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From the voices of our leaders


I recently was a part of a presentation to parents from the district around what St. Louis Park racial equity work is and why it matters. The group of equity coaches introduced some tools for talking about race and walked participants through personalizing racial equity. My colleagues are amazing and shared powerful testimonies of their work and learning. However, I wanted to share out some of what I heard our leaders say. Towards the beginning of the evening, each principal and our superintendent shared briefly on what racial equity work looks like to them and in their buildings. Here are some of the highlights. (Please note, that while I look careful notes, these are not direct quotes.)


This work is about making mistakes and leaning in to hear other perspectives. We’ve done work around racial autobiographies, and it’s been emotional at times, ask our building equity coach—I’ve gotten emotional, but it’s been powerful.


I’ve come to terms with the privileges I’ve been afforded and how I’ve been looked at as a white male and the positive assumptions made about my capabilities based purely on that.


Racial equity is about humanizing ourselves and others—let’s find out who you are, and who I am. We owe this to our children, especially as we work in education and we’re forming futures.


The overwhelming majority of our white students are on their way to colleges, ninety percent. But only a quarter of our black students are. I’ve been reading more and more about what’s going on that contributes to this and learning from our building equity coach. This is life and death for our students. We need to dedicate ourselves to this until it’s 90-90.


I’ve learned that it’s okay to question things, and that we must continually ask questions. To look at policies and ask–who is it benefiting? Why are we doing this? This is about our parents of color expressing that they realized they have a voice in the race conversation and our white students having healthy racial identities.


This work is about valuing process over outcomes. In creating a space and protocol to talk about race, before there is an issue, there is a dedicated space to have the conversation.


We owe our students the best. This is work that needs to happen.


I’m new at this. As a leader, my focus has been being the leading learner. To model to my teachers, what it looks like to engage in this work. I’ve always loved x’s and o’s, but this is work about beliefs. And no x’s or o’s matter until there is that belief that ALL kids can learn.


This work has become personal to me. I started with a belief that we did equity work for our students of color, but it has become personal to me. My humanity is involved.


As a white person, in the past when I went home I was able to walk away from the conversations around equity. But recently, I have learned what it means to work against the norm of white privilege and to walk against the flow of racism. I look at conversations where previously I would have stopped because of fears and ask myself, why am I being silent?


I question how does my race affect the learning? We have 90% white employees and 45% students of color – what’s the impact? This work is blending best practices and racial equity reflection for the best for all our of students. We need to examine questioned elements of the institution and build racial consciousness. This if for our white students too. That they might be equipped to navigate the world and have healthy racial identities.



I am so grateful for the leadership and support our district is committed to in this work. We are truly in this together. – JE


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Uncovering My Beliefs

Recently our superintendent Mr. Metz referenced Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White (2014) and the role of examining who we are as we enter the conversation on race. In a district with an overwhelming majority of white educators, this practice of examination needs supports to become intentional. I need supports for it to be intentional for me. Without them, I slip into the patterns in which I have been socialized of portraying my white experience, my values, my beliefs as normal. The more work I do in this area, the more I realize I have to do.

One example of that was reading Waking Up White myself this summer. Historical facts such as the atrocities committed against our Native peoples, racial discrimination in the G.I. bill, and the War on Drugs while powerful, were not new to me. But I have so many more layers to examine beyond that. One of the early chapters that struck me and the factors that influence me as I enter the conversation on race were in regards to my family values.

Irving examines how she constructed her belief system and what was deemed good and consequently, although often unspoken, what was bad.  She writes, “A ‘good attitude’ was highly valued and rewarded. I learned to stuff down my negative feelings and to buck up with expected chipperness. Each cultural norm motivated me to fit in while judging others who didn’t. I learned to become deeply uncomfortable around people who exhibited any of the disapproved emotions” (p. 10).

While I cannot identify with her upperclass childhood environment, the similarities of her family values and mine were astounding. As she reflects throughout on the book on the impact of this, I couldn’t help but engage in my own reflection as well. Not only how had this impacted me, but how did it impact the students, families, and community members with whom I work? How did my whiteness as normal influence what I thought merited complaint? How did and does my inability to see the impact of my values come across as judgement or paternalistic “support”? Where did and do they cloud my view and understanding of other perspectives?

Irving ends with a prompt that I would invite you to consider. As you reflect on it, think about what is the impact on our students and how they need to show up when they enter our rooms? What values do we hold as absolutely right and who is empowered by them? Who is disempowered? Isolate race as you reflect.

“What values and admonitions did you learn in your family? Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Siblings and cousins can be good resources for thinking about this. Now consider what conclusions you drew about people [students] who [do] not appear to follow your family’s belief system.” (p. 12)WUWcoverFINAL-200x300

– J.E.

