Coaching for Equity Reflections #13

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 12: Creating New Practices & Conclusion: Towards Liberty and Justice for All

Creating New Practices is the fourth and final phase of Transformational Coaching that Aguilar created.  This chapter’s story continues to tell the story of Aguilar’s experiences coaching Khai, and the progress they made as they moved into this phase of coaching. This was a beautifully moving story about the positive impacts coaching for equity can have on a teacher.

As a teacher, what did you find easy and challenging about building relationships with students’ parents/caregivers? If you could go back again and start over as a teacher, what would you do differently to build relationships with parents/caregivers?

During this chapter Khai has a meeting with a student’s mother that starts off confrontational and travels through a range of emotions before they are speaking the same language (with love for the child). As a new teacher, I remember making phone calls home to discuss negative student behavior and not much else. I was a middle school teacher and I know I didn’t even consider the parents as my partners in educating children. Throughout my career, I learned more about the value of making positive phone calls home, making home visits, and communicating more frequently with parents. It probably wasn’t until I was an elementary principal that I truly realized how important and necessary it was for educators to partner with parents. There is so much I would do differently if I was to start my first year all over again!

How do you evaluate your impact on the people you coach? How do you capture their growth?

I love this question! This is one of my weaknesses – making sure I am setting measurable goals, gathering data, and evaluating impact.  Over time, I receive a lot of qualitative data about my coaching, from unsolicited feedback to thank you notes from people. I also have seen tangible growth in people as we’ve worked on specific skills or ideas together. But I don’t think I’m consistent at this, nor at asking for feedback. This is a goal I have moving forward.

One of the to do items at the end of this chapter is to write a letter to yourself 10 years in the future from someone you coach. I am going to do this (privately!) for myself. The goal is to reflect on what actions I can take to make what I write in the letter a realistic outcome. This reminds me of the first assignment I had in my doctoral program. We were told to write a letter to the professor, as if it was already the end of the semester, thanking him for our A. Then we had to outline what we had done to earn our A. It was such a growth mindset approach- set goals and then make them happen!

In the conclusion of this book Aguilar reviews the Principles of Transformational Coaching that were mentioned at the end of each chapter:

  • Compassion
  • Curiosity
  • Connection
  • Courage
  • Purpose

At the end of reading this phenomenal professional resource, I am left with compassion for my first-year teacher self, and for all of us as we struggle through challenging times. I am curious about what I still don’t know and how I can coach for equity and support others on this journey. I feel a connection to the people around me, as I seek to know them better. I remind myself to be courageous, as equity work is never easy. But, as Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things.”  My purpose never changes – I know my why and I am driven to always work on behalf of what is right for students, staff, and our society.

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #12

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 11: Exploring Emotions 

Exploring Emotions is the third of the four phases of Transformational Coaching that Aguilar created.  This chapter continues to tell the story of Aguilar’s experiences coaching Khai. In this story, Aguilar is finally able to have intense conversations about her observations of Khai’s interactions with students, specifically the Black boys in his class. Her story is powerful, as are her coaching moves.

What emotions did the story about Jordan bring up for you?

Jordan was a Black student in Khai’s class. When Aguilar videotaped Jordan reflecting about his teacher and his experience, he compared his teacher to a mean dog of whom he was afraid. Listening to Jordan’s story made me sad and angry. I was sad for Jordan, and all the BIPOC students who are treated differently in schools. I was angry about their experiences. I also had some regret for students I didn’t impact as much as I could have because I didn’t have these kind of conversations with their teachers.

It is so important to listen to our students.  This is why empathy interviews and focused observations are a part of my work. I can remember the day two years ago when I shadowed a students through her high school day. It was one of the saddest days I’ve experienced in school.  During the entire day, my student was only spoken to by a teacher directly two times. She was able to avoid work because the teachers didn’t interact with her or expect anything from her. In her two-hour Spanish class, she only had to say one sentence in Spanish. That was a rough day for me. To see such low expectations for our students, to see limited interactions, made it hard for me to sit in the classrooms. I wasn’t in those rooms to coach the teachers, and I didn’t have established relationships that allowed me to follow-up in ways that Aguilar suggests, but I left with anger, fear, resentment, and humiliation. I did follow up with the school principal, with whom I did have a relationship, but there was so much work that needed to be done there, and in so many of our schools.

This entire chapter is a lesson in how to have crucial conversations about race and expectations and our students. I want to reread this chapter multiple times to have the language handy when I need to have similar conversations.  I appreciate how Aguilar provides many coaching stems – ways to start conversation, data to include, how to redirect a client, and how to pause and leave space for silence. This is essential work if we want to change schools in ways that will impact our students.

 

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #11

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 10: Recognizing Impact 

Recognizing Impact is the second of the four phases of Transformational Coaching that Aguilar created.  This chapter’s story continues to tell the story of Aguilar’s experiences coaching Khai, and specifically her decisions of when to move into this phase and when to open up a discussion about race.

