Do your equity trainings maintain the dignity of the participants?
by Floyd Cobb
As an adjunct professor, professional developer and consultant on issues of power, privilege and school inequity, I’ve come to recognize a pattern when I lead a training.
At the beginning of a training or course, they typically look at me in a way that I know that I look at my dentist. I know they feel they are required to be there but really do not enjoy it. They feel this way because they see this 40 something year old who, despite the initial promise to not do so, is going to be next in the long line of people leaving them feeling hurt, upon their departure.
I know this happens because there are too many of us who have sat through equity-related trainings that are painful. At their worst, participants endure being attacked, belittled, dismissed and humiliated in an effort to help them be more equitable.
With this in mind and understanding that these fears are only further heightened by some due to the fact that they are being taught by a Black man, required some deep thinking and analysis on my part to find a way to effectively educate an already on guard group without minimizing the serious legacy of inequality.
Now there are some who will likely argue that I shouldn’t consider this as a matter of concern. They might say these people deserve to suffer through extreme discomfort of these experiences since members of marginalized communities experience these indignities every day. I’ve heard some say that they should “just get over it” to “snap out of it” or to “stop being selfish” since this work isn’t about them and is instead about children of color who are harmed by systemic inequality.
And I must admit, every time I hear these responses by people who I know care deeply about improving the educational experiences of children from marginalized communities, I always take a moment to close my eyes and imagine students from historically marginalized communities hearing those very same phrases from many of the educators who are participating in my training or course once they return back to their classrooms.
One of the many responsibilities we have as an instructor or facilitator of power, privilege, and inequality is to model the behavior that we want to see instead of replicating the logic and practices that maintain these systems. This includes making sure participants leave the experience feeling a sense of belonging and dignity so that upon their departure, they can hopefully do the same thing in return with their students.
This is why I and John Krownapple wrote, Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity. Collectively we’ve seen this pattern repeat itself all across the nation leading to a phenomenon we’ve termed the dysfunctional cycle of equity work.
We’ve written this book in an effort to help educators break this cycle by reminding them that when doing this work it’s always more effective to focus on the things we need to be for instead of exclusively focusing on those things that we want to be against.
All human beings have a fundamental need to be treated in a way that values and honors their dignity.
For an equity-related professional development to be successful, we need to be sure we are modeling the behavior we want to see.
Educators can break the dysfunctional cycle by looking beyond common solutions, trendy jargon.
We must stay the course toward the long-term vision toward creating a climate and culture of belonging.
Offering guidance and education on issues of power, privilege, and inequality is never an easy task but progress can be made if we attend to the concerns that are common among us. Those include being treated with a sense of belonging and dignity. Without it, the neverending cycle that is exhausting us all will simply continue.
How could professional learning that honors the value and worth of all participants improve a sense of belonging among students? Please share.
Check out these resources for breaking the dysfunctional cycle of dignity work:
Get the book, Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity by Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple, when it becomes available this fall.
Sign up for TCC's October Master Class Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity: The Keys to Successful Equity Implementation by Floyd Cobb's co-author, John Krownapple.