“…I found the sport of triathlon and embarked on a transformation of the mind and body. I learned to swim in various bodies of water, bike long distances, and persevere through long runs. These three disciplines are sizable as separate activities, but when lined up one after the other, a person’s will is tested and hardened. The first of the three pursuits were the hardest to overcome for me. The open water swim caused the most significant angst.”
– Diggs, The Open Water
Catching Lightning (Trailer) – Catching Lightning
In the Beginning
In my latest book, I speak openly about my journey through life thus far and the lessons learned while leading in schools. These tales of triumph and occasional missteps provide a transparent view of the aims that all leaders uphold in education. We hold dear to the unwavering need to “do what is best for kids.” Before tackling this statement, it is essential to clarify that the past two years have presented very challenging moments in educational leadership. These challenges have forced educators to ask themselves if this profession and “life calling” is equal in value to their lives and mental health. We have seen increased tension during school board meetings, banned books, false accusations, a rise in school shootings, risky behaviors, and disrespectful behaviors among young people. The landscape of education has seen the strengthening of teacher autonomy at the cost of making sure each child is treated with dignity. These challenges and many more have led some to second-guess their commitment to equity in education.
The all so popular phrase, “doing what is best for kids,” will be challenging to attain when the onlookers are either “half-full” or seek to dismantle progress by any means necessary. Authentic educational leaders know this work is not easy and often puts you at odds with colleagues and community members. In order to bring about change, those in leadership positions must be willing to have difficult conversations, make unpopular decisions, and stand up for what is right- even when it is not popular. We must also create a safe space for open dialogue around equity so that everyone can be a part of the solution. However, what happens when the profession empowers an insurrection of a different kind? What should a leader of equity do when an organized force is ready to defame, suppress, and bully away from the momentum of impactful change. What if the equity work being done in our schools is not what seasoned educators or some community members want?
We are at a critical juncture in education. We can either move forward with diversity, equity, inclusion, and access conversations or fall back into old patterns of segregation and oppression. The future of our democracy depends on it.
To be an equity leader through these historical moments, they must learn how to swim in the open water. It is the responsibility of the head administrator to create space and opportunity in their organizations for equity leaders. Equity leaders must be ready to wrestle with feeling a little uncomfortable. Equity leaders must be okay with having their work judged, second-guessed, and questioned. Equity leaders must also be willing to invest in the emotions of others to increase human capital for the long haul.
So, how do we create space on the edge of the open water?
- Be unapologetically equity-minded in their work.
- Become an expert at dialogue and build a circle of trust with those they serve.
- Listen more than you speak, and when it is time to take decisive action…Do it.
- Lastly, remember that the equity work is never done.
We encourage equity leaders to stay the course in their pursuit of equity. It is more critical now than ever is a time for reflection and recommitment. We must take this moment to remember why we fight for educational equity and to empower our learners to break through the barriers (bad policy and systemic prejudices)that have been holding them back. We must also set our sights higher and strive to achieve even greater equity and excellence in our schools.
I’ll see you at work.
Dr. Darryl S. Diggs, Jr.