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Day One

If given enough time and left to my own devices, I can create a classroom that meets all my needs. Setting up my classroom the first time, I made sure I had clear “hand-in” and “return” shelves. This was important for my organization aka my sanity. I had long, straight rows of desks ensuring that I could see all students and they could all be facing forward. I had classroom rules laminated, and key phrases in Spanish for easy referencing on the walls. I could point to things when students wanted help with a general word that I had to tell them over (and over again). My room worked great for me.

It doesn’t take much to guess where this is going. It worked great for ME, but ME is the key word there. I was worried about making it work for myself and thus creating a wonderful environment for anyone who was an exact replica of me, but disregarding any other perspectives or needs. I believed I was there for the kids, but the unstated follow up to that was … as long as I was comfortable. As an individual, I’d like to think seeking comfort is natural human nature when that opportunity is afforded. However, if I want to really be there for kids, what would it look like to design my classroom, procedures, and strategies from that lens? If my natural inclination is my own comfort, to interrupt that I intentionally ask myself, “at what cost?” as I make decisions. I am making my room comfortable for me, at what cost? What does feel and look like to walk into my room from my students’ perspective? Designed by me, a white woman, what does it look and feel like to walk into my room from my students of color’s perspective? Where do they see themselves, their individuality, their personality, and their values recognized?

Having the privilege of being a part of several equity walks over the years, I have learned from classrooms that are community classrooms and broken free of the “all-about teacher needs” pattern that I fell into at first. I’ve learned from colleagues how to co-create classroom expectations with students and fill the walls and content with student faces and experiences. I recognized how implementing routines helps create order for students who experience transiency or unstable outside environments.

As you roll out procedures and implement community building activities here are couple reminders for creating safe, inclusive, and welcoming spaces:

  • Ensure areas of the classroom are accessible to students
  • Learn how to pronounce students names’ correctly
  • Communicate high expectations for all your students
  • Co-create classroom expectations & have students create reminder posters
  • Include photos of yourself and family
  • Consider grouping desks for community
  • Post student work, consider having students create about me for community building
  • Include photos representative of student body (with depth, avoiding tokenism)
  • Connect your content to students’ lives
  • Consider creating traditions with your students
  • Incorporate music into your classroom routines
  • Post daily objectives
  • Ask your students what works for them
  • Listen




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Staying in the conversation…

 “Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate conditions for change — personal change, community, and organizational change” (Wheatley 2002).  

As we examine the latest Equity Model feedback survey, we notice a trend.  Most respondents rated the post observation discussion as the most meaningful and helpful tool of the coaching.  Therefore, we want to give you the opportunity continue the conversation throughout the summer in both a relaxed and collaborative, yet courageous and honest way.

Please join us this summer on the following dates at McCoy’s from 5:00 to 7:00 PM to discuss the following TED Talks. (Works best if you view the talk before meeting).

Ted Talk 1: Wednesday, June 25th, Sir Ken Robinson How Schools Kill Creativity

Guiding Question for Discussion: How do you see this perspective intersect with Dr. Sharrocky Hollie’s cultural responsive strategies?


Ted Talk 2: Monday, July 14 Bryan Stevenson We Need to Talk About an Injustice

Guiding Question for Discussion: How do you think this connects to the institutional systems of education and your personal experience?


Ted Talk 3: Thursday, August 7th Rita Pierson Every Kid Needs a Champion

Guiding Question for Discussion: What does this bring up for you–past stories, future hopes, and growth areas?

If you would like any additional equity resources or ideas to explore this summer, contact us.

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Who are you?

Earlier this week, a group of high school staff attended a WMEP course entitled, Closing the Attitude Gap taught by Principal Baruti Kafele.  Initially I believed this course would give me strategies to change my at-risk/underachieving students’ attitudes.  In result of this change, these students would then have the WILL to academically succeed.  After less than an hour into Principal Kafele’s session, I realized that the ATTITUDE he was talking about was mine.  In short, if I didn’t have the attitude and belief that all students have the capacity to learn,  why would they?

That was a lot to digest.

He then asked the following questions and encouraged us to ask them of ourselves daily.

As it relates to your students’ academic performance and your overall practice of teaching:




More to digest.

So, I thought about those questions.  I thought about who I am as an educator.  I thought about where I need to grow.  I reflected on what I am about, and if I am actually living my values at school.  Then, I thought about the last 24 hours.  Could I prove that I am who I think I am?  More importantly, how would my students answer these questions about me?

