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We need to talk

By David Hutchinson, president

When a new member joins our local school board, I try to make a point early on to invite him or her to share a cup of coffee. I want to know: What do you hope to accomplish? Why are you willing to commit yourself to hundreds of hours of occasionally boring meetings? If we are going to work together successfully, I want to understand what is important to that person and how his or her experience is different from mine.

What does this have to do with equity?

Surely, it is obvious to most of us that equity is the right thing to do. Of course, every child should have access to a quality education and the opportunities to develop the skills that will make them successful. (And to be honest, we’re not doing a very good job of that, collectively. So, first things first.)

But there is a greater and often overlooked aspect to equity, which is, if we do this right, we
all benefit. And here is the key: It is not enough to tolerate our differences; we must learn to embrace and value them.

This is especially true for today’s students. These future creative problem-solvers need to develop the capacity to hear and incorporate other perspectives. They will need the ability to communicate across culture, language and even continents. Critical thinking requires the ability to challenge one’s assumptions; but to do that, we need to be exposed to other points of view.

The truth is, we’re not very good at talking across difference; whether that difference is race, culture, religion, politics, gender, upbringing or other. These are not easy conversations to have, so we typically avoid them.

However, with the right tools and instruction, we can learn how to create emotionally and intellectually safe environments for our students, teachers and staff, where everyone feels engaged and valued as a contributor to the school community.

At this year’s conference, we hope to start a conversation about facilitating difficult
conversations.

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