• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2011 •

Rosana RodriguezOur public schools can only be vibrant and resilient by encouraging dialogue and exploring new connections and information that result from cross-race, cross-sector engagement. A healthy system brings in others, considers other perspectives and plans ways to hold itself accountable for educating all children.

M. Wheatley and M. Kellner-Rogers explain: “Open and inquiring, such systems become wiser about themselves. They become more aware of their interdependencies. They learn that by reaching out, they become stronger. Their support comes not from unnatural boundaries, but from the inherent strength of wholeness.” (1996)

IDRA’s Fulfilling the Promise Mendez and Brown initiative, creates opportunities to lift Latino and African American voices as collaborative leaders in strengthening public schools. Using IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework as the central organizing guide (Robledo Montecel, 2005; Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010), individuals across race and sector engage in dialogue, deep listening and courageous planning through the construction of blueprints for action to fulfill the promise of the landmark civil rights cases of Mendez vs. Westminster and Brown vs. Board of Education.

The community dialogue process begins by honoring voices of students sharing their experiences about what is needed to prepare them for graduation and college success. The planning focuses upon four change indicators that signal health for a school district: (1) parent involvement and community engagement; (2) student engagement; (3) teaching quality; and (4) curriculum quality and access.

The initiative reaches U.S. states where demographic shifts parallel a microcosm of our nation, with young and growing Latino populations. Both a public website and a private social media website support local efforts by offering a place where communities can continue to build their action plans while linking to local and national networks and resources.

An example of impact is the Mobile Education Foundation, which expanded its newly-created educational strategic plan by developing a more significant focus on appropriate educational responses for English learners. In New Orleans, the Blueprint for Action dialogues enabled attendees from the Katrina recovery district to examine the new dynamic of African American and Latino students within the school structure and ways to better support education opportunities for returning families and children post-Katrina. Thus, they expanded opportunities to increase graduation rates for Latino and African American youth.

IDRA launched a new set of online educational materials designed to help communities take on this process themselves and expand the circle of support and leadership (www.idra.org). Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are primary targets for the effort, funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Other states have participated, including Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Key questions begin the discussions, uncovering beliefs about the purpose of education, not just for a talented elite, but as the foundation of a pluralistic society that opens doors for all. We cannot create equity in public schools without a core of shared beliefs about the purpose of public education.

Wheatley adds: “In the absence of shared beliefs and desires, people are not motivated to seek out one another and develop relationships. They coexist by defining clear boundaries, creating respectful and disrespectful distances, developing self-protective behaviors, and using power politics to get what they want.” (2005)

The realization of common meaning unleashes the co-creative process, inspiring collaborative action uniquely suited to each community as leaders see how they are interconnected across race and sector. The actions that ensue from the discussions are expressions of the collective power to achieve a goal that is important to all: the reshaping of our schools, as we reshape ourselves and our relationships with one another.

Because the work is at the core of our democratic principles, the voices at the table must include educators, parents, communities, grassroots organizations, the business sector, leaders in policy and faith communities, and student voices joining together in the planning process. This work is for all, and each has a unique role to play. What can we do together?

Nurture respect, love and justice through dialogue, listening and joint action. We can make a huge difference by recognizing the value of all children and what they represent for our collective future. We must go beyond our own personal history to break down stereotypes and fear, heal old wounds and move forward together in strengthening public schools.

Teach our children to value diversity and seek out different perspectives. Children educated within an environment that teaches diversity and respect will be more loving and compassionate leaders in the future. The student voices in this initiative are strong and poignant testimonies for the change that is needed, woven from the fabric of their current realities, articulated eloquently in pictures, words and stories.

Recognize the gifts that community and family have to offer and learn from them. Recognizing the knowledge and assets within families and communities is an integral step in valuing cultural and strengthening in our democracy. People within a community care for one another’s well being, are concerned with their mutual future and share accountability to ensure strong public schools.

Value and preserve our languages. Just as we become more cognizant of the need to preserve nature and its delicate balance, we must cherish language as human expression. The fear that undergirds the “English only” effort must be replaced by valuing language as culture. We no longer take lightly the extinguishing of a species, yet we think nothing of silencing a child in his or her linguistic expression.

Do no harm. Psychological scars and loss of confidence inflicted upon children, teachers and families in the practice of high-stakes testing are immeasurable and cannot be justified under any circumstance. We must seek other more effective alternatives to measure quality teaching.

Speak with courage; silence is not an option. Inequity in our education system hurts everyone and damages countless generations to come. We cannot afford silence, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” When speaking about injustice and racism, passivity is collusion. Much earlier, St. Catherine of Sienna reminded us that we must speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills.

Unite with others. Ask “Who else needs to be here?” and involve everyone who cares. Participation is the only change process that endures, it is a gradual process over time that requires generosity of spirit and patience.

John F. Kennedy said, “Our country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.” It’s time to re-build our schools with renewed sense of purpose through diverse networks, where individuals can think and act together more meaningfully. Our energy and courage will renew when we care deeply about something bigger than ourselves. Together, our human spirit will grow, and we will fulfill a greater promise in education than we could have ever dreamed alone.


Robledo Montecel, M., & C.L. Goodman, eds. Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework – Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).

Wheatley, M. Finding Our Way – Leadership for an Uncertain Time (San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005).

Wheatley, M., and M. Kellner-Rogers. A Simpler Way (San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996).

Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development at IDRA. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2011 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]