Mindful Musings

  • Why Your DEI Plans May Be DOA

    I have noticed both an encouraging and a discouraging pattern when it comes to schools, school districts, and organizations looking at professional learning in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). On one hand you have the ever increasing awareness around the importance and critical need for learning growth in this area. On the other hand, this increase has led to the inevitable “mistakes,” box checking, and flat out educational malpractice when it comes to this work. While I am one of many voices on this topic (I hope you are learning from more than one), I felt compelled to share some strategies around developing a meaningful DEI plans so the many common and consistent mistakes I see made are likely to be avoided.

    In doing this work it is critical to have the support, which is key, and the active participation from those in leadership positions. Merely mandating or treating equity work as “just another PD” will not only diminish the value, it will also lead to a mindset that it is of very low value. This  also continues to shift the focus from the true locus of change, educators working with the students. Not sure what I mean, do an anonymous survey of teachers, employees, etc. and ask how valuable most find all of those professional development workshops in which a leader is not present and actively participating. I also recommend follow-up reflections and assessment to see how truly effective that “one day workshop” on this topic really was.

    One area I find lacking is in a full understanding of each of those “terms.” I use the word terms in quotes because I sincerely hope that many of them are not treated as merely terms but rather mindsets that are directly correlated to action and thought. I will share more on each of them at the end of this post. Your staff should be able to explain each one and apply it to your specific setting or scenario. A good start to learning this and doing the work would be to review this site page here.


    Do identifiers matter?

    While I am on the topic of identifiers it is also critical to use specific identifiers. This keeps conversations and interaction on a human level rather than the identifiers being abstract thematic descriptors. By using specifics such as Black, People of Color, Indigenous, etc. conversations take on a specificity necessary for understanding. This also leads to another point, being purposeful and intentional in whom you select to do this work is critical. I have seen far too many instances where both the optics and outcome tell a story of an individual or group leading this work and they are not only ill equipped, but also doing more harm than good. As I generally share, good intentions are not good enough if they don’t yield good results. Here are some questions to consider:

    Are you organizing a workshop or “training?” who is the facilitator? Simply choosing a person of color because they “fit the profile” can actually cause more harm than choosing an equally non-qualified person who is not a person of color. What is their background? What is their body of work? How does their life experience support the need for the work in the first place?

    As you build and refine your plan it should include specifics for inclusion. A focus on diversity without inclusion is highly likely to be a catalyst for trauma and unsafe conditions to a person of color. This also provides a situation of tokenism and more box checking. A truly inclusive plan ensures that everyone has a voice and that every voice is heard. Heard meaning: welcomed, listened to, responded to, and valued. This will also ensure your plan is purposeful, intentional, and genuine. If your plan does not meet all three criteria it is highly likely nothing more than optics for acceptance rather than action for change. It is important that I also mentioned the cliched use of the term “safe space.” One simple question to ask: Safe for whom? As my good friend Dee Lanier has said, “the worst form of hypocrisy is pretending you care.”

    As you continue developing your plan what is the time frame?

    This is not work you can microwave and do it in one day, or worse a few hours. We don’t go to therapy on one visit and walk out healed. This is not work that should be looked at as a “one day workshop.” There are so many layers to not only doing this work but having it be sustainable. A one day workshop is no better than not doing it at all. In fact, this is another good way to create false expectations and an incorrect sense of accomplishment. Also does your plan look at your organization/school district as a whole (institution) and then address the parts (individuals) or does it simply treat DEI as an existential idea? Far too often it is the latter and not the former. Additional areas to look at in any plan include: Is the plan dynamic and malleable to adjust for changes in individual ideas, attitudes, and/or behaviors? Or is the plan static and the equivalent of a series of checkboxes? Does it look at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as individual components or does it identify each as essential threads in a quilt of organizational change (I will publish another posting on this topic)?

    Does DEI really need the D?

    As I conclude, I want to emphasize as well DEI should not need the D for Diversity. If your plan of action is truly inclusive then both equity and diversity will be natural by-products. Inclusion is about ensuring access, involvement, and opportunity. Opportunities to be seen, heard, and valued, where the ideas and perspectives increase the value of the whole rather than the sum of the parts. My primary purpose here is to simply provide added perspective based upon my extensive experiences as well as observations in this area. Remember, it is easy to change policies and procedures, it is much harder to change hearts and minds. For educators, this type of shift is often deeply personal and requires a large amount of introspection. Without this type of process, we will never be able to disrupt an inequitable, hegemonic, and broken system. Hopefully this will serve as a thought provoking conversation starter for you, your department, and your organization.


