Looking at Your Sh** And Other Ways to Sharpen Equity Tools: A Toolkit

February 12, 2020

“Antiracism work that does not break the heart open cannot move people toward meaningful change.”

Layla F. Saad, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

“We all have a responsibility to look at ourselves in a metaphorical mirror. All of us. We will never be able to put down the mirror, because change is constant and the journey of self-awareness is infinite.”

Elena Aguilar, Onward

The Students Are Paying Attention

If someone works in the field of education, they have signed on to call themselves “educator,” whether working to support infrastructures and systems or teaching in classrooms. And if all work is equity work, then it’s critical to think intentionally about what we say or don’t say; whose values we promote and whose values we question; the curriculum we select; our modes of communication internally and externally, both written and verbal; those who get hired and why; the design of our learning spaces; what “status quo” and “standards” mean, and who has access to success. It’s a monumental task, but it’s necessary to see everything in our contexts as linked to equity if we’re going to engage in the process of transformation.

It’s also important to align our critical examination with the recognition that students are always paying attention. Students are listening to what we say or when we’re silent; they notice who greets them (or doesn’t) as they walk in the building; who stands in front of them in the classroom, who maintains the building, and who looks like they do. They notice the books and media they’re taught from, who is represented in the curriculum, and who is getting sent to the principal’s office. They receive messages all the time, implicitly and explicitly, and take their cues from what we reinforce.

Looking at Your Sh**: A Toolkit

If we want to create conditions for our students to show up fully, to be wholly themselves and thrive with unblocked access to systemic barriers, we need to develop and hone our capacities daily. We also need to know that we will mess up, be triggered, and feel overwhelmed sometimes. These moments will come with big feelings and big thoughts—which is why we need to put a premium on sharpening our tools. What I offer here are four core considerations for how we might go about this daily practice with integrity, humility, care, and skillfulness:

Situate ourselves sociopolitically:

  • To begin, we need to know how we identify, and the ways our identifying markers have “conditioned” our beliefs, values, and behaviors. This process can be overwhelming or affirming, and it’s a crucial stage on the journey. This list offers a range of identifying markers and this activity offers a good place to begin.
  • Once we recognize that we identify in a range of ways, we then need to heighten our awareness of the dominant culture and the ways dominance shows up in our surroundings; we also need to understand ways we perpetuate the dominant culture through unconscious biases, beliefs, and actions. This matrix is a good way to notice dominant and non-dominant/identities and forms of oppression; there also are a range of Implicit Association Tests (IATs) one could take to delve further into identity.

Understand whiteness/white supremacy: Working in education in the U.S. means working in systems dominated by whiteness/white supremacy. No matter our work, no matter our intentions or all the ways we identify, we work in a system that was built on—and still reinforces—policies/practices that uphold a select few while enslaving, exploiting and marginalizing Black people, Indigenous peoples, and People of Color. To do equity work means to accept the facts of our founding while also acknowledging the ways this system continues to exploit and marginalize these communities. This is a painful and necessary part of the journey, and one that needs constant attention. Tema Okun’s foundational piece offers characteristics of white supremacy culture along with antidotes so that we can shift our practices. We may find our educational organizations often follow suit with many of these characteristics. We may also notice the ways we hold these characteristics within us. It’s important not to judge, blame, or shame ourselves, but rather, recognize, accept, and now change our beliefs and actions so we can reduce harm and dismantle the systems that uphold these values.

Hone our awareness: We have identities that intersect across lines of dominance/non-dominance, and we need to examine how those identities play out in our professional contexts—and the values that are communicated as a result. We also need to recognize that the more dominant our identifying markers are, the more power we hold, and we need to be aware of that as well. The following are some questions to consider when honing and broadening our field of awareness:

  • Who is currently in this space? How do I perceive their identities? What assumptions am I making about what’s visible/invisible?
  • Who is not in this space? Why? What might that mean?
  • Who am I in this space? What markers of dominance do I possess? What markers of non-dominance do I possess? What privileges do I have/not have?
  • Who do I perceive to hold power? Why? What stories or beliefs reinforce my perceptions?
  • What values are being reinforced in this space? What/who do I notice on the walls? In people’s words or actions?
  • What feelings are coming up for me?

Engaging these questions nonjudgmentally and observantly will allow us to notice everyone and everything in our context, to heighten our awareness of power, privilege, values, and systems, and to do so more habitually and automatically. This awareness will lead to greater recognition of what we need to shift in our contexts to ensure our spaces are more inclusive and our outcomes are more equitable for our students.

