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Chapter 7

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Chapter Excerpts

It is unlikely that real change will occur unless transformative educational leaders engage courageously with structures, cultures, pedagogies, and policies that inhibit equity and deny all children equal opportunities for success. Moral courage that enables leaders not only to critique inequity but also to move forward, ensuring the promise of a better future for all, undergirds this entire book … the final two tenets of transformative leadership which cannot be separated from the previous discussions include the need for moral courage and an activist approach that does more than simply critique and complain but that offers hope and promise for the future. It is easy to critique the current state of education—even easier to grumble and complain, but effecting deep and significant change that leads to the promise of a better future for all students requires courageous action and engagement. Social justice, democratic community, and global awareness do not and cannot happen from a distance. (p. 102)

The book is a call for educators to share “a firm sense of the moral purposes of education, the need for inclusive and equitable practices that called for a careful examination of dominant traditions, assumptions, and beliefs, and the need for extensive dialogue to build clarity and understanding about more liberatory and more optimistic ways forward.”

Supplemental Chapter Resources


Rah-e-Amal is a school for impoverished children in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There are a number of websites that discuss its operations, its founding principles, and some of its achievements. Established in 1998, it ran, for its first nine years, in the backyard of its founder (see photographs taken during my visit in December 2007), until it moved into a permanent building in 2008. See, for example, http://rah-e-amal.org/the_concept.php; http://raheamal.tripod.com/.

As described in the book’s text, the school admits both male and female, Christian and Muslim students, charges no fees, and is generally reliant on donations—given that most foundations have specific criteria that founder and director Zahre Said is cautions about accepting. She is determined that no barriers be placed on the education of all children, but has partnered with local Rotary clubs (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGFc9uzDobI or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z-i_pByfWw&feature=related).

When I arrived at the school about 8:30 in the morning, children were gathered in groups on mats on the ground. Shortly thereafter, the mats were rolled up, and everyone, children and guests, was ushered into a tent rented for the special occasion of a ceremony marking the end of term and celebrating both Eid and Christmas (see Figures 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4). I was touched by the combination of images and cultural artifacts presented by the children. Perhaps what amazed me more, however, was the poise of the students who had organized the whole event themselves. As they took the microphone, to speak either in Urdu or English, they showed a level of self-confidence comparable to the best North American students. Moreover, their messages clearly emphasized the words about the school’s concept on one website: http://rah-e-amal.org/the_concept.php. There we read, “We do not depend on money or fine buildings but on a mind willing to learn and an attitude of gratitude.”

Figure 7.1

Children gathering in their classes on mats in the yard.

Figure 7.2

A few minutes later—into the tent—parents and guests are thrilled to be there!

Figure 7.3

The decorations: Eid Mubarak and the Christmas stable and star

Figure 7.4

Traditional Pakistani women’s song and dance with candles

Figure 7.5

Christian nativity play (note the “pigs”)

Urbana High School

Urbana High School in Urbana, Illinois, for the second year in a row, has been recognized on the 2nd Annual AP Honor Roll—a list made up of only those public school districts that are simultaneously expanding opportunity and improving performance. The list includes 367 school districts across 43 states and Canada. In this case, Urbana High School is the district’s only public high school; hence awards to the district are earned and achieved by the work of the school principal, her staff, and student community. As you visit their website at http://www.usd116.org/uhs/ make sure you read about their mission and seek out the video called “Think before you speak.”

The school’s demographics are:

Figure 7.6

In addition, 61% of the population is designated as “low income.” Although the school is still on academic watch, because of the low scores of some of the students, the awards and recognition received attest to the fact that there are other ways to conceptualize success apart from standardized test scores. At the same time, the principal and school community are working hard to raise the academic achievement of all students within the school.

Snowball Writing

This activity is useful for beginning dialogue in a non-threatening way. I have used numerous “prompts” but one recent experience involved asking attendees in a workshop to reflect on a student whom they knew to be having difficulty and to brainstorm the reasons for the difficulties. Each person was given a sheet of paper and pencil and asked to write for three minutes in silence (no names or identifying marks were to be put on the sheets).

Once responses have been completed, there are a number of ways to proceed. This time, asked participants were asked to crumple their papers into a tight wad and to throw them around the room. Amid some hilarity, participants tossed around the papers until they were asked to stop and open the sheet they then held. I then asked them to read the responses (now totally anonymous) and to discuss them in their small table groups. After a few minutes, I opened mine, and to my surprise read, “They are unmotivated, they are lazy; they want a free ride; they do not want to work hard” and so forth … This prompted a heated discussion about the role of deficit thinking and the importance of holding all students to high expectations.

Another way to proceed is to collect and collate the responses to be shared (still anonymously) and discussed at a future meeting.
Sometimes, this subsequent discussion can be held with the whole group; sometimes in smaller sessions during the week.
Depending on the topic and comfort level of the group, participants may also be asked to write and share their own responses (without making them anonymous).

Lynn Mann

Lynn Mann (a pseudonym), principal of Kenneth Mann Community School, worked with her staff and the union representatives to introduce numerous changes to address the needs of students. The whole initiative is described in an award-winning dissertation, Waithman, M. (2009). The politics of redistribution and recognition: A retrospective case study of one inner city school. In it, the author discusses the role of a balanced calendar (year-round schooling) in reducing summer learning loss and increasing learning opportunities for students, the extraordinary efforts of her school–community liaison to include the family, as well as other structural changes that promoted inclusive schooling for disadvantaged children. At the same time, she was able to show the detrimental effects of state and district policies of choice for schools that are located in low-income areas and that have long had a reputation for being “rough.”

As more and more parents are able to enroll and transport their children elsewhere, those who remain are even less advantaged, with funds being diverted from their neighborhood school. This results, of course, in a reduction in the availability of services, including the need to reduce staff in programs like library services, art, music, and so forth—further restricting the opportunities for children who are unable to access these opportunities at home. Hence, the author clearly demonstrates and discusses how certain policies enhancing choice are actually counterproductive and serve to reduce the choices for students who are most in need.

This dissertation is available at https://circle.ubc.ca/search or at https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/7699.