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Individual Capacity

In this lesson, we identify critical components to building individuals’ capacity for taking an active role in school or district decision-making processes. Among school staff, a strengths-based approach is key to building individuals’ capacity to recognize the vital skills and expertise that nondominant community members hold about their communities, their histories, and their children. This community expertise can then be leveraged in visioning, strategizing, and ultimately, transforming schools towards an equitable future. However, deficit assumptions are deeply rooted in society, and in turn, inform personal attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and values. Together, these assumptions and beliefs comprise mental models that influence all school community members. 

Exploring Our Individual Mental Models

Mental models often constrain efforts to build relational trust and share leadership. Among community groups, this might manifest through parental or caregiver reluctance to engage with school leaders due to distrust. Strategies to build individual families’ sense of agency to cultivate relationships and exercise power in school communities are crucial to countering this distrust. Many of our mental models need to shift to create opportunities for generative, respectful change efforts. Counter-narratives, a strategy for sharing “stories of those people whose experiences are not often told”, can be used to challenge mental models (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002).

Deficit Assumption/Narrative Counter-Narrative
Poor people don’t value education
Public school systems were built to shut nondominant communities out of educational, social, and economic opportunities
This child’s parents didn't come to back-to-school-night because they don't really care about how he does in school
School systems often fail to create a welcoming and inclusive climate for parents and caregivers
Principals and teachers know what’s best for students
Parents, caregivers, and students understand their strengths, experiences, and needs better than outside professionals

Application Activity

Think about the last time you heard a personal story that changed your understanding (or mental model) of an issue or an experience. This could be a conversation you had with a student, an anecdote you heard from an educator, or even a memoir you read. 

  • Have your mental models ever shifted after listening to someone’s personal story?  How did this impact your understanding of a person, community, or practice?  
  • How might your school or district incorporate storytelling to learn more about personal experiences within your community?
  • Does your school or district currently have a tool to collect student perspectives on policy and practice? What do you think might be uncovered if you conducted empathy interviews with students, families, or other community members? 

Case Study

Examining personal biases case story: Forest Park Middle School 

The following case story from Forest Park Middle School describes how a school team used empathy interviews to develop a better understanding of the experiences, perspectives, and needs of students. The school leader talked about how listening to a student’s story shifted her mental model regarding the disciplinary process at her school.

Read More & Listen to Interview
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