  • A Pathway To Being Better, Doing Better (Part 4 of 4)

    We have reached the final installment of this series on the pathway to Being Better, Doing Better. The previous 3 postings covered the thematic areas of telescopes, microscopes, and mirrors. In our final installment we take a look at resources that are intended to be "brief", and ideally serve as a springboard into one of our other thematic areas. This is why the final thematic area is called Binoculars and Magnifying Glasses. 

    As you work your way through the resources below they are certain to provide you with many moments of deeper thinking, questioning many things you have been led to believe, and providing broader perspectives on their subject matter. I actually found it quite useful to listen to the podcasts more than once since there was so much content I wanted to delve into deeper, hence me sharing many of the book titles I have listed in the previous posts. While the list below has been carefully curated, there is lots more to access beyond it. In fact, I would highly recommend subscribing to several of them since the episodic content is so well done and is literally food for thought.

    We Talk Different:
    Episode 35- "What Does It Mean To Be White" Edition Part 1

    Episode 37- "What Does It Mean To Be White" Edition Part 2

    Episode 27- The "White Fragility" Episode Part 1

    Episode 29- The "White Fragility" Edition Part 2

    Episode 99- The White Fragility with Dr. Robin DiAngelo Edition

    Code Switch:
    Code Switch Goes To College

    Ask Code Switch: School Daze

    Behind The Lies My Teacher Told Me

    Respect Yourself

    On Strike!! Blow It Up!!

    Love and Walkouts

    Revisionist History:
    Miss Buchanan's Period of Adjustment

    The Hug Heard Round The World

    General Chapman's Last Stand

    My Little Hundred Million

    Michael Eric Dyson’s ‘Sermon To White America’

    How Charter Schools Are Prolonging Segregation

    The Breakdown Episode 29

    The Good Ancestor Episode 1 and Episode 9

    The Atlantic: Myth of Meritocracy

    The Atlantic: Myth of Learning Styles

    While there are lots more resources I could share here this should provide a very solid understanding of how this thematic area works and hopefully be a catalyst for you to further explore your own learning in these areas. I hope to cross paths at some point soon with as many of you as possible to share thoughts around the content in this series and hopefully share ideas on how we can work together going forward. Thanks for taking the time to read and  listen.

  • A Pathway To Being Better, Doing Better (Part 3 of 4)

    As our journey together continues, Being Better and Doing better will take on a significantly higher mental intensity with the 3rd thematic focus. The focus now shifts to the mirrors category. Arguably one of the areas educators, and really people in general, have many challenges doing is looking at ourselves. Developing a meaningful sense of self that requires conscious and intentional thinking is a highly valuable awareness to gain. It helps us become more understanding of both our perspectives and ideally serves as an empathetic catalyst for better understanding of others. You cannot truly understand or empathize with another person until you gain a better understanding of yourself. Another layer to gaining a deeper understanding is looking at many of our societal institutions and how they influence, shape, as well as determine many of our core beliefs.

    All of the book titles below are intentional in facilitating a high degree of self-analysis i.e. introspection. These readings will prompt you to ask yourself many questions. Lots of those questions may create discomfort, and I will request that you sit on that discomfort and lean in as to why it is making you uncomfortable and how you can use that discomfort as a catalyst for your growth rather than as a way out. Use your experience in the readings to reflect on your conscious thoughts and actions. You may discover many truths about yourself that you were not aware of. Some of those truths may not be pleasant, but awareness is the first step to understanding. Once you have that understanding you can choose to be better. One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes associated with this is "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."  I sincerely hope to have opportunities to engage in conversations with as many of you as possible on these topics, in person. 

    I'd like to add special recognition for these posts, the conversations, and workshops led with Jeff Heil have added to my depth in this area as well. We talk about these topics very often and many of those conversations include Dee Lanier. Dee has a special Smashboard EDU expansion pack that any educator can use to further explore conversations in this area and provide a great framework for personal growth. I strongly believe that we must work on ourselves before we can truly to begin meaningful work with others.

    Now our list (there are many more that could have been added to this list):

    White Like Me by Tim Wise

    So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

    White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

    Teaching/Learning Anti-Racism: A Developmental Approach by Louise Derman-Sparks 

    Everyday Antiracism by Mica Pollock

    The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege by Robert Jensen

    Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race by Derald Wing Sue

    Note: I have recently added two more books to the telescope theme. They are listed at the bottom here.

  • A Pathway To Being Better, Doing Better (Part 1 of 4)

    Lately I have noticed a bit of a trend that I sincerely hope becomes more of a norm in education than the many learning fads I constantly see come and go. More and more educators are looking at reading books that serve a number of professional learning interests, but these books are also more for their own personal growth beyond being an educator. In many of the workshops and lectures I give regarding race, equity, culture, and diversity I often share one of my personal goals, that I have done a decent job sticking to, is to read a book a week. It may seem like a lot but it really isn't if you look for books that are going to serve a professional growth or personal interest purpose. 

