I remember reading about a teacher who started each school year by giving her students a simple questionnaire that asked about their lives outside of school – where do you live & with whom? How do you get to school? What responsibilities do you have outside of school? All of the sudden, you see the chronically late student in a different light when it is revealed he must first get all of his younger siblings ready for and to school. Context matters.
In a recent article in School Administrator, superintendent Matt Utterback speaks poignantly about the importance of context in decision-making. He describes watching his adopted Korean brother struggle with feeling like an outsider within their white middle class community. The author describes how as a boy and young man, his own lack of awareness of white privilege and its influence prevented him from fully grasping the enormity of his adopted brothers’ despair and sense of alienation. To truly understand and support others, we need to look beyond our own perspective to try to understand another’s. Context matters.
Effective decision-making around equity requires leaders to continually address context. How often do we make decisions that overlook key factors or context affecting decision success or viability? The author suggests using these important questions to ensure we approach a decision with “an equity lens”:
- Does this decision align with our mission/vision?
- Whom does this decision affect both positively and negatively?
- Does the decision being made ignore or worsen existing disparities or produce other unintended consequences?
- Are those being affected by the decision included in the process?
- What other possibilities are being explored?
- Is the decision/outcome sustainable?
Of course, what significant decision would not benefit from asking these powerful questions?! The author states, “We are the leadership required to make a difference for our students. It rests on our shoulders and within our sphere of influence to eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps that exist for so many of our students.” The context within which we make our decisions matters.