A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

You cannot effectively serve urban students and engage with urban families if you are unwilling to go where they live. I don’t mean that you have to do a house visit for every student that you teach. However, you should know the neighborhoods where your students live and you should attempt to walk the streets they walk to get a feel for their daily journey. Most teachers are more than willing to work with children of color in the school only. The schoolhouse tends to be a safe place and space where you don’t have to engage with the community. However, if you really want to engage with your population then you need to know the community that shapes the challenges and the triumphs of students and families. A buzz word at that school reformers love to throw around is “grit;” we never ask teachers to show grit and determination to step outside of their comfort zones and explore the communities where they work. We don’t require teachers to be a part of the communities where they work; for a parent to see their child’s teacher in your community is huge. I can tell you first hand that when I would see parents from the community where I taught in the city where I taught, the love I received from them was tremendous. Unfortunately, when you consider that 80% of all teachers are White, low-income Black and Brown families will probably never see their child’s teacher in the communities where they live. That is very unfortunate; as a school leader, you should be committed to engaging your teachers who are not from the community with the community.

When I was a vice principal, I remember having the opportunity to schedule a tour of the city of Camden New Jersey. Of course, I heard some ignorant comments fueled by prejudice, racism, implicit bias and the dumb things that they’ve been told from their family and friends over the years. But at the end of that professional development day; after the trip in the city and after we got an opportunity to discuss and debunk the myths, I left that day thinking that we need more of this. We need more faculty and staff understanding the path that students take to school each and every day. We also need for White teachers to not be afraid of the communities where they work and understanding of what is fact versus what is fiction. If you are a school leader, you should schedule a tour of the community where you work for your teachers and your staff. Here is a brief outline of how you can do that and what exactly you should do during your tour:


  1. Prepare for the tour prior to attending:
    1. Identify staff who are familiar and comfortable enough to lead small groups tours. Hopefully, you have members of your faculty and staff who either live where you work or are from where you work that are willing and able to lead a tour to a group of teachers. If you don’t have the numbers necessary to lead tours to groups, hire a touring company or conduct your own tour (with someone familiar with the municipality if you are not) and “train the trainers” to offer tours to the staff.
    2. Have faculty and staff complete a reading assignment along with a questionnaire asking what they know about the municipality and what questions they have. Also, a small game about the history of the municipality or about the famous people of the municipality is a good icebreaker for the day of the tour to go over (have faculty and staff complete prior to the day of the tour).
    3. Create (or find) a detailed and color-coded map of your school’s municipality for all teachers and staff to refer to. You can find maps like this or you can take a digital map and add the colors you need. Make enough copies for all and work to get staff familiar with the municipal map – an added reason for this is to show shortcuts to escape traffic.
  2. Create an itinerary for the day involving the following items (You can create your own list, but here are some ideas):
    1. Scavenger hunt (You can create your own list, but here are some ideas)
      1. Item from a local market/corner bodega
      2. Picture at a famous landmark of the municipality
      3. Menu from a local eatery
      4. Receipt of a purchase from a local business
      5. Picture with an elected official
      6. Picture in front of every school in the municipality
      7. Picture with a local business owner
      8. A book of stamps purchased from a post office
    2. Lunch at a local restaurant
    3. Purchase souvenirs from a small business for your classroom
    4. Visit the local historical society
    5. Meeting a local politician/elected official
  3. If the municipality is large enough and has sections, divide groups to cover a section of the municipality and report back. One day will not be enough to cover an entire municipality depending on the size. If you’re in an urban district, you’re probably in either a city or a similarly designated municipality. Usually, cities or larger urban municipalities are divided into sections. If your staff is large enough, designate groups to conduct their tour in a specific section and report back their experiences at the end of the day.
  4. During the day, make sure teacher groups take and post pictures on social media with a specialized hashtag for the day. This is very important because while you are not selling anything for profit, you are selling your school to the community. You want to show parents and the community that you care enough about the children and the people that you desire for your staff to learn about the community they will be serving. This will go a long way to gaining community support for the existence of your school; whether traditional public or charter. Improve the school’s social media presence by incorporating your teachers doing life with each other for the benefit of your students.
  5. When teachers return to the school, spend a portion of time to discuss what was seen, experienced and how it relates to students and their own biases. The most powerful moments of the day will take place during the tour. But, the reflection afterward is just as powerful. Here, real conversations about race, class, inequality, and justice can happen. It is not a Kumbaya moment, however, it is a moment where folks can be real about what they experienced that day and their truth in their skin and how it impacts the way we educate Black and Brown students.

Empower faculty and staff to take what they’ve learned and experienced in their work every day. The purpose of the tour is not to create pity for Black and Brown low-income students; particularly where there was none. The purpose is not to make people feel like they need to save the world. The purpose of the tour is to create an awareness within faculty and staff (1) the challenges students and families face on a daily basis and (2) city communities and the people are no different from suburban communities and the people who live there; parents want their children to get a good education and be good people. The people have a pride and tradition that is important and valuable. An understanding of these things will make one a better educator.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!


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