    Recently I've had a number of Educators ask me for book recommendations based upon conversations I have had with them in person or via social media. The cool thing is many have finished one recommendation only to ask for another. So I thought it would be helpful if I were able to collect a series of recommendations into one convenient place and give some contextual analysis around the books themselves and what thematic purpose they may serve. In one of the many, but not enough, conversations I had with my close friend Dee Lanier we looked at creating a thematic focus for series of books so educators would understand the underlying meaning of them together. Dee is also working on an expansion pack for his Smashboard Edu card decks that will provide educators with a framework on how to engage in more meaningful and deeper conversations on the topics of race, culture, and equity. I will share a link in a future post once the project is ready for launch. Until then, the overarching themes are as follows:

    In this post we will take a closer (no pun intended) look at the theme of the telescopes. These are books that bring a closer more condensed perspective on history and the life experience. In some cases they also provide a better "view" on things in the past that we have either not seen, were hidden from us, or have been purposely overlooked. Among the many books in this thematic category the listing Dee and I have found personally beneficial and have suggested to read are:

    White Rage, by Carol Anderson

    Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    The Color of Water, by James McBride

    Stamped from the Beginning, by  Ibram X. Kendi

    The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

    A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History by Jeanne Theoharis

    Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen

    Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by José Antonio Burciaga

    Burro Genius: A Memoir by Victor Villaseñor  

  • Understanding Cultural Appreciation v. Cultural Appropriation


    Image obtained from New York Post


    There is a funny story I remember hearing some years ago by the late David Foster Wallace in a commencement address like this.


    There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”


    I thought of this joke again after having a conversation about cultural appropriation in a recent podcast I had the pleasure of being a guest. The podcast is Partial Credit and is run by my three close friends Jeff Heil, Jesse Lubinsky, and Donnie Piercey. In the episode, House of Horrors, which can be found here, we talked about Halloween among other things. More specifically, we talked about costumes and cultural appropriation. Note: this was prior to the Megyn Kelly incident regarding blackface.


    As a byproduct of that conversation I wanted to share a few ideas and thoughts around cultural appropriation as well as cultural appreciation. I will be posting a few follow ups to this since it is such a complex topic that deserves more than one blog posting. Essentially Cultural Appropriation can be defined as the taking of culture from one group for the benefit, entertainment, profit, and even humor of another. This is usually defined more clearly by the dominant culture doing this at the expense of other cultures. The other cultures usually represent marginalized people, those who have been denied a voice, and in many cases those that are not provided with a platform to speak for themselves. I remember a recent conversation in which I was told that in some schools there are teachers that post signs saying my culture is not a halloween costume. Or schools even posting signs like these around campus.

    Appropriation is usually obvious when it comes to costume wearing, but manifests itself in countless other forms. Many have seen it in music, food, clothing, art, and to a slightly lesser degree the vernacular used (these areas will be examined in future posts). It is important for me to share a personal definition of cultural appreciation as well since it is far more complex than a simple definition. I would characterize it as having a genuine or authentic interest in a culture; in learning about the history (the good and bad), the food, the music, the art, the language, the people and its perspectives. Also, taking the genuine time and interest to build relationships with members of that culture on the basis of that understanding. If you have an appreciation for a culture then it makes it much more difficult to appropriate it, because you are more likely able to recognize whether your actions will be taken as disrespectful or embraced/acknowledged positively by the people of that culture. The main thing that I want to do here is identify a clear difference between appropriation and appreciation.


    The following is a list of questions or conditions to consider when thinking about the differences:

    It is important for me to share that cultural exchange is very different than appropriation as well. An exchange requires the following conditions: each culture is on equal footing i.e. there isn’t a power structure involved. There are many examples in which an exchange has been beneficial to all cultures involved such as pasta, tea, and coffee to name a few. A definitive line can be drawn as well between exchange and assimilation. Assimilation requires a non-dominant or even oppressed culture to adapt/adopt the characteristics of the dominant culture to ensure acceptance and even survival.


    There are lots of examples I can share and here are a few that provide further information.

    Why blackface is wrong?

    Orange is the New Black(face)

    An appreciation for Malcolm X not appropriation.

    If there are elements of this post that bother you or make you uncomfortable please consider why you feel that way and imagine how it feels to the recipients of cultural appropriation where the feelings/damage are more deeply rooted; where the marginalization is more deeply affective; where the death is by a thousands cuts. This ties in to the story mentioned at the start, if you are part of the dominant culture sometimes things can be so normalized for you that you don’t even notice them. Water is so normalized for the fish, they don’t even notice its existence.

    I hope to foster more meaningful conversations around this as well as outline further details in upcoming posts, especially in the area of school/team mascots. Please give a listen to the podcast previously mentioned where we discuss Moana and I share a personal story of appreciation for the Maori culture.