Affinity has always been important to me. When you are used to being the “only one,” it is understandable to be drawn to affinity-based spaces. At my school, I am lucky enough to have this space. It is comprised of teachers and support staff who are all Black woman. Ironically, this is the space that amplified my feelings of isolation and loneliness as a school leader. A heated discussion around how our school was run, led to my personal realization that I was alone. Leaving this conversation, in a place where I would otherwise feel safe made me pinpoint my struggles on our leadership team. The issue is seemingly obvious, yet I did not make the connection, explicitly. I was struggling with the weight of being one of two people of color in a position of general leadership at my school, and the only in instructional leadership*.
To support our development, my leadership team participated in executive coaching. One of the workshops centered on why we did this work. During this time, I expressed how my work is inherently tied to my identity as a black woman, yet that was not the case for anyone else on my team. As I looked around the room, I saw all white faces. While this was not a new thing, it did make me understand my isolation a bit more. The reason I am in education is to allow for exposure for students who look like me to a full spectrum of opportunity. For this reason my work is deeply personal. This is not to slight the impact white educators have on students of color, but in the language of Teach For America, being a person of color in education allows for the possibility of added impact. When my students fail, I fail. When they hurt, I hurt. I see myself in each of them, and the white educators in my building do not share that. Moreover, while the whole staff is diverse the lack of diversity on my team speaks volumes about my school's commitment to creating an equitable space for children.
It is not my intention to attack my school because I believe in the work we are doing. This work, though, requires a diverse group of voices making decisions. Not a day goes by that I do not feel the weight of both staff and students on my shoulders. I want to be a voice for staff members of color, especially black staff. I want to make sure I am affirming all students, especially my black and brown students. The weight of ensuring an equitable environment further exacerbates my feelings of isolation. It is as if I am doing this work alone.
Schools constantly seek to diversify their teaching staff with people of color, while still allowing organizations that support primarily students of color to be run by white educators. In this they unknowingly (or knowingly) create isolating environments for leaders of colors, and in some cases they do not seek to create the opportunity at all. Supporting fellow educators of color becomes tough because you are working with information they are not privy to, so a very uncomfortable authority dynamic is created. Not to mention the idea that all problems can be fixed by you the “magical leader of color.” On the other had it is easy to feel overlooked when sitting in a room with white leaders. Many of them have an understanding of shared culture norms in the management space that are not shared by many leaders of color. My hope is that we expand the opportunities for leaders of color to prevent this isolation that can take a negative toll on leaders, and ultimately affect children.
*The other person of color is a woman who is Chinese and white