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Literacy Learning Network: Developing Antiracist Instructional Leaders

Transformational Schools      March, 2021     

“Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” – Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Literacy is foundational for our children to realize their full brilliance and potential. If there’s one essential thing our public education system must do well, it is to build this foundation for our children. In her book, Cultivating Genius, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad reminds us that historically, literacy has been a tool and pursuit to improve and elevate people’s lives, in particular Black lives. Using the culturally relevant and responsive framework that Dr. Gholdy offers, we at Educate78, along with our colleagues at Instruction Partners, have the privilege of supporting educators to reimagine what literacy learning could look like in their context to support students who are most consistently underserved – namely, our Black and Brown students.

Through our new professional learning community, Literacy Learning Network, five school leaders and their teams are supported to build and maintain antiracist learning cultures¹ at their sites as they deepen their capacity to use literacy as a force for equity and liberation: changing mindsets, fostering liberatory learning experiences, revamping systems, and implementing antiracist practices so that all students can thrive. Instead of reproducing the same routines in remote form, these leaders and their teams are examining how historical and current oppressive beliefs are hindering students’ learning, and are striving to redesign learning experiences that will inspire all students to read, communicate, and think deeply.

These schools have all chosen to use EL Education, an English Language Arts curriculum that is research-based, standards-aligned, and highly rated, as a set of tools to help implement their vision for antiracist literacy for their students, making intentional adaptations where needed in order to align with their visions.
Over the past few months, school teams have begun to identify equity challenges that exist in their system and are engaging in empathy work in order to deeply understand the complexity of these challenges and identify root causes: how racist policies have affected the ways they use their time, allocate resources, train their staff, and interact with and educate Black and Brown students. They are digging into the EL Education curriculum and making meaning of texts as a way to deeply understand the student learning experience and the intellectual prep required by teachers to make literacy learning experiences deeply meaningful for students.

We have seen the ways this community of professionals has grown as they strive to lead with an antiracist lens and grapple with what it means to use literacy as a tool for liberation. Through our monthly Literacy Learning Network sessions and bi-monthly coaching meetings, school leaders are recognizing that to redesign our schools they have to identify and interrupt systems of oppression, including White Supremacy Culture in their own leadership, in their interactions with others and on a systemic level within their schools, organizations, and community.

Their reflections have illuminated what is beginning to change for them, their students, and school communities:

  • [I am “thinking a lot about stepping back to ask questions that shift mindsets, not just actions.”
  • “The critical discourse about what is the real central problem and thinking critically about what being intellectually prepared for curriculum versus being intellectually prepared for Anti-racist Literacy experiences for our students.”
  • “I see the connections so CLEARLY in terms of anti-racism and literacy.”

In the coming months, leaders and their teams will continue to reflect on what it might look like for them to be antiracist leaders in this moment, given their identities and their context. They will continue to refine their equity challenges and redesign literacy learning experiences for students through implementing antiracist practices and policies that center the learning and experiences of students and families furthest from power.

This inspiring professional learning community includes:

  • Allendale: Desiree Miles (Principal), Regina Thornton (Coach)
  • Community School for Creative Education: Dr. Oberman (ED), Candice Paul (Principal)
  • Learning Without Limits: Nicki Fox (Principal), Shuli de la Fuente-Lau (AP), Tess O’Brien (AP)
  • Lighthouse K-8: Tina Hernandez (Principal)
  • Lodestar K-5: Robbie Torney (Principal), Vi Le (AP)
  • System Leaders: Brandee Stewart (Assistant Superintendent, EFC), Maya Buten (Director of Elementary Academics, LCPS), Jamilah Sanchez (EL Specialist, OUSD)

The need for schools to create antiracist learning cultures and liberatory learning experiences for students – essential for the centuries in light of systemic racial inequities – has grown even more acute in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning. We are honored to support some of the thousands of educators across Oakland who are rising to the occasion to fulfil our community’s commitment to our most vulnerable young people.

Share ideas, questions, and connections with us and sign up to receive future communications about our Literacy Learning Network.

¹ Schools have an antiracist learning culture when student learning and experience drives all decision making, and adults are strategically learning and collaborating across differences to identify and interrupt racial oppression within themselves and every school policy – to ensure everyone thrives!
Source: Daneen Keaton, Educate78



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