Inclusion #SOL2022

You know when you have one of the moments when you suddenly realize something profound that radically changes your perspective, maybe even your worldview? This happened several times recently, which is why I haven’t been writing here, every Tuesday, as I have previously committed to doing. (That’s the excuse that helps me rationalize my delay.)

I did commit to co-hosting an online book club with my colleague and friend, Tobi, and some elementary educators whose equity work holds them in high esteem. We read the first chapter of Street Data: A Next Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation. Using a Jamboard, we asked educators to identify the margins in their classroom. Initially, the question felt effortless, I thought I knew this, and I watched as others posted similar comments. We invited observations and then it happened – that statement which sticks with you.

Siobhan, another colleague and friend who works as a science and numeracy coach, unmuted her mic and said, “I noticed that these are all deficits.” I recall gasping recognizing the negative connotation which I had associated with the word “margin”. Was I unintentionally looking for what was lacking? I knew that I needed to sit with this, and as it happened, I heard about Ruchika Tulshyan’s book, Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work. I had an Audible credit, so I do what I usually do, downloaded it, devoured it on walks, on runs, on the way into work, and then bought the hard copy.

Even though this is not a book about education, the principles of equity apply. It is a book about inclusion in white dominated spaces, and, let’s face it, that is education. In chapter one, Tulshyan provides a framework for cultivating an inclusion mindset for white folks.

  1. Be uncomfortable
  2. Reflect (on what you don’t know)
  3. Invite feedback
  4. Defensiveness doesn’t help
  5. Grow from your mistakes

She writes that “If you have not had the lived experiences of racism, it can be more comfortable to live in denial that it exists. That’s precisely why we need more white people to sit with this discomfort, and investigate how racism impacts the lives and careers of people of color…” (57)

This framework was not unfamiliar to me, but I kept listening until that next moment of radical shift happened. She tells the story of Arlan Hamilton, “a gay Black woman who overcame homelessness to become a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist.” (59) Hamilton urges people to replace the word “marginalized” with “underestimated”.

“I want to share this journey, not because I think I’m exceptional, but because, like many people, I have been exceptionally underestimated,” Hamilton wrote in her 2020 book It’s About Damn Time.

This shift in language is necessary because it moves the student from being in the margins to the teacher who does not see, who underestimates the wealth a student brings. That, for me, is the language of inclusion.