Principal Kafele then challenged us to examine our attitudes toward our students as another way to examine who we were.  He gave us the following 10 questions to consider:

1.  Do I believe in them?
2.  Do I have a passion for teaching them?
3.  Do I have a purpose for teaching them?
4.  Do I treat teaching them as a mission?
5.  Do I have a vision for what I expect of them?
6.  Do I set incremental and long-range goals for them to achieve?
7.  Do I plan each day thoroughly toward their success?
8.  Do I see myself as a role model for them and therefore always conduct myself as a professional?
9.  Do I see myself as the number one determinant of their success or failure?
10.  Do I conduct daily self-reflections and self-assessments of my practice of teaching them?

Digestion at capacity.

Although it was a lot to digest (and not always easy or comfortable), at the end of the day, I understood more clearly than ever that if I want the achievement gap to close, then I have to first close the attitude gap.  For that to happen, the first attitude that needs changing is my own.

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What does appreciation and support look like?

Cold days.  Loss.  New leadership.  Excessive snow.  New Q-Comp model.  Contract negotiations.  This school year, our staff has been through a lot.  And, when we feel personally drained, it is hard for us to support and appreciate others even when we know how impactful that support and appreciation is to people.  Moreover, support and appreciation looks different for each individual which means what we offer may not be what people need.  Even more challenging, we may not communicate what we need or even know what we need.

kelsey and Andy

The first step in creating an atmosphere of support and appreciation is knowing what they look like for us as individuals.  Think and observe how you most often express support and appreciation to others.   Is it verbally affirming someone, bringing someone a coffee or treat, or making copies for a colleague?  Next, consider what you most often complain about.  Is it when someone doesn’t bring you a gift on your birthday, when someone seems distracted when you stop to talk to them, or when someone doesn’t verbally recognize the work you put into a project?  Finally, what is it you most request from others?  Is it knowing if you have done a good job, is it finding time to talk, or is it having them complete something for you?

Once you have identified what you do and need, apply this information to determine your appreciation and support preference from the list below.  Knowing this preference will help you inform others what you need, and assist you in appreciating and supporting others in the manner they find most helpful.

Words of Affirmation:
Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your appreciation language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that sends your spirits skyward. Insults are not easily forgotten. You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words that build you up.
Examples at school: give a verbal compliment, send an email of thanks, fill out an honor form

Acts of Service:
Can helping with copies really be an expression of appreciation? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. When others serve you out of appreciation (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.
Examples at school: offer practical help, grab an extra resource for someone, pick up copies, bring something to the mailroom, share a worksheet/lesson

Tangible Gifts:
Don’t mistake this appreciation language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the support, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are heartfelt symbols to you of someone else’s appreciation and support for you.
Examples at school: give a small “I thought of you” gift, a small birthday gift, a coffee, an extra cookie, funny post-its etc.

Quality Time:
In Quality Time, nothing says “I am here for you” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the computer off, papers and tests down, and all tasks on standby—makes you feel truly special and appreciated. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether itʼs spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.
Examples at school: give someone your undivided attention, display genuine interest in what someone says, listen and don’t interrupt, get together outside of school, eat lunch together

Physical Touch:
A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and connection. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or cold-shoulder can be destructive and isolating. Appropriate and timely touches communicate warmth, safety, and appreciation to you.
Examples at school: make someone feel connected with physical connection, give a strong handshake, a hug, a pat on the back, compliment them on something with a high-five

(Adapted from “The Five Love Language” by Gary Chapman)

When people feel appreciated, they are excited about going to work. They are committed to [their workplace], and their performance is likely increased. Learning to speak the appreciation language of each employee is extremely important. One size does not fit all” (“The Five Love Languages” blog, Sept. 14, 2011).

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Compliance versus Engagement (Part I: Questioning)

How would you explain the difference? What is your vision for your classroom when considering that difference? What does that vision mean in terms of classroom discussion and questioning?

One of the tools we’ve been using in classroom observations is Jim Knight’s Question Chart. It breaks questions into Open and Closed questions, as well as the level of thinking required (knowledge, skills, big ideas). Questioning is just one means at deepening engagement, but a useful one.

Both Closed and Open questions have their place and open questions are not always superior to closed questions. And, closed ended questions seem to come quite naturally to us.

What did you get for #1?
How old are you?
What is the setting of the story?
Which word in the sentence is an adverb?
What is the Pythagorean theorem?
What would be the five albums you’d take to a desert island?

Which is great because closed questions are a great tool to confirm and check student understanding. It also offers verbal practice.

The limitation comes if we rely on them for goals they’re not designed to meet.

Open questions (with an unlimited number of answers, often opinion questions) are personal, catalysts for conversation, remove the fear of giving a “wrong” answer. They invite student engagement.

What would you do if you were the president when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
How does Neruda use images to move his reader?
What is an example of a system at work in nature?
How would you solve this problem?
How do people act when they treat each other with respect?

These open ended questions give more space for formative assessment, and low-risk student input.

