3 Lessons Learned Supporting Leaders of Color & New Approaches to Schooling in the Pandemic Era

ia Acklin, Senior Associate
Meladee Evans, Partner of Programs

At the heart of our work, what motivates us is bringing individuals together so that they can innovate and find solutions that work for a larger purpose. We did that just recently as we hosted a session at the Charter School Growth Fund’s (CSGF) Leaders of Color Initiative to discuss issues and find solutions related to social-emotional learning (SEL), mental health,and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

This work began In March 2021 when we partnered with CSGF to implement a new initiative to provide funding to leaders of color as they work to combat the effects of COVID and systemic racism on students, staff, and families. Participating leaders received support for pilot initiatives that focused on addressing mental health and well-being due to the pandemic’s economic, health, and social impacts and associated recession and creating more equitable and inclusive organizations through network-wide systems and practices. After conducting a listening tour and interviewing close to 40 leaders of color from across the country, we gained a unique perspective on understanding what different communities are dealing with. Here are three things we heard and learned throughout as we supported four charter schools and their leaders to implement SEL, mental health, and DEI initiatives in their school communities.  

1. Knowledge sharing is critical in a time of crisis.
With the compounding effects of unfinished instructions coupled with existing systemic challenges, it’s more critical than ever that school leaders need to capture and share their ideas, challenges, and efforts to serve the mental health and DEI needs in their school communities.
At times, we know that the work can become siloed, and capacity is limited, but anytime we can listen, synthesize findings, and codify what we’re hearing, we can share what we’re hearing. It also helps us identify gaps to work with other school leaders or organizations to create missing frameworks and tools.

2. Leaders are still (rightfully) figuring things out and rethinking teaching and learning.
We know it shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to think critically about high-quality teaching and learning.
Still, this was an opportunity for many leaders to think differently about schooling and approaches to education that works for different types of students and families. Press play below to hear directly from school leaders of four charter schools discuss how they navigated the effects of the pandemic in their school communities and how they’re transforming the way they approach teaching and learning.

 3. The resources and solutions we seek are often already within our community.
We saw many leaders being more thoughtful about community partnerships. Thinking about how they align with your goal of supporting students, families, and teachers is vital to success. Individuals and institutions in your neighborhood can garner innovative solutions that you might not have considered or had internal resources to implement. 

This initiative with CSGF allowed us to highlight the nuanced issues that school communities of color may face and show how resilient their school communities and leaders are. They are determined to find or make a way by any means necessary, and it made us think, “What could they do if they had even more support behind them?” If the pilot programs we witnessed expanded to other schools, it could shift how other schools manage and think about health and safety for their schools and their families. If you or your school community or organization are thinking of ways to create more equity and inclusiveness through network-wide systems and practices, check out these resources and artifacts from the CSGF transformative grant recipients from the American Indian Academy of Denver, Arizona Autism Charter School, Inc., Resurgence Hall Charter School, and Warren Easton Charter High School.

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