Walking the Equity Talk: An Interview with John Robert Browne II

Jun 17, 2012 by

Dr. John Robert Browne II, a former administrator at both county and school district levels, and university lecturer, is CEO and executive coach for Third Millennium Enterprises

Good intentions are not enough. Those who are serious about providing a level playing field for all must do more than identify and lament the reasons for educational disparities and why they persist. John Robert Browne II, author of Walking the Equity Talk, A Guide for Culturally Courageous Leadership in School Communities, explores how culturally courageous leadership by all school community stakeholders can help achieve equitable learning opportunities and outcomes for all students. Delia Stafford, President and CEO of the Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc., interviewed Dr. Browne about his forthcoming book.

  1. Walking the Equity Talk, A Guide For Culturally Courageous Leadership in School Communities was recently published on June 19th by Corwin Press .What was your major motivation for writing it? Would you mind sharing some experiences which prepared you to focus on the topics discussed in the book?

My major motivation for writing the book was influenced by my long standing concern about the quality of education experienced by most historically underserved students of color in low performing urban schools. Because most, but by no means all, of these students are of African and Latino/a descent in the schools, districts, and states where I have worked, I decided to focus on the schooling conditions they often experience and the kind of leadership needed by all stakeholders compared to what is often provided. In my view, the continued disenfranchisement of all historically underserved students and their families is a major travesty in the United States. I wanted to provide something that would be helpful to both those preparing for jobs in education as well as those in school communities who need more savvy in how to achieve equitable opportunities and outcomes. My experiences as a teacher, administrator, trainer, and consultant throughout the United States influenced my choice of topics discussed in the book.

  1. It’s fascinating to hear how your own experiences shaped your book’s focus. Please explain the meaning of the title and subtitle.

The book title, walking the equity talk, simply means doing what is necessary to achieve true educational equity and excellence in classrooms and schools, and not just talking about it. Another way of putting it is practicing what you preach, so to speak. It is much easier said than done. The subtitle, a guide for culturally courageous leadership in school communities, means that the book is an attempt to point the reader in the right direction toward becoming a more culturally courageous leader, working collaboratively with others. Culturally courageous leadership in a nutshell means leadership that challenges any personal and organizational practices that are anti-democratic and discriminatory at best, and racist at worse. It is taking calculated data-based risks to confront and change norms that do not support cultural democracy. For example, changes are needed when there are stakeholders whose background, experiences, and strengths haven’t been respected, nurtured and utilized in planning, implementing and evaluating equity initiatives.

  1. Walking the equity talk really resonates with me as an educator. Who should get this book and read it from cover to cover? What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The target audiences are those in teacher and administrator preparation or advanced degree programs, current educators in all job categories who directly impact the quality of instruction and instructional support, parents, and community persons who are vested in improving their school communities. Community persons include faculty in teacher and administrator degree programs. I hope those in all of these audiences who read the book and complete the exercises within the book will have a greater sense of who they are, and the dysfunctional conditions in school communities when their schools are not serving all students well. I hope they will also have some tools, including how to improve their political will and savvy to collectively make systematic and systemic improvements leading to equity that is sustained over time.

  1. It sounds like you have written a very accessible book! Given these target audiences, I’m curious to know how you go about guiding your readers in walking the equity talk. In other words, how do you address the major needs and concerns of those most likely to be interested in your book?

Readers are constantly exposed to probing questions preceding, during and following all content and exercises to stimulate their critical reflection and application of ideas in the text. In addition, several experiential exercises, including self assessments, are provided. Extensive facilitator notes at the end of the book in appendix one are for those who want to use the text in classes, training activities, or professional learning community book study groups. In appendix two, culturally courageous leadership diagnostic questionnaires are provided to facilitate personal and school-wide assessment related to the schooling conditions and leadership paradigm discussed in the text. There is a constant effort to integrate relevant theory with both bad and good examples of educational practice to help the reader make connections with what is read and how it may relate to the reality in their schools. Vignettes, scenarios, and a role play also help make the text accessible and interactive. Seven principles of culturally courageous leadership are described, and related to earlier vignettes in the text. Promising practices for eliminating the racial achievement gap that reflect some aspects of culturally courageous leadership are delineated, and five leadership profiles provided, including the political obstacles encountered and how each leader dealt with them. Readers are given an opportunity to “practice” the equity walk, and receive feedback on what they have done. Examples of culturally courageous leadership by persons in eight stakeholder groups are also provided, in order to make it real.

