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It’s uncomfortable to talk about taking accountability. It’s uncomfortable talking about putting your job on the line. It’s uncomfortable to become self-aware. And yet, dreams have to be uncomfortable. If you want to change but aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, then it’s not real change.
Dr. Kimya Nuru Dennis spoke with us on an episode of the Time for Teachership podcast, where she shared what this kind of uncomfortable change might look like in education. And it goes far beyond social media and tokenism but gets to the heart of being self-aware and honest enough to recognize where you’ve gone wrong.
Dreams for Education
Dr. Dennis’s dream for the field of education is simple: that we would stop being stuck in concepts, theories, and repeated readings. And that people would wake up and realize that despite a cultural narrative of change, we are clinging to the white-cisgender-heteronormative histories and curriculum that have been in place for centuries.
It’s not just an American problem, but a global one. In recent years—particularly during the “awakening” period of 2016-2022—many people express a desire or interest to change. They might attempt to increase diversity by including new materials. And yet those new materials are still what passes white standards or what ended up on the bestseller’s list.
Dr. Dennis wants to see us break away from this—finally. To do the work, take responsibility for what should change and what hasn’t changed, and be okay with discomfort through the process.
Taking Responsibility as Educators
The biggest step towards increased diversity and equity (and real change, not just lip-service), is for educators to take responsibility—not just over our own classes, but over the system we are part of.
Most educators went through a very rigid teaching training model. And so, even if we acknowledge that there is a need for change, we may put the blame on someone else—our training or the board. We often just accept the curriculum given to us rather than developing something ourselves. But Dr. Dennis urges us to take responsibility for what role we are playing and not downplay the impact we have to change the system.
Challenging Yourself and Others
There’s a mistaken belief amongst educators that we are only responsible for what happens in the four walls of our classrooms. But the reality is that we are part of a broader community that we can influence. And if teachers are not holding each other accountable, there’s no real way to make sustainable changes.
It’s important that teachers step away from social media and the “adult popularity contest,” as Dr. Dennis puts it. Instead, it’s time to be self-reflective in a few areas:
Equity and diversity in our schools and school system will not happen with social media performances or lip-service to change. It will come when we are committed to doing our own personal inner work and then holding others around us accountable to this work as well.
The work is not easy, but it is important. Dr. Dennis had so much more to share about her thoughts on the state of education, teachers’ responsibility, and how we need system-wide change. Make sure to check out her full interview on the Time for Teachership podcast. You can also follow along with her work at 365 Diversity.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.