The Lora M. Robins Speaker Series is an event I look forward to each year, especially this year’s session on “The Crisis of Urban Education” featuring Dr. Chris Emdin. Charged with leading the Virginia Department of Education’s efforts aimed at advancing equity, closing achievement gaps, and decreasing disproportionality in student outcomes – I was intrigued to hear from the professor who wrote the book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education. In my work at the VDOE, we had recently received recommendations from The Taskforce to Diversify Virginia’s Educator Pipeline and held a statewide convening on minority teacher recruitment.

The timing was perfect. What could we learn from Dr. Emdin about delivering engaging and culturally relevant instruction that supports learning and success for students of color? All I can say is – I. Was. Not. Ready! Dr. Emdin was a refreshing perspective. His remarks were compelling, honest, inspirational, and provocative. Chris challenged our traditional thinking about teaching, and student learning. Reality Pedagogy needed a larger audience – and I knew just the forum.

We were in the early stages of planning a statewide conference on equity. I knew that we needed to incorporate Reality Pedagogy into our convening. LMR and the Robins Foundation were instrumental in making the connection that allowed us to secure Dr. Emdin as a keynote for the inaugural Virginia is for All Learners: Education Equity Summer Institute – a convening of more than 500 educators from across the Commonwealth. Our overarching goal was to explore the implications of institutional racism in public education and raise state discourse around policy and practices that positively affect equity outcomes for Virginia’s public school students (K-12). Our conference focused on public policies influencing equitable outcomes for students; how social-emotional learning and trauma-informed care are essential strategies to addressing achievement gaps; and finally, how educator preparation programs must engage in the equity conversation to affect student outcomes across the state.

I was so excited to bring Dr. Emdin to our conference where he was able to share his research and pedagogical practice with educators and education leaders from across the state. Chris made quite the impression on our conference attendees who shared their enthusiasm for #HipHopEd and #EdEquityVA all over social media. Many superintendents and school division leaders expressed appreciation.

While our work to advance education equity across the state continues, we have a new spark in our step thanks to Chris’ thoughtful keynote and ongoing support of our work. Kudos to LMR and Robins Foundation for bringing this outstanding scholar and practitioner to our attention!

Leah Dozier Walker, MPA
Director, Office of Equity and Engagement
Division of School Quality, Equity, and Instruction
Virginia Department of Education

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