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Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D. is the Founder of the Leading Equity Center and host of the Leading Equity Podcast. With over 11 years in education, he has served as a teacher, principal, and Director of Special Education.
Dr. Eakins has a passion for helping educators accomplish equitable practices in their schools. He has earned a B.S. degree in Social Science Education, an M.S. degree in Educational Leadership, and a Ph.D. in K-12 Education.
Right now, the need for equity training at schools is is in high demand. According to Dr. Eakins, the goal is for school members to get all the tools they need to take charge of their own social justice efforts. This is an important shift for them to make because when an outside trainer is coming in once a month, the participants are expecting the trainer to tell them what to do. But in order for the trainings to be long lasting, the participants have to learn to hold themselves accountable when there is no trainer. During all the days that teachers and staff are on their own with students, they shouldn’t be afraid to have tough conversations and make bold decisions. Dr. Eakins followed with,
“I'm not going to change your life within an hour, 90 minutes, two hours, three hours..That's work that you have to do on your own. They need to see that comes from leadership as well.”
In order to be successful in leading for justice, it takes changing your mind, admitting your previous understanding of issues like racism and inequality were too narrow, or recognizing that you have privilege. Mindset work is not easy, but it’s the only way forward. We could all be more self aware of our behaviors and take the time to analyze why we think the way we do. Dr. Eakins emphasizes how moving school to online doesn’t change the equity issues that were already there before. Countless times, he’s heard the same thing: “I don’t need this because I make sure all students are treated the same or equally.” That explanation in itself shows that they are more focused on equality and not equity. Another misconception that comes up is that white teachers don’t think that it’s their problem. They think whatever affects Black, Latinx, or Indigenous people should be handled or discussed by that group. Dr. Eakins shared one example of when this came up with a teacher. He said,
“I remember having a conversation with a teacher. That was teaching their students about blackface and there was like one student black student in the class. And the teacher pointed at the student and said well your people find this offensive. And I said well, as a teacher, I would think you would find it offensive as well. Like, this is not Black people’s problem. We're not putting paint on our face to look dark skinned, like, these are things that white people are doing. So I would hope that you would be offended that some of your peers might be doing these things, or have done these things in the past, as opposed to passing this off as “this is someone else’s issue."”
It is challenging but necessary work to critically self-reflect. It is challenging but necessary work to lead change in our schools and teach for justice and equity. Teachers and leaders who are "willing to put their jobs on the line" as Dr. Eakins says, are needed to bring about change in our schools and communities! Let's challenge each other to name injustices, take bold action, engage in challenging conversations, and question traditional ways of "doing school" so that we can all have a brighter tomorrow.
To continue the conversation, you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries. Until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
Lindsay is a educator and leadership coach who helps teachers develop engaging project-based curricula, fosters student and teacher voice, and works to advance racial and gender equity and culturally responsive practice.