Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards
K-12 Education

Carrying lessons from principals forward

An illustration of a man holding up a school building above his head.
Illustration by Miranda Kyle |

On Wednesday, I sat with Detroit Principals as part of my listening tour. Most of them joined the Zoom call from their offices at 5pm just one day after the Oxford High School tragedy and during Michigan having some of the highest COVID numbers. Most had come directly from helping teachers process and grieve the school shootings. Principals spoke of how if they don’t keep everyone encouraged, then the school community crumbles.

Despite these hardships, these principals were open, candid, and real in this discussion. I compiled some of the high-level overviews of their insights as educators and champions of Detroit children to help guide us as we continue to work for our kids and the educators who serve them.

Oxford & Gun Violence

While school shootings most often happen in predominantly White schools, these mostly Black and Brown principals still grieved. One said, “While the pandemic has been widespread, so has heroic school leadership.”

The divide people try to create between urban and rural is not felt, as principals, teachers, office managers, crossing guards, and more stand shoulder-to-shoulder across the miles. That said, there was also talk of gun violence happening both in schools and around schools in urban communities that don’t get the media, the questions, the resources, and the widespread grief. They asked for this too.

Student Needs in this Moment

When asked for headlines about their students, they answered with the following:

  • “Love is always needed.”
  • “Acknowledging and supporting child anxiety is culturally responsive.”
  • “The struggle is real, but we are the real deal!”

The strength of their students to show up every day despite incredible challenges was not lost on them. One principal said, “I am inspired by quite a few of my students who have lost their parents in the last year and continue to show up EVERY DAY with a smile and hug. They are sad. But they do not quit.”

Systems Change

The opportunity gap between Detroit schools and their suburban counterparts are not lost on these principals. Their schools lack the state-of-the-art infrastructure of suburban schools. Their students are more likely to come from backgrounds shaped by cyclical poverty. And they know that Michigan’s third-grade reading law exemplifies culturally inequitable decisions that impact all children, but especially Black and Brown children.

The principals came with ideas on how to change systems:

  • Change funding formulas; Give students who have the least, the most
  • Make testing more culturally responsive
  • Pay teachers much more
  • Set Black Excellence as the standard in predominately Black schools
  • Add restorative practices to entire communities including schools

Principals spoke of the need to lift youth voice and ensure parent power when making key educational decisions, as these are their everyday partners and people they serve.

Principal & Educator Needs

You know what happened when we asked these principals how we could honor them for their time and wisdom?

They asked if we could help them thank their teachers and feed their staffs. Nothing for themselves crossed their minds.

Then, one asked if we could carry their thoughts and words and share them to our audience. Which is why I’m sharing this blog with you all now.

These are our heroes holding up entire school ecosystems. Send emails, food, flowers, or other tokens of appreciation to your school principal. Share this blog to lift their voices.

What these principals laid out is a policy agenda that will affect our kids and our communities for generations to come. It’s on us to hear the lesson and carry it forward.

Angelique Power

Angelique Power is the president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation.

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