Practice self-acceptance with a disposition to grow. Any equity practitioner will tell you how exhausting the work is, and how the complex nature of it all can deplete a person of their energy. The further one is from markers of the dominant culture, the more demanding the load. We need to honor the different places we’re in and the ways we’re holding different kinds of complexities. For all of us to stay engaged in this work, self-love and self-acceptance are key. We need to accept where we are in the journey right now. And we also need to know that if we’re actively committed to learning, growing, and reducing harm, we can’t stay there. Our desire to do this work, to recognize the roles of power and oppression must compel us to change, develop new tools, to see and re-see situations in service of more equitable outcomes. And with that new vision, we will be able to work internally and externally, individually and collectively to dismantle systems, stop causing harm, and transform the world.

Black, feminist, lesbian poet Audre Lorde writes about how there is no hierarchy of oppressions, and if we want to work toward liberation, we must recognize that harm caused to one group is harm caused to us all. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. similarly posits that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Looking at our sh** is a necessary component of our healing and liberation. Our individual practices will catalyze our communal efforts so that we can be better models of humanity and create a better world for our students.

More Blogs

View All Blogs

5 Questions I Ask Myself When I Design PD

May 6, 2024

I’m deep into designing my new, in-person The Art of Transformational Coaching workshop, which I’ll deliver during fall 2024 in 9 cities around the U.S. This workshop is based on my forthcoming book, Arise: The Art of Transformational Coaching, and both the book and workshop reflect all that I’ve learned in the 20 years since I became a coach, and in the 11 years since I published The Art of Coaching (retiring in July 2024 with the release of Arise). 

Read Article

My best design resource

April 29, 2024

I am deep in planning my new in-person workshop on Transformational Coaching. In Fall 2024, I’ll be taking this 2-day learning experience on the road. It’s been over 4 years since I’ve done these kinds of workshops, and I can’t wait to be in person with others who are committed to transforming schools. 

Read Article

End-of-year reflection questions for you

April 22, 2024

These reflection questions invite you to consider your ways of being—and they’re ones you can offer coaching clients as well. At the core of Transformational Coaching is the concept of the Three Bs: Behaviors, beliefs, and ways of being. We know that it is only by coaching in these three domains that we create sustained, transformative change in schools; our behaviors emerge from our beliefs and our ways of being. 

Read Article

“These kids can’t…”

April 15, 2024

My newest book, Arise: The Art of Transformational Coaching (July 2024), has two chapters dedicated to coaching for equity. And another three on coaching emotions. And even more on preparing ourselves to coach. And of course, a lot of concrete strategies. It has so much because in many ways, this is complex. And it’s also simple: when we tend to ourselves, we can tend to others. 

Read Article

Bright Morning Podcast

View Podcasts

How to Coach Towards Agency

May 13, 2024

How to Curb Your “Fix It” Tendency

May 6, 2024

Core Human Needs and Coaching Conversations

April 29, 2024

How to Coach Ways of Being

April 22, 2024

Building Strong Coach/Admin Relationships

March 18, 2024

Sneak Peek #1: Inside Elena’s Newest Book!

March 25, 2024

Sneak Peek #2: Inside Elena’s Newest Book!

April 1, 2024

Sneak Peek #3: Inside Elena’s Newest Book!

April 8, 2024

Sneak Peek #4: Inside Elena's Newest Book!

April 15, 2024

What to Do When You’re Not Feeling Compassionate or Curious

March 11, 2024

What You Need to Know about Classroom Walkthroughs

March 4, 2024

How to Set Up Meeting Process Observers

February 26, 2024

Coaches of Color, It’s Time to Honor Your Needs

February 19, 2024

How to Use the Ladder of Inference in Your Coaching Conversations

February 12, 2024

I Don’t Want to Co-Sign THOSE Feelings.

February 5, 2024

Try It On: Supercharge Your Learning

November 27, 2023

Try It On: Let Your Coachee Lead

November 20, 2023

Try It On: The Power of Silence

November 13, 2023

Try It On: A Question to Unlock Our Power

November 6, 2023

Try It On: A Question to Surface Underlying Beliefs

October 30, 2023

Try It On: A Confidence Building Sentence Stem

October 23, 1987

Try It On: Less Talking, More Impact

October 16, 2023

Try It On: Learn from Your Coachee’s Non-Verbals

October 9, 2023

Try It On: Improve Your Communication with Non-Verbals

October 2, 2023

What You Need to Know About Taking Notes During Your Coaching Conversations

September 25, 2023

How to Prepare for a Coaching Conversation in Five Minutes

September 18, 2023

How to Set Goals with Your Coachees

September 11, 2023

How to Introduce Yourself as a Coach

September 4, 2023

How to Introduce Coaching to New Clients

August 28, 2023

The Six Elements of Transformational Coaching

August 21, 2023

The Six Most Important Things to Know If You're a New Coach

August 14, 2023

Proactively Mitigating and Responding to Harm in Group Spaces

August 7, 2023

Facilitating PD: Post-Event Reflection

July 31, 2023

Designing PD: Reflection Before the Event

July 24, 2023

Designing & Facilitating Team Meetings - Part 2

July 17, 2023

Designing & Facilitating Team Meetings: Part 1

July 10, 2023

Navigating Contagious Negativity

July 3, 2023

Can I Coach Here?