How did you feel reading the description of visualizing legacy?

I love this idea and will use this in the future! Aguilar asks clients to imagine X years into the future (working with a Kinder teacher, the X was 12) and they receive an email from a student. What would the email say?  This exercise immediately made Khai, the teacher, introspective and energized. Most teachers answer in some way that brings in a wish for a  social-emotional connection with their students and an academic impact as well, which are the primary purposes of education. It made me smile to read Khai’s reflections, as it once again humanized a teacher who had been portrayed negatively.

How have you seen data used in schools? In which ways has data been used as a tool of oppression, and in which ways has it been used as a tool for liberation?

I had a visceral reaction when I read about Khai’s principal making all teachers post their students’ reading scores on the front of their classroom doors. I have worked in systems where data walls were required, and where we were expected to make our data public, including for students and parents to see. I saw humiliation, embarrassment, and dejection regularly in these places.  There was a lack of hope and limited self-efficacy in the staff.  I have also worked in places where data walls were used by the adults for reflection, collaboration, intervention, and support. Depending on how conversations were facilitated in these places, sometimes I saw the same humiliation and other times I saw honest conversations where educators could speak frankly about skill gaps amongst educators and students. I have also worked in places where data was a small tool, not a large HAMMER, in educators’ tool belts that included a variety of resources.

The data is not the issue. It’s the human interpretations and the conversations that rely on individuals’ beliefs that get tricky, especially when students, families, communities, or cultures are blamed.

When does impatience come up for you in your work? How do you understand it and respond to it?

I often blame my NJ upbringing for my fast-talking, fast-thinking, desire to move fast. Truly, I have a strong sense of purpose and a desire to make change that will positively impact students and staff.  When I see problems, issues, or concerns, I want to solve, fix, and make changes quickly. However, over my decades in education I have learned that fast is not best. If I move too fast I will be moving alone.

I recently had a new colleague write me an email thanking me for recognize that equity work takes time. This is an area in which I feel particularly passionate and I can recognize how much change is needed in our educational systems. I feel that sense of urgency every day, but I also realize that my patience is more important than ever as I lead this work. We all come to this work with different backgrounds, levels of experience, and needs. I work on my patience and developing spaces for others to have patience all the time.

What does self-care mean to you? How do you care for yourself?

Self-care looks like different things depending on my needs, stress level, and emotions. Sometimes I need to carefully plan my schedule to ensure that I have breaks for reflection, time to have 1:1 conversations, and time for walks on the beach. Other times, I need to fuel my introverted-self with a fun fiction book, and a quiet weekend at home. My self-care also includes mindfulness and mediation (thanks Elena for the reminders!), drinking more water, and using essential oils.

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #10

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 9: Surfacing Current Reality

Surface Current Reality is the first of the four phases of Transformational Coaching that Aguilar created. I appreciate that she uses story-telling to illustrate the phases and her coaching moves.  This chapter’s story was her first interactions with another teacher, Khai.

What came up for you reading this chapter? What thoughts and feelings?

Wow. I had a lot of thoughts, emotions, and judgments as I read this chapter. The phrase “these kids” bothers me, like it bothers Aguilar every time she writes about it being said. The phrase is usually a way for teachers to talk about BIPOC students. I felt sad for the students in Khai’s class and school when I heard the discipline statistics. I felt bad for Aguilar who had to observe some truly negative interactions between the teacher and his students before their coaching relationship had developed. I felt sick by the micro and macro aggressions described. I struggled to stop my own judgmental thoughts, as Aguilar used her own self-talk to reminder herself to be open, to listen, to look for strengths, and not to judge this teacher.

Recall your own experiences as a kindergartener (or elementary school student). If I’d visited your classroom, your teacher, and you, what would I have noticed?

I love that Aguilar used this question as her opening way to get to know Khai in their first coaching session.  She learned so much about his childhood, his background,  and his beliefs that inform how he teaches. It also humanized him for her, which was important after she had witnessed him berating three of his Black Kinder students on the first day of school. I can barely remember my own kindergarten experience. I remember loving my teacher. I remember her inviting us to a local park behind her house for an end-of-year picnic and my memories of that feel fun and happy. Actually, that might have been my first grade teacher, but I’m not sure! I don’t remember anything about the academics of my first year of school. I know that my class was full of white students, because that was the make-up of our town. In general, I was a shy kid in elementary school who liked to read and to play school at home. I was a rule-follower. I don’t remember anyone getting suspended in elementary school ever.

What data could you gather to gain insight into racial inequities in your school, organization, or district? What data could you gather to gain insight into inequities for other marginalized groups – for how girls experience math and science? For students with learning differences?

