Leading (Invisibly) While Black
There are people researching and positing that we are in an educational leadership crisis.
They reference it as an ‘exodus’. Except, we are out here.
I’m trying to establish the lines in which experiences of oppression (don’t) deny my humanity in education work. But what I’m really trying to do is start by establishing clarity about what humanity is in education work.
My humanity. My unapologetically, Black bi-racial, constantly cursing and seeking liberation for students’ hearts and minds humanity. The humanity of abundance and collaboration. The humanity of meaning and purpose, free from compliance and status. The humanity of justice. The humanity in our ability to answer “yes” to every student we serve in learning spaces – do you see me? Do you love me? Do you see me and love me for who I truly am? The humanity to answer ‘yes’ to that question to everyone we work with in our learning communities. The humanity in that answer of ‘yes’ being given to me, and I believe them…
“But we are all human, I thought, wondering what I meant.” (Invisible Man)
My father was the only person I wholly believe saw me. He was the reason I became a teacher; not the cause of my conviction for educational system change, but the confirmation of my ability to be able to be a change agent. He died almost a year ago. I miss him desperately. The loss of being seen is a despair I’ve never experienced before. It’s a despair I now know I feel in community with others, like our students, teachers and families who show up to educational spaces: unseen everyday.
Here there is no water but only rock.
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were waterway should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
The erasure of humanity is the rock upon which the institution of education in America stands. Even after almost twenty years in this work, it surprises me when I trip over it and fall, scraping my soul across the serrated rock. Hope smeared across its jagged edges. I see other hope stains- as there are many of us, traversing the Waste Land of institutions, desperate for the life in learning. Learning is liberation work. Education is oppression work. The hope smears paint a beautiful contrast to the cold rock. I see you, hope. I see souls shining in the distance. The shine of ancestors and wayfinders. The shine reflects into my eyes. Hope sees me, too. I keep walking.
“I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied” (Invisible Man)
In my leadership, oftentimes I share soul stories. I take up the time and space, organize the agenda and elicit outcomes centered on the soul of learning. The soul is complex and dynamic; it’s not easily understood. Most people don’t want to hear the story. They want to revise the story or get to the point of it. They make it about them. But they aren’t the soul story I’m telling. I’m telling them about people and things they don’t see. I’m answering their problem-solving questions and establishing smart goals in a language they can’t comprehend. We get lost in translation. The work, the soul work, is lost. I can’t get it into view. I can’t get into view.
“That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their INNER eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality.” (Invisible Man)
There are people researching and positing that we are in an educational leadership crisis. Our leaders and teachers are leaving the field, and there is no one who wants to replace their jobs. They reference it as an “exodus”. Except, we are out here. There are leaders we need, right now, in front of you. Yes, there are specific types of leaders leaving the field. Yes, there are those of us in crisis, and we will not continue to perpetuate or enlist ourselves in oppressive practices. We don’t want “those” jobs. But, the future leaders of learning and learning systems are here. Those out there stranded in the education industry, they don’t see the learning work; the soul work. They can’t see the future. Or the work for the future. They just don’t see us. Sometimes, we can’t see ourselves.
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” (Invisible Man)
That’s the humanity of the student journey in the education industry, isn’t it? The sincere effort to discover who they are. In spite of what the industrialized education system wants them to be. They walk halls, sit in classrooms, complete assignments. We never see them. We never love them. We complain when they don’t show up on our reports. We wonder where they are. We take up the time and space, organize the agenda and elicit outcomes centered on their coming back and being there. We never see them. When they reflect back what they see in us, we dismiss it. There is no humanity. There are foundational skills. Outcomes. Students trip on the foundation scraping their soul across the jagged edges. I see their hope stains. I get back to work.
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A pool among the rock
(What the Thunder Said)
My leadership moves upstream. Maybe there, a learning community could form. Maybe with water and rock there could be life-giving learning experiences. In the pool of water among the rock, we can see ourselves in the reflection. We look up, and we see each other. We are the one’s we have been waiting for. We can thrive here, with what we need, as who we are. We are learning as liberation practice.
“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?” (Invisible Man)
I see souls shining in the distance. The shine of ancestors and wayfinders. The shine reflects into my eyes. Hope sees me, too. I keep walking.
Leave a Comment
Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.