Educational Leadership assignment leads to praise from UCEA

By 

Taji Gibson

When Taji Gibson took a class from Associate Professor Janet Decker as part of her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership degree, she didn’t realize one of her assignments would lead to recognition – especially from her first article ever published.

Gibson, currently a Research Associate at the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community and a member of the School of Education Alumni Board, wrote the article for Decker’s class, A-675 Leadership in Special Education. The assignment was to write a paper about special student populations and the law, and Gibson decided to focus her article on Black girls and how certain federal laws protect them.

Now her article, co-written by Decker, has been honored by the University Council for Educational Administration with an honorable mention for the Paula Silver Case award.

 

I want my colleagues to be brave enough to think carefully about intentionally helping and supporting young Black women. I also want Black girls to know that we care about them and that educators have taken the time to know and understand them.

For the article, Gibson included a case narrative about a principal at a fictitious high school. In this case, the principal begins to notice the inequitable ways staff treat three Black girls. Through reflection and after needing to react to a specific situation, the principal realizes some of the policies and procedures the school has in place result in disproportionate disciplinary measures toward Black girls. The principal gives her team several resources, but has to face staff defensiveness on race issues. In the article, Gibson and Decker provided some real-life teaching tools geared toward how staff can support Black girls in their schools. Though her article provided a fictitious example, Gibson herself has been affected by those issues.

“The scenarios are significant to me because I have lived those experiences personally and through my teaching career, and they haunt me when I think about them,” Gibson said.

Gibson hopes her colleagues pay more specific attention to Black girls' unique intersections and be proactive in supporting them.

“The confluence of being Black and female leave that population at a very vulnerable crossroads—and that is just gender and race!” She said. “Those intersections are only two of many that make up a Black girl!  When I speak to my colleagues about who to help in schools or who is vulnerable, a lot of attention goes to Black boys, which is terrific, but it leaves the Black girl invisible and unheard. I hope that administrators and teachers pay attention to the barriers that specific policies cause for Black girls, such as hair and the notion of respect.”

“I want my colleagues to be brave enough to think carefully about intentionally helping and supporting young Black women,” Gibson added. “I also want Black girls to know that we care about them and that educators have taken the time to know and understand them. Black girls are not helpless, they indeed are magic, but they are not infallible either. Dangerously placing stereotypes on Black girls is dangerous. Ignoring them altogether because they seem to blend in on one side of the spectrum, or are loud, obnoxious and rude on the other side of the spectrum is detrimental to their well-being.”

While federal laws are in place to help vulnerable students, Gibson said that must be kept to the forefront when providing support to those populations.

“Black girls matter. I matter … When I look back at my personal experiences as a Black girl in school, I know that my teachers and administrators did the best they knew how to support me,” Gibson explained. “However, education was very white and normative, and trying to fit me into that square hole as a round peg cost me. I was praised for speaking ‘articulately,’ but I was made fun of dressing and acting like a ‘white girl’ to my Black friends. I found myself repeatedly trying to reinvent myself to fit into the normative culture and acceptable suburban culture. That is not acceptable. If educators claim to be all about kids, we have to get to know them and make them unique.”

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