In the era of accountability we have lived in for the last decade+ we have plenty of data to gather. We can look back at attendance, achievement, and suspension data as a district, by school, and by student groups. However, since COVID-19, a lot of our traditional data measurements have been suspended (pun intended!). Now is a great time to consider what other types of data we have available to us. In an elementary system with minimal discipline records, it’s important to consider other sources: referrals to intervention programs, referrals for testing for special education, when do teachers pull in the principal to help in a parent conference?, student enrollment in enrichment and speciality programs, etc. As a principal, I always found it helpful to connect data with individual student stories. Whether I had made a home visit and knew more about a family’s situation, or I could share the experience I had when observing a student during a lesson or even after I had a positive interaction with a student during lunch, these stories made the data personal and meaningful in our discussions.

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #9

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 8: What You Need to Know about Identity

“Coaching for equity requires that we manage our discomfort around discussing race and class and identity differences.” ~ Aguilar, page 207

This is another chapter I wish I had access to years ago. In my previous district, I coached many leaders with identity markers different than my own, more so than in any other role, and I wish I had acknowledged those differences more openly.

What questions came up about the identities of people you coach?

This chapter is an important reminder for white coaches – while talking about race often makes us feel uncomfortable, when we bring up differences between us and those we coach, we often make others more comfortable. My discomfort in a conversation cannot compare to a BIPOC’s discomfort in the many times across their day when they experience racism. This is a great way to start: “I want to acknowledge the differences in our gender, age, and race. What comes up for you as you think about our work together and these differences?”

There are fewer reflective questions at the end of this chapter, so instead I want to share a few more quotes that stood out to me as I read.

“I’m curious how you identify in terms of your sociopolitical identity markers – race, class, gender, and so on. Of your identity markers, which ones feel more important to you?”

“We learn about our client’s sense of identity for a few reasons: so we can understand how they see themselves, so we can coach them into deeper insights about themselves, and so we can coach them into greater understanding about how their markers show up in their teaching and leadership.”

“Given that the experience of white people is dominant in our media, curriculum, and literature, people of color know a lot about white people. But white people don’t know a lot about people of color, or what they know is distorted or inaccurate.”

 

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #8

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 7: What You Need to Know about Emotions

“Resistance is an expression of strong emotions. Learn how to coach emotions and you’ll never encounter resistance again.” ~ Aguilar, page 175

This chapter is literally all about emotions – how to identify them in yourself, how to process emotions to determine what needs are not being met, and how to coach into emotions when working with teachers. I think that every school and district leader needs to read this chapter in particular. I don’t know a single educational leader who has not experienced resistance, which is really masking emotions (often fear).

Which emotions come up in you when you perceive resistance? Which of your needs aren’t met when you experience someone’s resistance?

As a coached, I learned that resistance was often masking fear. Teachers fear they aren’t doing a good enough job, they fear they don’t have the skills or knowledge to meet all students’ needs, and they fear being judged as a “bad teacher”. I learned how to help teachers open up to their fears by building relationships that allowed them to be honest and to ask for what they needed.  There are, however, still times when I experience resistance (to a district goal, from a set of parents, from a specific individual) and have to recognize my own emotions first.  For me, I think what comes up is a feeling that I am being judged as ineffective if someone resists something I’m presenting. I doubt myself and my worth first, instead of wondering what needs of someone else aren’t being met.  If I’m proud of an initiative, idea, or project, I want to be appreciated for my work. I want my team to be acknowledged for their collaboration and support. These are my needs that are unmet when I encounter resistance.

During our current COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen resistance to closing schools, opening schools, hybrid plans, distance learning plans, and more.  People have lashed out at teachers and at plans. So much of that anger and resistance was really about fear – people are fearful of catching COVID, people are fearful of missing work or losing their job or their home, people are worried about finances and providing food for their families. This pandemic has brought out many emotions that I see masked in anger and redirected at teachers, who are working incredibly hard during all of this, while also managing their own emotions and taking care of their own families.

One of the topics that Aguilar has mentioned repeatedly throughout this book, and her other books, is mindfulness.  My word of 2015 was mindfulness and I spent the year learning how to cultivate the habit. Since then, I have stepped into and out of the habit of mindfulness and meditation. Over the last year our entire district leadership focused on mindful leadership, which was a great reminder and a support during times of stress. Reading this book is a reminder to take time to pause, breathe, notice, and reflect.

 

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #7

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 6: How to Change Someone’s Mind

“A belief is just a strongly held opinion. A belief is not the trust- even if it feels like it is.” ~ Aguilar, page 144

This chapter was fascinating to me, as Aguilar goes into how beliefs change and under what context this is possible.

How do the ideas in this chapter help you understand how Stephanie’s beliefs changed?

What I appreciated about this chapter was: the reminder about the ladder of inference, the six conditions in which beliefs change, the focus on trust. When I wrote The Coach Adventure, my editor said something to me like, “Do you realize how many times you talk about trust throughout the book?” My response was, “Yes!” Trust is essential for any coaching relationship!

