Throughout my career, I have worked exclusively in underserved, marginalized communities with one of the most excluded groups of children in the school building: students with disabilities. Children with disabilities struggle more with a dearth of resources than the other students. Thus, I began to advocate for their needs to ensure their access to the curriculum. In my various roles in the school system, I developed a penchant for advocacy and activism through building strong relationships with families. With each communication, I understood a clearer picture of their mounting difficulties. And, I learned the intensity of perseverance to speak on their behalf for equitable supports.
The journey in schools
Starting my first year of teaching, I called Central Office non-stop for more classroom supplies when I discovered my classroom was essentially bare. Finally, in October, Christmas came early. I received $100s of supplies. Going forward, I conveyed that same intensity of perseverance in every aspect of my professional live. Read more about leadership and tenacity here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/three-essential-leadership-skillsgrit-resilience-richard-dool-dmgt-/
Ensuring that my students with disabilities received equitable educational opportunities and were included in the school as valued members of the student body complemented my other job responsibilities as a certified teacher. And, for me, it wasn’t enough to just include my students’ physical bodies in the regular education classrooms. Rather, I upheld high expectations and required that inclusivity included meaningful learning experiences. Read more about the reality of public education: https://tracinicolesmith.com/the-gritty-reality-of-public-education/
During my years as a teacher, I bestowed a myriad of options for the students to reach their potentials while honing the intensity of perseverance. In my day-to-day tasks, I took time to educate parents on their rights and how to sharpen their own advocacy skills. In fact, many parents already developed their own knowledge base and utilized their intuition in schools. Sometimes, they just needed to know that they were on the right path and are covering all of the bases.
But most parents, especially those who have young students just entering school, needed mentoring and guidance for their children. The intensity of perseverance through embodying the “never give up” mantra can be tough when there is no road map. I knew I needed to cultivate expertise in all facets of education to be a comprehensive resource.
My learning journey
Because of my passion for ensuring excellent outcomes for my students, I embarked on my own lifelong learning journey and completed my doctorate in Special Education. Although I earned my Ph.D. almost 9 years ago, I continue to learn and to grow by seeking out new learning opportunities. Staying abreast to the innovation and evolution of teaching and learning becomes paramount when calibrating experiences with teachers, staff, students, and families and as an advocate of students.
As a Central Office employee, as I rose in position, I worked within a network creating and implementing system that involved all students, neurotypical and neurodiverse. While being an expert in special education established my niche, I prepared students for post-secondary life. I had the opportunity to lead others in developing meaningful educational reforms.
Of equal importance, I take my role in making the world a better place with the utmost seriousness. During the pandemic, I immersed myself in workshops that afforded me opportunities to reflect upon my own biases.. Through cultivation of the antiracist lens, I feel the urgency. Currently, I am actively participating in the dismantling of systems used to oppress and to discriminate against BIPOC. Then, I can fully support more families through the broader perspective of the whole-family/generational perspective.
My lifelong journey
Rather than just focusing on ensuring educational equity, adhering to the Federal laws, and requiring schools to provide the tools for student successes, I also wholeheartedly support families through the celebration of human diversity and to ensure justice/equity/diversity/inclusion as activists who seek to eliminate discrimination. My inner landscape affords me the opportunity to expand the scope of my work and expertise.
Additionally, when I reflect back upon my time in K-12 schools, I recognize that trust, commitment, candor, and authenticity create connections with others. As a result of my willingness to make time of others, I empowered, supported, and honored parents. I desire to instill hope in parents regarding their children’ futures.
And, most importantly, I want to do my part in pursuit a better, more equitable, and more just world. Reading books, listening, holding space for others, and participation in conferences is only part of it. But, I know that the unwavering commitment to continuing the journey arises as paramount. It is my responsibility. I accept this work as part of my accountability as a fellow human. I consider myself a solutionary. After identifying problems, I work towards eliminating them. By identifying the root causes, I can ascertain who is impacted by the issue. Essentially, I can figure out which systems are perpetuating it and devise solutions. (A term coined by Zoe Weil, Institute for Humane Education.).
It is with intensity that I will march on.