Getting Through: Being An Equity-Focused Leader

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By: Dedy Fauntleroy

Every year I give my staff a survey about my leadership that asks two simple questions: What should I keep doing? What should I stop doing? What this survey lacks in specificity it compensates with unexpected gems unearthed by open-ended questions. But I have never included the word equity in this annual survey. So, in light of unprecedented leadership challenges, I tried using a version of this simple survey to self-reflect about the ways in which I do or do not lead for equity.

Things I Need to Keep Doing as an Equity-Focused Leader

  • Lead with love, love, and more love. I consider myself to be a compassionate leader, and I do love my staff. I occasionally utter those words but lately I have doubled down because our vulnerability as humans in need of connection is so much more important, especially now. Love and compassion are prerequisites to equity, so I need to get more comfortable with saying “I love you.”
  • Trust in the expertise and leadership of others. Our administrative secretary was the best person to organize our technology roll-out; our family support worker is the best person to lead the contact with hard-to-reach families. To believe in and cultivate the leadership of others only makes our organizations more powerful. Everyone has expertise to share. Give them enough space and support to lead.
  • Take care of myself. This is tiring work in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. We are navigating remote leadership, reorganizing education as we know it, and ensuring that our school communities and our personal families have the supports they need. Taking walks, doing a puzzle, and turning off the news is more than a break—it is absolutely necessary. Our ability to effectively advocate for equity depends on our well-being.

Things I Need to Stop Doing as an Equity-Focused Leader

  • Stop making assumptions. Self-identifying as an equity-focused leader does not automatically make me “woke”. I still make mistakes. Recently, I caught myself making assumptions about what families need. To me, equity-focused leadership means I am focused on authentic engagement—asking, engaging, and connecting rather than assuming.
  • Don’t fall for the excuse “We aren’t doing (fill in blank) because if we can’t do it equitably, we should not do it at all.” This sounds well-intentioned, but when I stopped to think about it, if we stopped doing everything that is inequitable, we would not do much of anything. We can’t stop educating: we need to make educational systems equitable.
  • Don’t overlook opportunities for equity. It’s easy to focus on the challenges; they are daunting. But there are also enormous opportunities for educational systems to shift to be more equitable. Everything is being reexamined—testing, grading, access, instructional quality. Now is our chance to recalibrate with equity at the forefront.

Everything is rapidly changing—especially education. What are the implications for the equity-focused leader? Beyond the necessity to lead virtually in the moment, how do we move forward, how we recover and how should our leadership shift as a result?

I would argue that if we want to see changes for equity in our system, we need to start with equity in the actions of our leadership. I encourage leaders to take advantage of the opportunity to honestly reflect on your leadership actions—how do you lead or not lead for equity? Be honest, forgive yourself for making mistakes, but open your eyes to opportunities and possibilities for you to emerge from this a stronger equity-focused leader.

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Dedy Fauntleroy is the Principal at Northgate Elementary in Seattle Public Schools. Contact her at dgfauntleroy@seattleschools.com. 

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Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email Editor@GettingSmart.com with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.

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