I loved Aguilar’s specific examples of how she helped a teacher examine their own beliefs in safe ways, based on the trust she had developed with them. For Stephanie, a lot of it was that she needed to encounter new information while feeling safe and keeping her core identity preserved. This is true for many educators.

What did it feel like to read the statements in the first column of Table 6.2: Possible Responses to Racist Comments? What came up for you?

This chart was hard to read. I had emotional reactions to some of the racist comments, and I had detailed memories of hearing similar comments from teachers with whom I have worked over the years. These memories made me remember the times I said nothing, the times I didn’t know how to respond, the times I tried to respond, and the times I coached into those statements. I appreciate the possible coaching stems provided, as they get the person back to their own beliefs. I also appreciated the directive statements provided that may be appropriate after a system had done extensive professional development around unlearning white supremacy and creating equitable classrooms.

Call to mind someone from your professional world who you trust. What about someone you don’t trust?

Throughout my career I have worked with some amazing teachers and leaders who I have trusted implicitly. Some of their common characteristics included being a good listener, following through in their work, being dependable, being honest, being caring and respectful, and being willing to have challenging conversations.

I have also worked with people I couldn’t trust.  Some of the issues that impacted my ability to trust them included their lack of transparency, dishonesty, and an attempt to create competition instead of collaboration.

I work hard to be trustworthy. I consider myself to be a hard worker, dependable, a good listener, and an honest person. I have plenty of flaws, but I admit mistakes when I make them (or when they are pointed out to me!), and I am a lifelong learner.

I’m committing to using the possible responses from the table in this chapter when I hear racist comments. We must have these conversations to begin to dismantle systems of oppression.

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflection #6

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 5: What You Need to Know about Adult Learners

Every chapter that I read of this book makes me love it more, and response the work of Elena Aguilar even more.  This chapter hits on key elements from her previous books, The Art of Coaching, The Art of Coaching Teams, and Onward. The entire chapter centers on her Mind the Gap: Identifying Learning Needs of those you teach. This is a growth mindset, or strength-based way to approach coaching.  We ALL have gaps, or areas of growth, because we cannot all be good at all the things.  As a coach, it’s important to identify a client’s gaps, or help them self-identify, to determine how to proceed.  We often focus on gaps in skill and knowledge, but Aguilar addresses four other kinds of gaps: capacity, will, cultural competence, and emotional intelligence.

I believe it’s important to consider that many adults, many educators, have gaps in cultural competence and emotional intelligence, because these are areas in which we have never been formally taught.  Any skills I’ve developed in those areas have come from my own study, my doctoral work, and my personal and professional relationships. These are not skills that came naturally, or that I just picked up over time.  These are skills that I am still learning and developing as they continue to be gap areas for me.

I appreciate Aguilar’s advice in this chapter – use this tool as a coaching conversation with someone else. I plan to bring this into future coaching conversations to help others determine their future areas for growth.

 

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflection #5

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.

 

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Coaching for Equity Reflections #4

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 3: How to Understand Race, Racism, and White Supremacy

I have spent the last 5 – 7 years diving into cultural proficiency work, learning more about myself and the white supremacy that has been the foundation of our nation and of the education system in our country. I’m so grateful that Aguilar spent so much time in this chapter going through history and definitions broadly and specifically about education.

Here is one of the reflective questions from the end of this chapter, which delved into the history of America, race, racism, and white supremacy.

At which points in this chapter did you experience cognitive dissonance?

The parts that gave me the most pause had to do with the power and use of language. There are many words that I have consciously eliminated from my vocabulary, as I’ve learned the history and the hurt these words contain. However, this chapter goes through many words that we need to rethink, some of which made me stop and consider how and when I’ve used them (i.e., at-risk, disadvantaged, ghetto, drop-outs, minority, frontlines, plan of attack, value-add, and dark).

This chapter really made me think about my own language, and when I have ignored or confronted this kind of language used by others. As an educational leader, it’s important to consider how to address problematic language when it occurs, because it will.  We are not perfect and we will make mistakes. How we handle mistakes and address problems will define our equity work moving forward.

“It’s time we scrutinize and scrub our language of the violence of oppression. It’s time we begin using and teaching language of liberation.” ~ Elena Aguilar, page 96

The to do item at the end of this chapter is about continuing our own learning. As I looked over the Appendix full of additional resources, I was proud to see many books that I’ve read (many in the last few years).  Here are a few that I’ve already read (the first 5) and a few that are on my to-be-read list:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • White Supremacy and Me by Layla Saad
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • How to be an Antiracist and Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi
  • New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • We Want to do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Bettina Love
  • Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson

What have you read that you would recommend to other educators? How has your language changed as you learn more about racism and white supremacy?

 

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