Do Over

The notion of a “do-over” is alive and well on school play­grounds across the coun­try. Ask any recess super­vi­sor and they will con­firm this. You hear it being request­ed on four-square courts, under bas­ket­ball hoops, and on foot­ball fields… “Awwww, that should be a do-over!” Kids know that some­times you just need anoth­er chance to get it right.

As an edu­ca­tor with near­ly three decades of teach­ing expe­ri­ence, one might think that by this point in my career, my wish-list for “do-overs” in the class­room would be get­ting small­er and small­er. Yet, the truth is, it’s the exact oppo­site. That list of teach­ing regrets, what I wish I could “do over,” con­tin­ues to grow. You see, as I become old­er and wis­er, I real­ize more than ever the impor­tance of reflec­tion. Whether I am pon­der­ing the effec­tive­ness of my lessons, exam­in­ing for­mal or infor­mal data, or spec­u­lat­ing on my abil­i­ty to be proac­tive ver­sus reac­tive, I find myself feel­ing like a 4th grad­er on the play­ground, plead­ing for a chance to do it over.

Do Over

This school year I’ve been giv­en an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty to raise my racial con­scious­ness and learn what it means to become an inter­rupter of racial inequal­i­ty. My school dis­trict invests heav­i­ly in pro­mot­ing this unique and very nec­es­sary form of pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. (See more infor­ma­tion below.)

As part of my racial equi­ty jour­ney, I am writ­ing my “racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy.” The ulti­mate goal for com­pos­ing this per­son­al nar­ra­tive cen­tered on race is to dis­rupt the cur­rent state of affairs by elim­i­nat­ing the racial pre­dictabil­i­ty of the achieve­ment gap. My per­son­al goal in writ­ing a racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy is to pos­i­tive­ly impact how I approach my role as a cul­tur­al­ly respon­sive edu­ca­tor. With­in this pro­gram, I’ve dis­cov­ered that cre­at­ing and shar­ing per­son­al racial iden­ti­ties is an effec­tive way for edu­ca­tors to pro­mote a greater under­stand­ing of our col­lec­tive racial expe­ri­ences. It pro­vides a chance for us to engage in coura­geous con­ver­sa­tions cen­tered on race.

Brian's SongIn writ­ing about my life in terms of race, I’ve dis­cov­ered that until my senior year of high school, the inter­ac­tions I had with peo­ple of col­or were only through books and movies. Grow­ing up in Dubuque, Iowa, it wasn’t until I plopped down in front of the TV in Novem­ber 1971, for the ABC Movie of the Week, that I met a black per­son for the very first time. I was eight years old when I watched the tear-jerk­er about can­cer-strick­en Bri­an Pic­co­lo and his team­mate, Gale Say­ers. Brian’s Song depicts the expe­ri­ences of two Chica­go Bears foot­ball play­ers who became the first racial­ly inte­grat­ed room­mates in the NFL. Sit­ting next to my old­er broth­er who just want­ed to watch a foot­ball movie about his favorite team, the sto­ry cap­tured my atten­tion for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons. I was full of ques­tions as my racial con­scious­ness was stirred. My child­hood naiveté about race left me won­der­ing why it was such a big deal for a white man and a black man, play­ers on the same team, to share a room. I was curi­ous and con­fused. After the movie end­ed, I could not stop think­ing about the friend­ship between the two men.

The sto­ry of Pic­co­lo and Say­ers stayed with me. What for some was an ordi­nary week­ly TV-watch­ing expe­ri­ence, this movie remains one of the most vivid mem­o­ries from my child­hood.  I recall going to the pub­lic library five years lat­er as a junior high stu­dent to check out the book I Am Third by Gale Say­ers. As a teenag­er I had begun hear­ing about and wit­ness­ing more exam­ples of big­otry and stereo­types, racism, in sub­tle and not so sub­tle ways. I want­ed to get to know this man of col­or who I had encoun­tered years ear­li­er. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that the sig­nif­i­cance of that Tues­day evening in 1971 would be ful­ly under­stood. In writ­ing my racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy, I dis­cov­ered that this ini­tial expo­sure to peo­ple who were intent on inter­rupt­ing racial injus­tice con­tributed in pro­found ways to my racial consciousness.

So what does want­i­ng a “do-over” have to do with my racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy? My desire to have anoth­er chance stems from the real­iza­tion that, as an edu­ca­tor, I missed out on far too many oppor­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate crit­i­cal lit­er­ary expe­ri­ences, as well as lived ones, that were focused on racial aware­ness and racial equi­ty. The idea of teach­ing about “white priv­i­lege” in an explic­it way was bare­ly on my radar. My class­room was filled with most­ly white stu­dents for years, yet I did lit­tle to help those kids learn about and appre­ci­ate oth­ers who not only looked dif­fer­ent but expe­ri­enced life in a much dif­fer­ent way. Yes, there were sto­ries about Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks and there were lots of books brought out for Black His­to­ry Month. How­ev­er, now I see that those min­i­mal efforts actu­al­ly may have done more harm than good. By iso­lat­ing the teach­ing and learn­ing about peo­ple of col­or to just a few indi­vid­u­als and one month out of the entire school year, what mes­sage was I send­ing to kids?