Knight writes “In a classroom where low-level questions are being asked, there can be a palpable lack of engagement, thinking and learning…when classroom conversation is dull and lacks energy, it is often because the teacher is trying to move conversation forward with closed questions when open questions would be more likely to provoke real thinking.”

Why does this matter with Equity in Mind?

Eric Jensen speaks on how this relates to underserved students. When teachers “often assume that they need to ‘’dumb down’ the learning and accordingly end up teaching only surface understandings of labels instead of going for deeper learning. They are operating under the false assumption that [underserved] students are either unable or unwilling to engage in deeper, more complex learning. Yet highly effective teachers demonstrate repeatedly that [underserved] students not only can engage in complex learning but also prefer it.”

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Why Educator to Educator Relationships Matter


The second feedback survey for the Equity Coaching position ended last Friday (many thanks to all of you who took it!) It has been a helpful tool as the district gathers data about this model as well as for us as coaches to personally pursue our areas for growth.

It’s a bit scary actually. We’ve gotten student feedback for years, but here was a survey our colleagues were invited to fill out about us (available for the eyes of various district leaders). Which lends to the question, if everyone had to do this – if all of us had our colleagues give us feedback- what would we learn?

Why it Matters:
Eric Jensen, veteran educator and brain expert, talks about the importance of colleague relationships. He says,

“Your students can see whether staff members get along and support one another. A divided staff influences students’ perceptions about the value of relationships, and when staff members aren’t on the same page, odds of success drop dramatically. Therefore, staff collaboration and collegiality are key to making your school work.”

Jensen goes on to share how this particularly impacts our underserved population. He talks about the importance of modeling healthy relationships for students who grow up in chaotic or stressed environments. He writes that children who see modeled “positive relationships learn healthy, appropriate emotional responses to everyday situations.”

Equally as important as modeling healthy relationships, we must remember we are not in this alone. Positive collegial relationships foster a healthy sense of mutual obligation. It’s not “my kids” and “those kids” but our kids. Developing trust and knowing others share this approach makes it easier to act. It’s easier to contact other teachers regarding your struggling students knowing that they have a shared investment. It easier to stop and say hi to that student you see hanging out in the hallway every third hour because even though she’s not in your class, she’s our student.

Educating youth is no small task. Building strong staff relationships is vital to student success and a healthy school culture. Whether we want admit it or not, we all have areas of growth. And if it makes you feel better, from our survey we learned we have plenty. 😉

So we invite you to reflect. What would your survey say? And how will you respond?

Want more of Eric Jensen? Check out his two books in our PD section Teaching With Poverty in Mind and Engaging Students With Poverty in Mind (extra copies arriving next week).

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Internal Check

Winter Break.  It is here.  You are in it.  So, we invite you to take a moment to PAUSE and CHECK-IN with yourself.  REFLECT.  How are YOU doing?  How are YOU feeling about first semester?  What are YOU proud of that you have done?  What impact have YOU made on your students?  How will YOU stay committed to your goals to eliminate the racial achievement gap?  What do YOU need from your equity coach to stay on track?

After you take an internal check, consider the list below.

  • Trust yourself.  You know what you want and need.
  • Let your feelings be known. They are important.
  • Put yourself first.  You can’t be anything for anybody else unless you take care of yourself.
  • Express your opinions.  It’s good to hear yourself talk. 
  • Value your thinking.  You do it well.
  • Take the time and space you need — even if other people are wanting something from you.  
  • When you feel like running away, let yourself feel the scare.  Think about what you fear will happen and decide what you need to do.
  • When you need help, ask.  

    (Hartman, 1987)

                                   “WE CANNOT START OVER, BUT WE CAN BEGIN NOW, AND
                                    MAKE A NEW ENDING.”  (Zig Ziglar)

Enjoy your well-deserved break, 

Joy and Arika

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HELP! How can I keep my students engaged?

In our conversations with teachers and support staff, many have made their goals around student engagement.  To assist in this goal, we found a great list compiled by students about what engages them.   

  • Working with their peers 
  • Working with technology
  • Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning
  • Clearly loving what you do
  • Get me out of my seat
  • Bring in visuals
  • Student choice
  • Understand your clients – the kids
  • Mix it up
  • Be Human

Blog:  Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

After reading the list, reflect on the following:

  • How often am I lecturing versus facilitating?
  • In what ways could technology play a part in my lesson?
  • How is my assignment relevant to students?
  • In what ways am I demonstrating my passion for teaching?
  • How can I use movement in my day-to-day lessons?
  • How can a visual enhance my lesson?
  • What would it look like to differentiate my assignment?
  • What do I know about each student?
  • How can I deliver my content differently?
  • What do my students know about me as a person?


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