ASCA ’22: 3 Ways to Create a More Race-Aware School Culture

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AUSTIN, TX — When George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin on the streets of Minneapolis in May 2020, it was a neighborhood student who filmed Floyd’s murder. This was just the beginning of what would become increasingly charged racism. climate in the coming months.

“They must have walked by and smelled the smoke after the protests and had their grocery stores demolished,” Derek said. Francis, head of counseling services for public schools in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the American School Counselor Association’s annual conference last week. “I’ve seen the impact on the students so much.”

When Breonna Taylor was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, two months before Floyd, teachers also needed support ranging from time off to individual and group counseling, said Michelle Sircy, district school board specialist for schools. Jefferson County Public Service in Taylorsville, Kentucky.

Yet efforts to embed racial equity lessons, raise awareness in schools and even address racial inequities in classrooms perpetuated by staff are often rejected, several consulting experts said at the conference.

Recent racially motivated crimes like the shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, of 10 black people by an 18-year-old only underscore the need to continue these efforts regardless, Francis said.

“It’s affecting our young children…we’re sounding the alarm,” he said. “This kid was in someone’s school for 12 years.”

Build relationships with teachers

One way to impact more students is to impact more teachers, said Blaire Cholewa, an associate professor in the Counselor Education Program at the University of Virginia, during a session in small groups on July 10 at the ASCA conference.

This means confronting teachers whose racial biases surface in the classroom. “They don’t think about race, it’s kind of irrelevant [for them]said Joseph Williams, another associate professor in the UVA counselor training program.

To prepare for a race-related consultation with a teacher, counselors can collect and disaggregate data, experts said. They may find, for example, that a teacher represents a disproportionate number of black student references.

These are the teachers counselors should build relationships with, Cholewa said. “Often the most resilient people” are the ones who need it the most, Cholewa said.

Advisors can also identify staff who are allied in efforts to achieve racial equity in the building. “It’s an ongoing process, it’s not a one-time process,” Sircy said. “We need to spread this to our colleagues and attract more of them.”

“There are certain teachers in the school who have a lot of power on board, so how do you fit them into your team?” Cholewa added. “Pay attention to who has power and who has attraction.”

Address those who resist

Teachers whose biases are reflected in their work may shut down first, Cholewa and Williams warned. And those conversations will be uncomfortable, especially at first, for both counselor and teacher, they added.

“Tension and conflict is a necessary part of change. They should be offended the first time they hear this,” Williams said. “If anything, I hope they’re so pissed to me that they want to prove me wrong.”

In terms of raising racial awareness in schools, Williams said, counselors should “sow seeds that germinate later.”

But if a teacher continues to resist their own biases, counselors can direct the conversation to the experiences of students in the teacher’s classroom. “They pick it up, they notice who’s called and who’s not called.” said Williams. “Who is she joking with and who is she not joking with? »

Select interventions for change

For tangible results, counselors can select certain areas for teachers to self-monitor. For example, they could examine how they handle discipline, how they teach their lessons, and how they run their classrooms.

Self-monitoring may not be effective for teachers who continue to resist the idea that they have racial bias. Instead, these teachers should be moved to a state of “contemplation,” Williams said. This can include providing them with professional development, bringing counselors into committee meetings to advocate for change, and having counselors find changemakers within the school system who can help them.

“If you’re not doing equity work in your building, you’re not doing a school trustee’s job,” Sircy said. “You may be doing the work of a clerk…but not [of] a school counselor.”

Carol C. Reed