By Mica Pollock

Rethinking What We Say About — and To — Students Every Day

Over multiple decades of my own learning, I’ve written books as onramps for antiracist equity work — to support learning and action in education communities. No book can do it all; all books stand on the shoulders of many; and books need to get used to improve schools in real places. I wrote Schooltalk most recently (2017), and I think it’s the best starting place. Even if you’re already in the “fast lane” of equity/antiracism work, you can use it as a foundational onramp getting others on the antiracist/equity highway with you. Schooltalk includes foundational information necessary for antiracism and is designed for local application — concrete effort to improve opportunity and student treatment, as well as personal reflection. I’m happy to discuss any chapter in it, or even any resource in it that I cite. Remember, our work needs a toolkit, not a single tool! Use Schooltalk as an onramp to Everyday Antiracism or any other tool in your kit.

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Schooltalk asks education communities to critically consider our daily communications in schools as the onramp to “equity.” We ask repeatedly: do communications in our schools and districts support the full human talent development of every student and all groups of them, or not? 

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Every day in schools, language about students used by teachers, principals, guidance counselors, or other school professionals shapes who gets which resources, treatment, and opportunities to learn. Our “schooltalk” too often repeats damaging “scripts” about children, leaves inequality intact, and treats students as less worthy or without potential. Countless students are mis-seen and undersupported–and, ultimately, we all lose.


By juxtaposing common scenarios with useful exercises and concrete actions grounded in years of education research on race and inequality in school, Schooltalk turns our attention to the oft-dismissed consequences of daily “schooltalk”: the tossed-off remark about the community in which a student lives; the way groups—based on race, presumed ability, and income—are discussed on data spreadsheets or faculty dialogues; the assumptions and structural communication breakdowns between educators, students and families that cause kids to fall needlessly through the cracks. Schooltalk will also empower educators by showing how school communications can be “redesigned” to support antiracism and equity — the full human talent development of each student and all groups, every day.

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Fairfax County Fireside Chat


Want to join a conversation with Mica Pollock about making change where you work with Schooltalk? Click here.

See how others are using Schooltalk here.


Supplemental Tools for Using Schooltalk

Share Schooltalk with students!

Thoughts from middle and high school youth on youth-friendly segments of Schooltalk are forthcoming. Here’s one youth’s initial take. 

THINK/DISCUSS Questions

Sometimes the best “dialogue tool” is an excellent discussion question, short film, or brief conversation-starter text. Here are some of my favorite THINK/DISCUSS questions from Schooltalk and other supplemental texts to go with each chapter. I put them all on this Googledoc for easy access and updating.

Schooltalk Slides

Here are the slides I typically use in Schooltalk talks. Feel free to use them.

Article

Here’s an article written with Andrew Matschiner, on going beyond just “overcoming resistance” during PD on race (from white educators particularly) to actually accomplishing collective antiracist work in schools.

Conversation Starter

Here’s a conversation starter to get folks going beyond reading only, to repairing opportunity systems and the treatment of children in schools: https://bit.ly/WhileYouRead

Scaffold

And here’s a scaffold to help folks apply texts to make change where we work: the Antiracist Equity Action Planner.


Endorsements

This is a brilliantly crafted text, sure to be a classic in education. We need this book now more than ever. It should be required reading in every teacher education program in the United States of America.

—H. Richard Milner IV, author of Rac(e)ing to Class

Reading Schooltalk is like sitting down for coffee and frank conversation with a trusted friend about what matters most in education. . . . This beautiful book will make a difference in how people consider what until now they may have thought of as simply innocent ‘talk.’

—Sonia Nieto, professor emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Schooltalk shows how everyday communication is a powerful and necessary tool for equity for America’s students. Everyone involved in education, from paraprofessionals to teachers in the classroom to district leaders, should consider the lessons of this highly readable book.

—Maureen B. Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center

[Schooltalk] so seamlessly travels from the societal to the institutional to the group level to the personal level and back out. It’s replete with tools [and] an invaluable resource to teachers as they think about the day to day reality of their classrooms.

—Ali Michael, University of Pennsylvania

In her powerful book Schooltalk, Dr. Mica Pollock challenges educators to take the simple yet bold step towards equity through mindful conversation with and about all students. . . . As educators strive to create inclusive schools, this book stands out with clear instruction for reflection and action. I have recommended Schooltalk to hundreds of educators as a must-read resource for teachers, bus drivers, counselors, advisors, parents, trainers…anyone who touches students’ lives and is purposeful about contributing to their success.

Laura Lomax, Vice President of Programs, Pearl S. Buck International

“Our project team recently did a book study of Schootalk. This precipitated many deep and impactful conversations internally that resulted in our coaching team deliberately setting out to listen for scripts during coaching sessions that don’t serve students, and then creating opportunities to surface these scripts with our coachees in order to move towards alternative ways of thinking and talking more in line with their hopes for creating conditions where all students get what they need to thrive.”

Michele Reinhart, Center to Support Excellence in Teaching, Stanford Graduate School of Education
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