The School Year Is New. Is Your Mindset?

For the start of this school year, my wish is for all educators, wherever they are, wherever they have been to try something small in the hopes of doing something big for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students.

I want educators, when faced with a moment of stress, of classroom management, a behavioral issue of a student, or a need to create a new lesson plan, to stop for a moment of mindfulness, a moment of reflection and ask themselves the following:

How does this impact my Black and Brown students?

That’s it.  It’s simple and small, but such a moment of reflection can lead to greater self-observation and interrogation of how we do teaching and learning and its implications for equity.  That can in turn yield a recognition of implicit and unintended biases. All of this then can ultimately produce behavior change on the part of educators for the benefit of their students. 

And we know that we need that, as pressingly as ever. 

We’re now a few years removed from the death of George Floyd and the wave of social activism, embrace of DEI work, and then the reactionary movements against it that we saw in its wake.  As a result, we are effectively back at the status quo ante, with bias and blame still pressed upon Black and Brown students in public schools. 

We don’t need another Yale study, that found that as early as 3 and 4 years old educators subject Black children, especially Black boys, to greater suspicion and surveillance, to justify taking action. We see it in our schools daily.

The over-policing of children’s actions in the classroom and school hallways, is the starting point for a Black and brown lives dominated by low expectations and heightened suspicion.  It’s a vicious cycle that yields disproportionate discipline, suspensions, missed instruction, academic failure and broken trust. 

TNTP’s analysis of the “Opportunity Myth” of public education is also vital to remember as we begin the school year, as Black and Brown students still experience a demonstrable lack of “grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers with high expectations”.  We are doing violence to our kids with every lesson plan that doesn’t give them a chance to thrive, with every instructional interaction that assumes they understand less than their white peers.  But it’s violence that we as educators can halt, if we take steps to address it in our own practice first. 

As we come back to the school this year, let us then think about how we as teachers and leaders can be more empathetic, more understanding, and humble in the service of our students.  Mindfulness about our teaching practice, and the powerful self-reflection that it has the potential to yield, can ultimately make us more culturally proficient for our students, something absolutely essential for effectively educating children from diverse backgrounds.

These moments of reflection can be framed around your actions or your practices as an educator.

At the Center for Black Educator Development, we work with many schools and districts to help them analyze their cultural competencies.  Based on that work, some of the questions an educator could use to frame their moment of mindfulness could include:

  • Beyond subject matter, what kinds of books, references or sources am I most commonly using in class?
  • How do I explore different pedagogical approaches that are consistent with the culture of my students?
  • How does my pedagogy ensure equity in resources for students who need more?
  • In what specific ways do I authenticate and cherish the racial identities and cultural backgrounds of all students beyond the celebration of select holidays?
  • How do I ensure my practice does not retraumatize, nor stigmatize, students of color, that they do not face racial discrimination, prejudice and isolation?

These are just a few questions to start. The point isn’t to “get it right” the first time you consider them.  In fact, if you think you’ve gotten it right the first time you ask yourselves these questions, you almost certainly have it wrong. 

The point is to engage in the asking, to reflect on your practice and seek progress and students’, families’, and conscientious colleagues’ feedback toward building a classroom and school building that embraces, welcomes and propels the success of all students.

That’s what our Black, Indigenous, and Brown students need this school year. It’s what they deserve every school year.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


  1. Great article. You are awesome and very articulate so proud of you. Taking care of the mental health of our students are essential. Also be mindful of the educators as well that they too are getting the adequate tools and care needed for their mental health as well so they are able to poor from a full cup.


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