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school leadership

We Have to Challenge What Innovation Really Looks Like, If We Want to Break the Cycles That Impact Our Students

When will we learn that traditional systems and customs may not be the answer to creating significant change within education for our Black and Brown students? Maybe we are stuck in tradition because it is comfortable or because we do not know any better, but we do not have the time to sit back and watch history repeat itself. Society has grappled with experiencing change in all sectors of life and education is one area that often is talked about when thinking of innovative practices and ideas, but for some reason it always seems to end up looking the same and producing similar results. We have gone through so many policies (such as No Child Left Behind) that come and go, but never seem to truly accomplish the mission. Decades later, we continue to leave our students behind. From school discipline structures, to classroom lesson plans, and even down to lunchroom logistics, we make new names for familiar faces. Take integration for example, laws have been created to stop segregation and yet schools remain highly segregated. We say we are using education to produce critical thinkers. We want to impact our society by using the powerful tool of knowledge and our overall goal is to open doors and change lives. These things may be our goal but when we look at statistical data, our schools look even more similar to centuries ago than ever before.

We Have To Be Innovative

So many programs, schools and networks are being developed with the premise that they will be innovative within the field of education. But what does this truly mean for school leaders, like myself, and for those innovating within the four walls of their class room. After experiencing the challenging work of turning around a school and successfully moving a school off of the warning list of Chicago Public Schools, I have come to realize that there are a few mindsets that must be true for those grappling with moving past tradition within their own practice:
  1. Listening to student stories. Our children are often last to be called in to provide feedback, or to evaluate systems, curriculum and even their instructors. We have to push past the mindset that deters us from hearing their narrative if we wish to truly break the mold.
  2. This work is bigger than my two hands. Schools are ranked, highlighted, lifted up or even put down by all stakeholders. We have yet to develop a system that encourages peer accountability. What wonders could we create if I was on the hook for the school down the street as much as I am on the hook for my own?
  3. Innovation requires thinking beyond goals.

    When I first became a school leader, my school was on the academic probation list. I could walk through all the steps we took to move it to a level where the school no longer was on the list and had seen tremendous academic growth...and yet it is not enough.

    Systemically, students are set up to end in similar positions because the school hasn’t set them up to be change agents for their communities and families. Making the grade isn’t enough for Black and Brown kids that have to face so many challenges in a world not designed for them. Until that is the fabric of every conversation and an “innovative” goal...we will never see that to realization.

I heard someone once say, “How do you teach your kids how to have a seat at the table when they are on the menu?” There is a lot to grapple with in this statement, but I am pushed, as a school leader, around what role I play within this narrative. As a school leader, I battle daily with this and what this means for how I approach systems and policies within my school. I believe it is going to take school leaders coming together as a movement...challenging what transformation and innovation truly sounds like, feels like and looks like if we are collectively going to break cycles that impact our students.
Ayanna L. Gore was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. With a long line of baptist ministers, Sunday school teachers and teacher aides in her family, education has always been the focus despite the fact that she earned a college degree before any siblings or her parents. She earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Psychology of Crime and Justice from ...

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