Last Thursday I had the tremendous opportunity, along with about 160 teachers from DCPS, charters, and private schools, to attend Fight for Children’s Family Engagement Conference offered in partnership with the Flamboyan Foundation. It was held in the sophisticated FHI 360 Conference Center. For years I have been familiar with the impressive work of the Flamboyan Foundation, and its emphasis on improving parental engagement in their children’s academic life through teacher home visits. But on this morning I saw the organization’s contributions from a different level.
During the event I sat in on a packed Anti-Bias Family breakout session where I was exposed to some startling facts. For example, it was explained that the schools serving the most African -American and Latino Students are twice as likely to employ teachers who are new to the profession. In addition, it was revealed that in 2011, black girls were suspended 18 percent more than Caucasian girls and were 48 percent more likely to be suspended from school more than once. It was pointed out that it is statistics such as these that led former United States Education Secretary to remark that “The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that.”
Participants also learned the difference between equality and equity. Equality, according to the moderators of the seminar, refers to having the same opportunity. But equity, as I was soon to discover, means a freedom from bias or favoritism. We spent time in groups discussing one of the many “Equity Scenarios” that hung on walls around the room. These were imagined situations that could take place in the classroom. The exercise was exceptionally useful in helping us identify our own prejudices that we hold either implicitly or explicitly. The major theme of the workshop was to investigate ways in which the instructors can support the five family roles that accelerate student learning. These were identified as communicate high expectations, monitor the child’s performance, support learning, guide the child’s education, and advocate for the child.
I moved from the conference room to an adjoining space to hear a talk entitled “Difficult Conversations – How to Preserve Trust.” During group discussions, role playing, and lectures by a DCPS teacher and Flamboyan staff member we covered the components of effective reactive communication, learned how to develop an action plan to prepare for future reactive communications, and most importantly, were exposed to strategies to maintain a positive relationship when having difficult conversations with families. All of this was supported by a detailed documented reactive communication process protocol. In addition, the subject of how difficult conversations relate to equity issues was intertwined throughout the conversation.
The members of the audience, including Fight for Children CEO and president Michela English and the executive director of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School Erika Bryant, were eager participants and demonstrated a serene seriousness in trying to absorb as much information as possible. There was also much laughter.
My main takeaway from this complimentary conference for the heroes that are educating children living in poverty in the nation’s capital is that Washington, D.C. is exceedingly fortunate to have groups like Fight for children and the Flamboyan Foundation providing highly valuable professional development for our public school teachers. With continued efforts such as this the academic achievement gap will one day soon be a thing of the past.