Nourishing the Four Roots of Anti-racist Leadership: Part Two

This post concludes the 2-part series centered on the NCS roots of anti-racist leadership. Click here to read part one


Root Three: Centering Asset Framing

In their work to improve the experiences of Black male students at Plainview High, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) members realized that often they spoke about students and teachers from their own negative or deficit mindsets. And, they realized that they could not improve student experiences if they didn’t truly believe that young people deserve those experiences and that teachers should provide them. So, the team made an intentional effort to speak about the assets and worth that each student and teacher brought — their unique gifts, their knowledge, and their humanity.
One way that antiracist leaders and teams focus on collectively thriving is by centering assets. Centering assets requires meeting agendas, data reviews, and team conversations and planning to all center on the strengths and capacities of each student and staff member. This enables teams to keep the assets of each student, family member, and staff member at the forefront of their conversations. In addressing racist systems and conditions in our schools, it can be easy to fall into deficit thinking about young people, families, communities, and even staff members. We must push back against that racist conditioning by lifting up what we each do well and what we each add to a community. We can get trapped in deficit thinking about ourselves and our own capabilities, and antiracist teams and leaders must push back against this kind of thinking as well. When a team collectively thrives, they not only work together better, they make a greater impact on the young people in their schools.

Root Four: Seeking and Giving Feedback on Practice

The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) engaged in intense work in their meetings, and in the other meetings led by individual team members. They soon realized that, as individuals, they didn’t have all the answers to the problems they faced. So, the SLT developed a rhythm of meetings in which they could give one another feedback on their practice. Each team member regularly presented a dilemma from their own leadership practice so the team could hear the dilemma, push the presenting team member’s thinking, and support the presenter to think differently about the dilemma. Presenting team members would regularly leave with new insights into their dilemmas, and hearing leadership dilemmas would often prompt new insights for other team members as well. In addition, as the SLT members heard the similarities and differences between dilemmas in their various teams, they developed a stronger understanding about their work to engage Black male students, and they engaged in collective feedback on that project as well.
We can counter a deficit mindset (as described in Root Three) and ineffective practice by consistently seeking and giving feedback. This process grounds us in a growth mindset because we only seek feedback when we believe we have the capacity to improve — and we only give feedback when we believe someone else has the capacity to improve. And because none of us has worked in a truly antiracist institution, we all need feedback to push our dreaming, our feelings, and our practice into bold, new spaces so that we can create the schools that we all need and deserve. Regular feedback enables leaders to foster a team culture where members “own” dilemmas together; where members bring their dilemmas for collective problem-solving; and where the team uses protocols to unpack and give feedback on dilemmas.

All four of these roots are needed to gather the water and nutrients that support the tree of antiracist leadership. An antiracist leader and an antiracist team must have a clear equity stance to ground their action. They must trust one another and must take up collective, distributed work toward antiracist change in their school. They need to check whether they consistently center that work in individual and collective assets. And, the team must put those beliefs into action through the growth that is only possible with authentic feedback. When leaders and teams nourish these four roots together, they grow collective antiracist leadership, fostering schools that honor the brilliance and insights of the Black and Latinx students they serve.
The Plainview Senior Leadership Team is in the midst of a journey towards racial equity. They have built their own awareness and understanding of race, power, and privilege in their school. They have engaged in shared investigation and goal-setting. They have centered their and other stakeholders’ positive qualities into their team work. And, they have given one another valuable, consistent feedback. This team is engaged in the core qualities of antiracist leadership, and they are cultivating those qualities throughout Plainview High School, to the benefit of their students, families, and staff members.