Black History and conversations about race Edgility consulting

Courageous Conversations About Race

I was a middle school math teacher when I first heard of the book Courageous Conversations About Race by Glenn Singleton. I’ve had the opportunity to practice and reflect on these conversations through pulled excerpts in different professional development sessions, but before now, I hadn’t read the book cover to cover. 

Singleton writes this book as a “Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools.” While I’m no longer teaching, I have spent the last five years recruiting for schools across the country. These conversations carry weight and value in my everyday conversations with colleagues, hiring managers, and any professional I’ve crossed paths with in my journey throughout education. 

I wrote this blog to reflect on some of the main points Singleton lays out in his book, but with a recruitment lens.

The Racial Gap

The achievement gap in education was one of the first educational disparities I was taught as a college student. As a reflection of my own White privilege, I didn’t initially understand how it’s an umbrella term for so many other gaps that fall under it. My predominantly White teachers and professors framed the achievement gap only as a socioeconomic or wealth problem. They affirmed that economic factors were the main determinants of academic success. 

Singleton explains that while income does impact achievement, wealth or poverty level only tells part of the picture. Singleton uses SAT score data to show that even if parental income increases, the racial gap in achievement between Black, Hispanic, White, Asian, and other races does not go away. 

As a recruiter, a big improvement for me has been the need to make sure I’m asking intentional questions to candidates that exclusively talk about their experiences with race and academic expectations, especially to potential teachers and school leaders of Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color. 

I can’t just ask surface-level questions like, “Why is closing the achievement gap important to you?” Pushing the intent of my questions on how race exclusively impacts their work in education often brings out a much more meaningful reflection. 

Reader Question: What questions centered on race do you ask or have been asked during interviews that stand out to you as either helpful or hindering to a recruitment process?

Establishing Common Language Around Race

Having a common understanding of keywords about race can be a tremendous starting point toward having meaningful conversations. This common language is also what we aim for with clients and hiring managers before launching a search. 

Our staff leads an anti-bias and unconscious bias training session as part of our initial meetings with clients as an example. My favorite outcome is when members of the hiring team learn how to effectively call out their peers when bias centered around race is being experienced. We want to ensure all collaborators feel comfortable naming these moments when others may be contributing consciously or unconsciously to a racist system within education. 

Moments of racist behaviors need correction or recourse, and I believe it’s on us as recruiters to lead the way for hiring teams in those reflective redirections.

Three Questions We Ask During Our Session 

We utilize this self-assessment to support our session, ask yourself these questions;

  • I educate myself about the culture and experiences of other racial, religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups by reading and attending classes, workshops, cultural events, etc.
  • I avoid stereotyping and generalizing other people based on their group identity.
  • The value of diversity is reflected in my work, which includes a wide range of racial, religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, even when these groups are not personally represented in my community.
Related Articles: 11 Must-Read Books on DEI 
Reader Question: How does your organization norm conversations about race? What common understandings for your teams do you feel are non-negotiables?

Courages Conversations About Race Edgility Consulting

The Courageous Conversations About Race Compass

Once I built up the vocabulary and understanding to be a more active participant in conversations about race in the schools and organizations I’ve worked for, I quickly realized it was difficult for me to be able to efficiently categorize or process what I learned about myself and others. I’d discuss feelings or actions I’ve experienced based on my own race and White privilege, but I would have no way to build off of those findings in subsequent conversations. 

I then learned about Singleton’s Courageous Conversation Compass in a professional learning community meeting while teaching. The four quadrants explained by Singleton — moral, intellectual, emotional, and relational — allow practitioners to enter conversations around race with a more racially centered perspective or balance. 

Singleton names that participants are able to shift their viewpoints throughout the compass. In a recent exercise/reflection with other Edgility staff, I realized I sit more on the moral and emotional side. I tend to start my responses with how I feel or what I believe on different racial topics. 

That awareness has forced me to be more intentional about my actions and thinking involving race, therefore being more intellectual or relational. The framework is an exercise in understanding the awareness of my reactions to conversations. 

For example, I feel indignant and believe it’s unacceptable when an organization does not have a racially representative leadership team in relation to its community. Knowing that, I then need to consistently make sure my recruitment actions and thoughts match up with those feelings. 

One of Singleton’s last reflective questions to readers is “Where will you go from here with Courageous Conversations?” Simply, I have to be intentional about how race plays a factor in every decision I make. I have to build my unconscious racial awareness not only personally but with other professionals, I work alongside on a daily basis.

Candidates and clients trust that we are doing right by them, and having conversations about race ensures I’m not taking that responsibility lightly. 

Related Articles: 4 Ways We’ve Increased DEI in our Search Practice

About the Author

Zachary Harr, Senior Recruitment Manager

Pittsburgh Metro Area

Zachary Harr believes in the power of working with mission-driven organizations that are urgent about creating equitable and sustainable talent systems when recruiting for a given role.