I am currently attending Kevin Kumashiro’s workshop geared to exploring what it means to lead for social justice.
We are meeting here in Oakland, 12 leaders from across the country. All of us are teacher educators within schools of education, though the sizes of our departments and programs vary. We have program directors, school board members, department chairs, and an associate dean among us.
On this first day of the workshop, Kumashiro has challenged us to use his 5 lenses of social justice leadership to apply to a reading of our positions, identify barriers to social justice leadership, and reframe what it means to do social justice work as a leader. He offered that the 5 lenses are
- bridging competing styles
- benefits from contradiction and crisis
- being in solidarity
- building capacity for acting collectively
- balancing our multiple selves
To complete the assignment given to us in the workshop (only about 20-30 minutes to answer the prompts), I won’t be able to unpack these lenses outside of the application to my role. I’ll be focusing on my new role as program director of the single subject credential program at Saint Mary’s.
Bridging competing styles
One of the realizations that I had within Kumashiro’s lecture was that there has to be an awareness of what leadership styles are at play. In meetings or in classes, there is a leader in a particular purpose, but that leader isn’t the only one in the room. There may, additionally, be a struggle between different leaders in the room who are coming from different styles of leadership. For example, generally, I am a leader who is task-oriented (I get things done and move on); I favor determining a course of action based on listening to all those in the room; and I generally focus on balancing between what the vision is for our collectively identified path while also keeping an eye on what is specifically needed (and what is available) to realize that vision. This approach draws from a collectivist worldview, a view that sees collective strength as primary to individual strength.
As a program director, I can see my leadership in relationship to several populations: students in my program; faculty teaching in the program (those on the tenure track and those who are adjuncts); program director peers; in partnership with the department chair; and in relationship to the dean and associate dean. The school of education in which I work has changed greatly. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a shift in leadership that values relationships over the task efficiency to one that has shifted to the opposite. Relationships are still honored, but this is the one aspect of leadership in my school in which I can see that most work hard to maintain in balance. This is an area that I can see as a strength for my work as a director in that, while I am more task-oriented, I work closely with those in my program who are more relational within and outside of the school of education. My limitation is that my strongest relationships are within the school of education and at the college; I recognize that those within the program I head have deeper relationships with community partners and schools. These are relationships that I hope to draw upon to strengthen the program as a whole.
Benefits from contradiction and crisis
Honestly, I am still wrapping my head around this idea. Kumashiro spoke to how learning, teaching, and leading through crisis offers a number of opportunities for transformation. For example, learning through crisis. He said:
- “learning requires unlearning;
- unlearning makes us uncomfortable;
- discomfort can make us resist;
- education needs to address resistance.”
In respect to teaching, he offered an example of how, in our teaching, we have the most potential for transformation when we see, acknowledge, and grow from the gaps in our teaching. The hidden curriculum, he noted, provides space for consciousness raising. In respect to learning, he said that “discomfort flags the most potential for learning.”
How does this relate to the work of a program director? One thing that I have started to learn is what processes are in place for developing courses, having them approved, requisitioning positions, union requirements, and hiring. In just the past few days, I have had a crash course in faculty workloads and amendments, Collective Bargaining Agreements, policies and procedures around hiring, and visioning for my program, which is in transition. I have also been confronted with an important crisis around a particular class and whether it will be able to continue as planned and approved due to a lapse in considering an important change to it within a transition program and how that will affect the budget of the program and the school. I am still in that process of working out all those issues.
What I see as a crisis here is also explaining to my faculty colleagues all of the duties of a program director or whether I should even explain those duties. I have already learned so much about what the previous director did that was not transparent to me in my role as a faculty member. Is the role of the director to do the work or to be transparent about the work being done? How do I keep, ever present, our collective social justice visioning? How much transparency is too much? How do I maintain patience in seeing the larger context with others? Which are the crises that will allow for future movement? How do I foster democratic decision-making?
Being in solidarity
I’m really interested in this idea of the director’s work as being in solidarity with movement building. As a faculty member alone, I have been interested and pursuing of partnerships with schools and teachers, which themselves have a social justice orientation. I’m interested in how my additional role now as a director can facilitate that work more deeply, how we learn about out specific needs and support one another in addressing those needs, how to sustain multiple partnerships at reciprocal levels of giving and growth, particularly the shrinking amount of financial resources available to the program and the school of education. I’m also interested in how to create the time and space to engage in the dialogue necessary to determine what exactly solidarity look likes and means. Some of the questions that I need to consider with the faculty are “education for what?” and “what is our impact on the public” and what do we want our impact to be?
Building capacity for acting collectively
This is one area in which I think that we in the program have been working at a great strength for years. We took one year of weekly meetings to do a tuning protocol, reviewing all of the syllabi together of the courses. We determined a collective vision and mission, and we have pledged to return to that vision and mission again as we have a new rank and tenure member who has joined the faculty. I presented an agenda model that involves faculty taking responsibilities for process checking and leading discussions on innovation. I will incorporate a space for leading meditation or a mindfulness practice at the beginning of our meetings. The barriers here that I can see might be in keeping the energy for collective work going and also sustaining the trust that others have in me to follow-up on our decisions. It also relies on distributing tasks and trusting that those who receive them will complete them to a common and high standard, that they will meet our shared expectations. Acting collectively cannot really mean that people talk, and I get things done.
Balancing our multiple selves
This is one area that I can see as a difficulty with my work in general. I always have difficulty with balance, and I am particularly worried about maintaining my reading and writing in education while teaching and directing the program. I am worried about doing my community organizing work and creating writing work and editing with the same amount of verve when I am also thinking about supervision and evaluation and mentorship of faculty. The barrier for me is time. I’m thinking, too, as what it means to reframe what it means to do this, pushing against the common sense or norm of what it means for a director in balancing multiple selves.
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