This an abbreviated version of a reflection that I wrote at the completion of CPSY 471: Diversity and Multicultural Perspectives. This was a core paper of my Master of Education in Educational Leadership taught by Professor Kate Richmond at Lehigh University.

This course introduced me to many new ideas and challenged many of my assumptions around living in a multicultural society. I believe that this course instigated in me a crisis of conscience. To process this I found myself (and still find myself) reflecting upon my professional roles as a school leader and collaborative practitioner. 

School Leader

The message in Vera and Speight’s article really resonated with me. It was written in the context of counseling psychology but I read it in the context of the teaching profession. The article argues that counseling psychology’s operationalization of multicultural competence must be grounded in a commitment to social justice. I believe that this argument is also correct in terms of the teaching profession and ‘any multicultural movement that under emphasizes social justice is likely to do little to eradicate oppression and will maintain the status quo to the detriment of historically marginalized people.’ (Vera and Speight, p254)

Vera and Speight also suggested that inherent in remedial therapeutic methods is a position of passivity: ‘only after destructive environments have taken their toll on a person is help justified.’ (Vera and Speight p 258).

Vera and Speight write that ‘counseling primarily seeks to change individuals rather than to change the social context.’ (Vera and Speight, p258). I believe this is the same for teaching. This has focused my thinking on what we need to be doing in our schools to change the social context that is oppressing marginalized people.  As educators, we must view ourselves as agents that can change the social context. The article also makes an interesting distinction between mandatory ethics, action taken to avoid breaking the rules, and aspirational ethics, actions taken toward attaining the highest possible standard. This idea of aspirational ethics is of great interest to me and very relevant if teachers are to fulfill their potential as agents of change and advocates for marginalized students.

A focus on changing the social context to best serve all students has interesting implications around the very popular resilience and grit movement. This formed part of a discussion in class and it was asked if we are teaching students to develop resilience around a system that is unfair and marginalizes them. Changing the social context in our schools would be better served by an explicit focus on the development of empathy. An inclusive community can be built around empathy. Resilience is important but you cannot build a community around it – it is more of a tool for those marginalized by the social context. I am very interested in and actively promote character education in my school and this point was a revelation to me.

I link the idea of social justice in Vera and Speight’s article to the idea of anti-racism in Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book, ‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?’ and the wonderful description of racism as a moving walkway in an airport. Active racists walk on a walkway, passive racists simply stand still but are carried along and benefit from it just as those walking on it will. Anti-racists walk actively the other way, against the movement of the walkway. But unless they are walking at a speed faster than the walkway, they will find themselves carried along with the racists.

Daniel Tatum proposes that the relevant question is not whether all Whites are racist, but ‘how can we move more White people from a position of active or passive racism to one of active anti-racism’ (Daniel Tatum, p12). As a school leader, I believe that I have an ethical duty to be actively anti-racist. Furthermore, I need to lead others down the same path even if this causes tension or conflict.

Near the end of this course I started reading a book by George Theoharis titled ‘The School Leaders Our Children Deserve: Seven Keys to Equity, Social Justice, and School Reform.’ He describes seven keys that define the attributes of effective social justice leaders, one of which is to ‘acquire a broad, reconceptualized consciousness/knowledge/skill base’ and this is exactly what this course is developing in me. I now need the courage to use it professionally.

Many discussions during class have centered around the importance of moving towards conflict. A clear sense of purpose and a deeper understanding of what causes the conflict will allow me to cognitively welcome this conflict and make a positive difference in the schools and communities that I serve.

Collaborative Practitioner

My major professional interest lies in contributing to and developing collaborative groups around a common identity and purpose. This course has provided me with invaluable insights that will greatly benefit my work in this area.

My philosophy is grounded in Adaptive Schools. The Adaptive Schools approach to developing collaborative groups is, among other things, based upon seven norms of collaboration: Pausing, Paraphrasing, Posing questions, Putting ideas on the table, Providing data, Paying attention to self and others, and Presuming positive intentions. This course has forced me reflect upon the last two norms.

I believe that I am emotionally intelligent and have little trouble presuming positive intentions on the part of others – sometimes probably a bit naively. I have also developed confidence around sharing my ideas and opinions by presuming positive intentions in myself. This is how I have been able move towards potential conflict in my role as an administrator – I take comfort from the fact that I am trying make things better.

I enjoyed Ivey’s article on liberation psychotherapy which focuses on helping clients learn to see themselves in relation to not only themselves, but also cultural and contextual influences. It focuses on the expansion of consciousness – learning how to see oneself and others in relation to cultural context (Ivey, p5). Prior to this course, I paid attention to myself and others as per the sixth norm of collaboration, but I never did this in a cultural context. Ivey states that ‘it is difficult for one to be “self-actualized” while in the control of another culture’ (Ivery, p2). I paid great attention to this quote and interpret it to mean that if I want to get the best out of an individual or a group, I must pay attention to the cultural context. I had never given this much attention before, probably due to my contrived colorblindness and belief in a meritocracy based on equality.

Another major cause for self reflection came from the Derald Wing Sue’s book ‘Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation,’ discussion around microaggressions and the realization that the greatest threat to minorities may be well intentioned people like myself and that many believe that it is easier for minorities to deal with overt racism as there is no guessing involved. It hit home to me that the confidence I took from simply assuming positive intentions within myself will no longer be sufficient moving forward. I should not fall back on my own positive intentions to justify my actions when my actions, regardless of my positive intent, have perpetuated an unjust situation or caused trauma through microaggression. As someone said in class, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ In short, positive intentions are no longer enough, especially given my new found awareness of how prejudice manifests itself and its impact.

Daniel Tatum, B. (1997) Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. New York, NY: Basic Books

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Theoharis, G. (2009). The school leaders our children deserve: Seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform. New York: Teachers College Press.

Vera, E. M., & Speight, S. L. (2003). Multicultural competence, social justice, and counseling psychology: Expanding our roles. The Counseling Psychologist, 31, 253 – 272.