  1. As I listen to you and reflect on reviews of your book, I’ve noticed your clear word choice: equity. Why do you stress the importance of “equitable” instead of “equal” learning opportunities and educational outcomes?

Equitable opportunities are different from equal opportunities in that to the extent possible, students are given access to what they need to achieve at high levels, not just equal access to what others receive. Students have different needs that must be differentially addressed in order to achieve at high levels (i.e. master 21st century skills). Equitable outcomes are based on achievement at high levels by all student subgroups, as determined by multiple measures. Equal outcomes might be determined by whether there are comparable percentages of each student group at certain performance levels on high stakes standardized tests, or the average G.P.A. of each student group, without considering whether the performance level or G.P.A. means there has been achievement at high levels. The equal treatment of students at unequal academic readiness levels is inherently unequal and not equitable.

  1. As you and I know from our years in education, there are a number of leadership frameworks and paradigms. I’m interested in your culturally courageous leadership paradigm and how it compares to other leadership paradigms that may be used in educational systems within the United States.

The culturally courageous leadership paradigm is based on the need for collaborative leadership by persons representing all stakeholder and cultural/racial groups, including students, parents, and community persons, in order to improve cultural democracy and achieve equitable educational outcomes. Other leadership paradigms in education may not attempt to cultivate or include leadership from ALL stakeholder and cultural groups in the problem definition process or development and implementation of anti-racist equity plans. The culturally courageous leadership paradigm is based on high value being given to culturally responsive instruction, culturally relevant curriculum, culturally democratic learning environments, and culturally proficient leaders in all stakeholder groups. Other leadership paradigms in education may not embrace/act on these values. The paradigm also stresses the need to give high priority to opportunity to learn, delivery, and professional development standards, and not just content and performance standards. Without equitable learning opportunities for historically underserved students, equitable outcomes cannot realistically be expected. When school community leaders in all groups constantly strive to increase their cultural and equity consciousness, they are much more likely to engage in anti-racist efforts on a daily basis. The CCL paradigm is unique in that it recognizes the need for explicit ongoing attention to changing schooling conditions contributing to cultural hegemony in all its forms.

  1. It seems to me that embracing the CCL paradigm could stimulate strong resistance from some who may be threatened by proposed changes to the current ways of doing things. Describe a few examples of how your book contributes to “equity capacity building” that might lessen this kind of resistance over time.

There are two kinds of equity capacity building addressed in the text:

personal and organizational. Research findings, exercises, assessments, and real life vignettes are provided to increase readers’ awareness of many inequitable outcomes and personal/organizational norms that contribute to such outcomes. In addition, the reader is constantly encouraged to identify the extent to which information in the text also reflects what they perceive happening in their work environment. The text includes information on what others have done to successfully address toxic conditions or strong resistance. In addition, two chapters are devoted to discussing six strategies for successfully navigating the politics associated with equity initiatives, including the psychology of equity transformation. To reiterate, equity capacity building is addressed in the text by first increasing consciousness, accompanied by an elaboration of needed skills and giving readers chances to practice some critical competencies needed by equity leaders. The facilitator notes in appendix one are also designed to enhance the reader’s problem solving, an important element of equity leadership capacity. Cultural courageousness is frequently defined in different ways so the reader can relate to what is required of equity leaders. Readers are also frequently asked to engage in meta-cognitive activities which require them to reflect on and write down their understandings, feelings, questions or concerns about what they have read and internalized. Suggestions are made for how readers can deal with identified concerns, by using tips for facilitating change described in the guide. Becoming a culturally courageous leader is a life long journey, not a destination.

About the Author

Dr. John Robert Browne II, a former administrator at both county and school district levels, and university lecturer, is CEO and executive coach for Third Millennium Enterprises. He specializes in providing consultation, coaching, and training for the development of culturally courageous systems and leadership for equity. His book, Walking the Equity Talk, A Guide for Culturally Courageous Leadership in School Communities, was published in June of 2012. It is available at www.corwin.com.

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