Fourth grade picture day.
That’s me, blue sweater with the plaid, oversized bow. My hair in two French braids or more like plats tightly braided down my scalp. I’m sure I requested two French braids – you know like the blonde ones that cascaded down the back of the most popular girl in the school. I wanted my hair to look like hers.
It was picture day. I wanted to look extra special.
Nevertheless, my braids did not effortlessly lay down my back. My braids separated into plats that stood up disjointed around my head. I am sure I would have given Travis Scott a run for his money if there was a hairdo contest, but he wasn’t even born when I was in the fourth grade.
I survived fourth grade, and various hairdos gone-wrong. But it would have felt so good to see someone, with my hair texture and my skin color, with my same hairstyle. It might have been a game changer for me to see true representation in my K-12 experience.
True representation goes beyond a hairstyle, but it can be a start. As a Culturally Responsive Teaching Consultant for a state agency, I visited a lot of schools. Whether a consolidated monitoring visit, observation or audit, I became keenly aware of true representation throughout a building. Even if schools were in regions where the entire building (or district) may look alike, students should have regular exposure to discussions, books, media, and literature that represent a global society. True representation matters.
It is time to wake up the world we are living in. As educators, we have a responsibility to get out of our comfort zones and expose ourselves to various books, places, and foods, so that we can bring this same awareness to our students. It’s about effort, it’s about intention; it’s about purpose. Too often, we place a student’s academic achievement above everything else. And I get it (trust me) test scores are important, but if a student is not connected and fully engaged, then no type of intervention will increase the test score. Student's need to feel accepted and empowered to be who they are. True representation matters.
But it goes beyond the single MLK poster on the wall during the month of February.
It’s now March.
Do your students feel represented at school? Have you asked them?
Dr. James-Etta is a Culture Coach for Influencers & Educators. She helps clients go from being blissfully unaware about cultural differences to being sensitive, authentic and fully engaged so that they can support every student regardless of the student's background or circumstance.