“When it comes to our kids, we adults have a lot of ideas about how
Our community embarked on a journey last year to create ROBS’ next strategic plan. The process began, as it always does, with a lot of listening. We heard from parents, employees, board members, alumni, church members, and students about their vision for ROBS’ future. The priorities that came out of these discussions were consistent across the groups, and I shared them with the community in a letter last June.
Once the community identified the four strategic priorities, our administrative team divided into sub-groups to research each initiative further and outline opportunities for the School. I was appointed team lead for the diversity and inclusion strategic initiative, and I was ready to dive in.
When it comes to our kids, we adults have a lot of ideas about how to make things better. But I’ve found over the years as both an educator and a parent, that sometimes it’s best to ask the kids what they think. So I did.
I wanted to know whether any of our students have felt excluded, particularly students who are in the minority here at ROBS. I met with dozens of kids from grades 4-8 in small groups and I asked them, “Have you ever felt excluded at ROBS based on your race or ethnicity?” Their answers were unexpected and real.
Not one student said that they had ever felt excluded based on their race or ethnicity. If I were to be completely honest, this surprised me. They said other students sometimes say things or do things that are unintentionally racist, what is referred to as microaggressions. I’ve learned a lot about microaggressions over the last few months, and I know how hurtful they can be. Just as I was about to jump in, the students told me that the microaggressions they’ve experienced were not on purpose. The mean things are said by kids because they are kids. They said that unintentional unkindness occurs all the time but when it happens based on a child’s race or ethnicity, they felt that adults unnecessarily overreact.
My thought bubble… “Hold up, overreacting?! It’s called teaching kids respect and cultural competence.” I bit my tongue and kept listening.
They told me that they want to be able to share when others hurt them, but because they know the adults in their lives will overreact, they stay quiet. They asked me why we don’t just serve as guides while the kids work things out themselves? Why don’t we help them understand why what was said was hurtful, and encourage the offender to own the mistake and apologize?
Wow. Their questions were both brilliant and troubling. I thought that’s what we were doing—helping kids understand the impact of their behavior and giving them the tools to work it out. At least, that’s what we are trying to do. But if the kids don’t think so, then something’s amiss.
I ran across this verse, and it made me think about what these students wanted me to understand: “…Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry,” James 1:19 (NLT). Often young people simply need to talk, express their frustrations, or just ask questions. Solving their problems, condemning their friends, and jumping on their faults and mistakes adds more stress to the situation. I think they were saying to me, listen but don’t act unless we need you to act. When we are ready for you to step in we will let you know. Until then, show us that you care for us by listening.
Their message could be a refrain for our entire strategic effort in diversity and inclusion. It sounds lovely and simple, but it can’t be. To honor someone’s uniqueness means to understand that person as a dynamic, multi-dimensional, colorful human being. Learning how to respect them means learning about those dimensions and experiences. It means listening.
The students’ words have echoed in my heart since those meetings. As team lead and Head of School, I was ready to tackle goals and meet benchmarks with my checklist in hand and my eye on success. Since those conversations, I’ve decided to put away my checklist and open my ears. Listening IS the work of diversity and inclusion. It may not fit within a structured timeline, but it is the key to growing and learning. I think I should spend more time talking to the kids. Wait! I mean, listening.
ROBS Head of School