In August I was told, as I am every year, to set two goals for myself for the purpose of helping me grow as an administrator. It was emphasized that these goals should be personal and truly push me to grow professionally and possibly outside of my day to day responsibilities as a high school assistant principal. Throughout the summer I prepared for this directive; therefore, I let the idea of challenging myself to “become an expert” on something sit with me for a while before I said it outloud. I was in the car with my husband, also an educator and even more so also an administrator, and tried to find the right words to describe the part or parts of my knowledge base I could strengthen in order to consider myself an expert.
Let me back up a bit, in my current position, I become an expert in whatever the school or district needs me to become an expert in at that time. Over the past four years my expertise ranges from NWEA to PARCC to summer programs to the Danielson model of teacher evaluations to discipline to professional development in higher order questioning to name just a few. As I mulled over this idea of creating a goal that was truly about me and not about my district, I had to ask myself two questions: 1. Have I found passion in something I have done in the past four years? 2. Is there a need for this passion in other parts of our school, district, county, country?
Alternative education and programing continued to come to the forefront of my conversations with my husband, as he is the only one I dared to share my thoughts with at this early stage. Alternative education then become cultural awareness or cultural competency. It was only after attending a professional development session offered by Ali Michael, Ph.D. from Penn GSE, that the words racial competency clicked inside of me. For the first time in seventeen years in education, I put a goal down on paper that scares me, excites me, and holds me accountable to something that is well beyond my comfort zone.
Last year I took a group of students and staff to a county wide “Day of Dialogue”, which was dedicated to getting 10 students and five staff members from each high school in the county to sit in a room together and “learn” how to talk about and face the truths the students and staff know about their own school. The activities were structured, the conversation honest, and the students frustrated by what they see as a cyclical pattern of microaggressions in the classroom and standard of expectation changing based on what someone looks like. Let me step back and say that my students are also very compassionate people with great empathy for their teachers; therefore, after the students describe a situation they provide excuses or reasons for the teachers behaviors and actions because they do not want to believe anyone would purposefully hurt them. I sat with this information for several months and was not sure where to begin until the August goal setting meeting when I decided to suit up and accept the challenge of making my school uncomfortable for the purpose of deeper understanding, empathy, and accurate self-reflection.
In order to begin the process of moving from dialoguing to creating actions that are both personal and systemic within the school, I will educate myself, challenge myself to have difficult, uncomfortable, and possibly heated conversations for the purpose of creating a better learning environment for my students and teachers. I will be documenting this year via my website and blog jessicacincotta.com. I hope to create a better school by living in the uncomfortable.