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Learn How to Tend the Fire

TXTS4 Leaders List

Learn How to Tend the Fire

Laurie King

How can schools address rather than perpetuate inequity in our communities?  What can I do in my school to make a difference? 

In May’s 2017 Educational Leadership article “Tending the Fire” Elizabeth City and Danique Dolly share how Dolly reacted as the leader of his Baltimore school when his staff and students were impacted by the death of Freddie Gray, Jr.   Dolly worked to keep the emotional flame of inequity under control without putting it out. 

It may be easier to work with students than staff on this issue, which is why we are focusing on building the capacity of your staff to talk about inequity and race.  You already have the skills you need to begin.  How would you normally start building your staff’s capacity?  You would analyze their current state and determine if you have people who can support or lead the initiative within your own staff.  You might provide training for those who need more support.

City and Dolly write:

School leaders need to create learning environments where all learners can bring their full selves to school.  In our experience, that means making it possible for people to talk about the range of identities they hold, including racial identity…..

 You might have your colleagues identify their level of comfort and skill in discussing—and having students discuss—equity or race issues, having them reflect on questions like,

  • How comfortable am I discussing topics related to (in)equity with students? 
  • What steps can I take to improve my comfort level?
  • What skills can I bring to facilitating dialogue around this hot topic? 
  • What skills must I acquire to get better—and what steps can I take to acquire them 1 (2007)

It is a start that will help your staff grow in their capacity to have students discuss issues of race and injustice that can lead to authentic learning and action.  Check out the article for more suggestions for tending the fire including 1) speaking up at a personal level about the issues, 2) forming relationships across lines of difference, and 3) allowing for authentic learning with students around issues of equity for which they are passionate. 

1 Resources to build comfort and skill include Courageous Conversation about Race by Glenn E. Singleton, What Does it Mean to Be White? By Robin DiAngelo, and the Social Justice Training Institute (