racism and white supremacy, because once you know more, you must do more. I happen to read this chapter at the same time I was reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, which addresses some of the same ideas. What I always appreciate about Aguilar’s work is that she brings in science and research from a variety of fields – in this case mindfulness, biological responses to fear, identity, and coaching.
What are your big learnings from the story about Stephanie [the new teacher who cried all the time and had pity for her students]? What is most relevant to your work?
In this example of how Aguilar coached a new teacher, Stephanie reminded me of myself as a first-year teacher. I wish someone had coached me like this! What I noticed was the patience with which Aguilar built a trusting relationship with Stephanie, the questions she asked to push Stephanie to reflect deeply, and the honesty shared when racism was brought up. It was interesting that Stephanie cried less during and after their first true conversation about racism than she had for the first few months. This is a reminder to push through tears, to coach into emotions, so you can move into the work of equity.
Of the “Ten Tips for Talking about Race,” which ones feel easiest for you? Which feel most challenging?
The tips that feel easiest to me include finding multiple entry points, building relationships and trust, and making a distinction between blame and responsibility. It was a good reminder to be humble, to be informed, to be clear about purpose and language, and to “normalize discussing race”. The two tips that I know I need to work on were nine and ten – invite, accept, and acknowledge emotions and ask for feedback on any conversations you facilitate around race. I’m currently working on both of these in my own practice.
Can you recall a time when someone accused you of something or said something about you that felt inaccurate, and that caused you to feel defensive? How did you respond?
I am a person who takes on stress internally. When I feel attacked, misunderstood, or stressed out, I replay conversations in my mind over and over again. I think for days on end about what I could have or should have said in the moment. I journal because writing is one way I process and reflect. When I feel defensive, I want to write up a bulleted list in response that outlines all of the ways I’m right and someone else is wrong. I can understand how the word “racism” causes similar emotions in many white Americans, and how as coaches, we need to honor those emotions and make space to process those as we work with educators. Once we get past our personal history with the word racism, we can recognize that we are all racist because we have been born into and/or raised in a society built on the systems that created and perpetuate white supremacy.
So much of this work begins with self – know yourself, your identity, your emotions around these topics, and then educate yourself on the history so we can move forward collectively.
Coaching for Equity Reflections Series: