Coaching Letter #76

Good afternoon, I hope you are well. I’m hoping to get this to you before you fade into the weekend… This issue of the Coaching Letter is really just an attempt to keep up with all the many interesting things have been happening in the world of education.

The “buy your way into college” story was big, obviously, and I sat down last weekend and wrote my reflection about how my experience elucidates that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that privilege shows up in college admissions in a variety of ways beyond the completely egregious examples that we saw on display when the story broke. But that will have to wait for another time, as there’s so much more to talk about…

In the meantime, several stories in the media have been making these same points. I recommend Masha Gessen in the New Yorker, because of the particular perspective she has; my colleague Richard Lemons’ editorial in the CT Mirror; and Will Stancil in The Atlantic, which seems to me to provide a really great starting place for a conversation about white privilege and how that actually plays out in our America. This is our issue, whether or not we actually broke the law. Indeed, when it comes to privilege in education, the law is beside the point–it singularly fails to delineate a moral stance on the issue. Alexander Russo presents the college-for-sale story from a journalist’s point of view–why did this “side door” into elite colleges go unreported for so long? So I’ll also take the opportunity to plug Russo’s blog on the Kappan website, the weekly newsletter, and his Twitter feed, @alexanderrusso.

In case you didn’t have a chance to look at last week’s Marshall Memo (#776!) yet, Kim provided a very useful summary of the HBR article on feedback that I wrote about in this Coaching Letter about, wait for it, feedback. I’ve talked to a lot of people already who have already brought the article to their leadership teams or sent to their coaches–please, I would really like to hear from any others who have used it with different groups for different purposes. I’m very curious what people make of the ideas. And if you haven’t read it already, please check it out, I think it’s going to be a classic.

I’ve also heard from several people who have started, or are about to start reading The Fearless Organization, by Amy Edmondson. I had a great conversation with a superintendent today who was able to talk about how he had chosen to handle a couple of situations differently since he started reading the book just a few days ago! So now I know for sure that we chose the right book! I also know that whether or not you are planning to read the book, your interest has been piqued, as the links that I provided to Professor Edmondson’s work in last week’s Coaching Letter have now been clicked hundreds of times each. PLEASE REMEMBER TO SAVE THE EVENING OF MAY 29 for a book-related event, probably at the Center’s offices in Hartford. I’ll keep you posted, but I haven’t really had the chance to think about it!

And speaking of white privilege, I’ve been involved in several equity-related events or conversations recently, and on many of those occasions I wished I had Lindsey, Nuri Robins, and Terrell’s definition of cultural proficiency in my back pocket. (Actually, those authors are for the book Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders, which was the one closest to hand on my bookcase, but there are several Cultural Proficiency books with Randall Lindsey as the lead author, and as far as I remember they all have the same definition early in the book.) I have found the Cultural Proficiency Continuum to be a very useful resource for giving people clarity on what we mean by cultural proficiency, and language to be able to self-assess and to talk about the next level of work. The description of “cultural blindness” is particularly helpful in explaining to well-meaning folks who have not yet had to examine their own privilege (I would put Howard Schultz in this category) that using phrases like “I don’t see color” negates the reality of people of color who are never, ever in a position to say that. But the position of “cultural blindness” relative to other points on the continuum is part of what makes the definition powerful, so while it’s tempting to use in isolation, I think it’s most useful to ask people to read and reflect on the whole chapter. If you’re looking for a summary, this is a good place to start.

Thank you to all the people who respond to these Coaching Letters, either to tell me how they have put the ideas and the resources to use, or to give me tips on ideas and resources to use, or just to say hello. All feedback and correspondence gratefully received. Have a wonderful weekend, Isobel

Stevenson logo