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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Crucial Conversations on Educational Equity

The job of any leader is to make sure that the conversations that have to happen happen.” —Christine Chamberlain, Curriculum Coordinator (ret.), Maine

CCE’s District and School Design (DSD) practice area convened recently to discuss strategies on having crucial conversations about race and equity. With educational equity at the core of our work and race at the center of our daily news, we questioned how best to talk about race and equity with our partner schools, district, and educators.

Each of the DSD programs highlights equity in their work. The Los Angeles New Administrator’s Program (LANALP) recruits, selects and trains new administrators to have a focus on creating equitable schools and highlights moral courage as a key attribute of an urban administrator. The Los Angeles Urban Teacher Residency Program (LAUTR-TI) also recruits, selects, and trains teacher residents who are going to be a stand for equity in their classrooms. The Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network (MA PLN) has centered its training on equity, and has prioritized partnering with districts and schools that have demonstrated attention to cultural relevance and attention to equity.

Nevertheless, just as it is everywhere in America, the conversation around race and equity at CCE is a difficult one, and often emotionally charged. This hasn’t stopped us from trying to navigate this fraught discussion. We refuse to shy away from it. For CCE the conversation around race and equity is non-negotiable. It is a “crucial conversation.”

A Crucial Conversation, as defined by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler in their book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2012) is a conversation where three elements are present: opposing opinions, strong emotions, and high stakes. I cannot think of higher stakes than the quality of education of all of our children. When having a crucial conversation, the goal is not to lecture on race and equity, but to have an open dialogue with our educators. To do this it is important to create a safe environment and to develop shared meaning. The first step is to analyze our own goals in having the conversation and to reflect on whether we are in the conversation to learn, find the truth, get results or to strengthen the relationship, or have unproductive goals of being right, winning, looking good, punishing, or avoiding conflict.

To have a productive crucial conversation, it is important to ask two key questions: What do you want and what do you act like you want? Behaviors can set the tone for these important conversations. Silent behaviors such as masking, avoiding, or withdrawing, can be just as unproductive as overt behaviors such as controlling, labeling, or attacking. If there is a lack of mutual purpose, there can be a lack of clarity and/or mistrust over motives. If there is a lack of mutual respect, there can be a sense that the other’s opinion is not valued. Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler outlined 3 techniques for rebuilding trust in a crucial conversation:

  1. If you are at fault, apologize.
  2. If your intentions have been misunderstood, contrast or clarify what you are talking about and what you are not talking about.
  3. When there are conflicting goals, work to find a mutual purpose by exploring your purpose beneath the stated goal or seeking creative solutions to satisfy both sides.

Active listening is key to a successful crucial conversation. Active listening skills include using positive body language, minimizing interruptions, asking probing questions, paraphrasing to check for understanding, and responding to both content and emotion. When in dialogue, it is important to be specific and not to water down the facts, to be honest and respectful, to discuss what is recent and relevant, watch for signals that the other person feels unsafe, and take appropriate action by employing active listening skills

Our DSD group explored and practiced the strategy for having a crucial conversation known as STATE:

S - Share your Facts

T - Tell Your Story

A - Ask for Their View

T- Talk Tentatively

E - Encourage Testing

CCE is committed to transforming schools to ensure all students succeed. With so much at stake to prepare every student to achieve academically, it is time to not avoid conversations on race and equity, but to learn strategies to better equip us to have these crucial conversations.