If I had to do it all over again, I would be inten­tion­al in my teach­ing about race, racism, and white priv­i­lege. In a class­room full of six-year-olds, I would seize oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk with kids about these issues. I would devote time to help­ing my stu­dents gain an appre­ci­a­tion for racial equi­ty by explor­ing the need to embrace diver­si­ty in peo­ple, thoughts, and approach­es to prob­lem-solv­ing. We would learn about how talk­ing about race and work­ing towards social jus­tice ben­e­fits every­one. As for­mer Spel­man Col­lege Pres­i­dent Bev­er­ly Daniel Tatum puts it, “It’s not just under­stand­ing somebody’s heroes and holidays.”

As a white, female edu­ca­tor, I rep­re­sent the demo­graph­ic of approx­i­mate­ly 75% of pub­lic school teach­ers in this coun­try. Since do-overs are much eas­i­er to come by on the school play­ground than they are in our class­rooms, I invite all who read this essay to join me in my effort to get it right from here on out. Let’s embrace the oppor­tu­ni­ty for learn­ing and teach­ing about racial aware­ness in order to address the urgent need for racial equi­ty in today’s world.


I offer this list of resources to help you with your racial equi­ty teach­ing and learn­ing journey:

Be a ChangemakerWhat I’m read­ing with kids

A is for Activist by Innosan­to Nagaro

Heart and Soul: The Sto­ry of Amer­i­ca and African Amer­i­cans by Kadir Nelson

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Be a Change­mak­er: How to Start Some­thing That Mat­ters by Lau­rie Ann Thompson

What I’m read­ing for per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al development 

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah

Just Mer­cy: A Sto­ry of Jus­tice and Redemp­tion by Bryan Stevenson

Wak­ing Up White and Find­ing Myself in the Sto­ry of Race by Deb­by Irving

The mis­sion: Putting more books fea­tur­ing diverse char­ac­ters into the hands of all chil­dren. Vis­it We Need Diverse Books.

The vision: A world in which all chil­dren can see them­selves in the pages of a book.

More infor­ma­tion about Glenn Sin­gle­ton and Coura­geous Conversations.

To learn more about writ­ing your racial auto­bi­og­ra­phy, check out this link.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?Author of the book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sit­ting Togeth­er in the Cafe­te­ria? Bev­er­ly Daniel Tatum offers insights on col­or blind­ness, racial stereo­types, and the media in this PBS interview.

60+ Resources for Talk­ing to Kids About Racism” by Lorien Van Ness, pro­vides a lists of books and activ­i­ties to help adults begin the dia­logue, start­ing with birth to three-year-olds.

An exten­sive list com­piled by The Wash­ing­ton Post, offer­ing arti­cles, resources, and research, “Teach­ing about race, racism and police vio­lence: Resources for edu­ca­tors and par­ents.”

More about the St. Louis Park (Min­neso­ta) Equi­ty Coach­ing Program

Every edu­ca­tor in St. Louis Park schools works one-on-one with an Equi­ty Coach, who offers sup­port, resources, and train­ing in a num­ber of ways. Through con­ver­sa­tions, work­shops, obser­va­tions and coach­ing, teach­ers learn about the impor­tance of rais­ing their racial con­scious­ness in an effort to dis­rupt sys­temic racism.


In Sep­tem­ber, 2013, the St. Louis Park School Dis­trict start­ed a pro­gram called Equi­ty Coach­ing to help address the achieve­ment gap and to improve edu­ca­tion­al equal­i­ty in its schools. Grant funds from the state-spon­sored Qual­i­ty Com­pen­sa­tion (Q Comp) grant (also known as ATPPS; Alter­na­tive Teacher Pro­fes­sion­al Pay Sys­tem) help fund the Equi­ty Coach initiative.

The Equi­ty Coach­ing blog fur­ther describes the St. Louis Park Schools Equi­ty Coach­ing Mod­el:  “Sys­temic racial equi­ty change tran­spires when edu­ca­tors are giv­en the space and sup­port to crit­i­cal­ly reflect on their own racial con­scious­ness and prac­tice. Equi­ty coach­ing pro­vides sus­tained dia­logue in a trust­ing envi­ron­ment to inter­rupt the pres­ence of racism and white­ness. Using Coura­geous Con­ver­sa­tions Pro­to­col, tenets of Crit­i­cal Race The­o­ry, and instruc­tion­al coach­ing meth­ods, edu­ca­tors, and coach­es engage in this.”

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