June 26, 2023

When Someone Is “Too Far Gone” for Coaching

June 19, 2023

When “Equity” is Prohibited

June 12, 2023

Coaching Conversation: Finding Your Power

June 5, 2023

Coaching Conversation: ACE In Action

May 29, 2023

Three Resilience Boosters You Haven’t Heard Before

May 22, 2023

The Role of “Self-Care” for Educators

May 15, 2023

What do we mean by “every conversation is an equity conversation?”

April 10, 2023

Coaching When You’re the Boss

April 4, 2023

Responding When Emotionally Activated

March 27, 2023

How to Build Your Team’s EQ

March 20, 2023

How to Close Your Coaching Conversations

March 13, 2023

How to Determine Your Coaching Conversation Area of Focus

March 6, 2023

Transformational PD Part 3: Responding to Resistance

February 13, 2023

Transformational PD Part 2: Six Transformational Tips

February 6, 2023

Transformational PD Part 1: What It Is and Why You Need It

January 30, 2023

Coaching Resistance: Part 3 - Coaching Demonstration

January 23, 2023

Coaching Resistance: Part 2 - Preparing OURSELVES

January 16, 2023

Coaching Resistance Part 1: What is Resistance?

January 9, 2022

How to Set Yourself Up For a Great Year

January 2, 2023

In Conversation with Dr. Dena Simmons

November 28, 2022

Disrupting Racism at the Dinner Table…And Beyond

November 21, 2022

Disrupting Racism in Coaching Conversations

November 14, 2022

Why We Need Affinity Spaces

November 7, 2022

Microaggressions 101

October 31, 2022

Coaching Conversation: The Final Conversation

September 26, 2022

Coaching Conversation: Phase 4: Build New Practices

September 19, 2022

Coaching Conversation- What Happens when You Trust the Process

September 12, 2022

Coaching Conversation: Building Relationships and Trust in Phases 1 and 2 of Transformational Coaching

September 5, 2022

Transformational Coaching in Action - Phase 1: Surface Current Reality

August 29, 2022

Limited Series: Starting the School Year Strong - Setting Yourself Up to Coach

August 22, 2022

Limited Series: Starting the School Year Strong Considerations for a Thriving Coaching Program

August 15, 2022

Limited Series: Starting the School Year Strong The PD You Need

August 8, 2022

Starting Strong: The Power of Vision

August 1, 2022

Do What You Can: In Conversation with Sharon McMahon of @SharonSaysSo

June 27, 2022

What to Read This Summer with Dr. Kimberly Parker

June 20, 2022

Coaching Joy

June 13, 2022

Coaching Sadness

June 6, 2022

Coaching Emotions: Anger

May 30, 2022

10 Strategies to Shift a Mood

May 23, 2022

It’s All In the Details

May 16, 2022

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

May 9, 2022

Powerful Facilitation Starts and Ends With You

May 2, 2022

The PD Book Sneak Peek

April 25, 2022

What to Say: Listener Questions- Asked & Answered

April 18, 2022

Designing Your Racial Equity Learning Journey

March 28, 2022

What to Say: It’s Complex - What to Say as a Person of Color

March 27, 2022

What to Say: Compassion, Curiosity and Boundaries

March 18, 2022

What to Say: Here’s What to Say

March 16, 2022

What to Say: Evaluating What’s Possible

March 14, 2022

What to Say: The Role of Power in Addressing Racism

March 11, 2022

What to Say: The Power of Purpose

March 9, 2022

What to Say: A Framework for Responding to Racism

March 7, 2022

What to Say: Reckoning with Our Past

February 28, 2022

What to Say: Recognizing Racism

February 21, 2022

What to Say: Three Steps to Navigate Your Emotions

February 14, 2022

What to Say: The Role of Your Identity in Responding to Racism

February 7, 2022

The End of Month Routine You Need

January 31, 2022

Three Steps to Better Decision Making

January 24, 2022

What Do You Need to Quit In Order to Stay?

January 17, 2022

Morning Routines for Educators

January 10, 2022

Coach's Corner: It’s Time to Get Your Needs Met

January 3, 2022

Kute Blackson

December 27, 2021