By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
A new conference is urging racialized teachers — a group that is underrepresented across the public school system — to consider applying for leadership roles in their buildings and divisions at-large.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society, one of the largest public-sector unions in the province with upwards of 16,600 members, is hosting its inaugural “Colour of Courage” event this week.
The society has organized symposiums for women in the workforce and LGBTTQ+ educators in recent years in a bid to provide professional development through an equity, diversity and inclusion lens.
Its upcoming conference, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at MTS headquarters on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, invites members who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) to network, listen to keynote speeches and participate in workshops.
To this day, Jean-Paul said she occasionally gets mistaken for clerical support staff.
“It’s about being in a safe space to be able to talk about the joys and challenges of leadership (and related aspirations),” said Cynthia Taylor, vice-president of the union.
Taylor said participants will come away from the conference with the understanding there is a space for them in a principal’s office, as the head of a high school department or otherwise.
The latest state of equity in education reports, completed by the Winnipeg Indigenous Executive Circle and Newcomer Education Coalition, show most Winnipeg divisions have not historically collected race-based data from managers.
Responses from the Winnipeg School Division — an outlier in the 2021 reports — show 20 per cent (two out of 10) senior administrators self-identified as Indigenous in 2018-19. That figure was 11 per cent among principals and 10 per cent among vice-principals.
A single division leader disclosed they were racialized and teachers from visible minorities made up about eight per cent and 11 per cent of principals and vice-principals, respectively.
At the time, a quarter of the student population was Indigenous, while 34 per cent of kindergarten-to-Grade 12 pupils were racialized.
“When you see somebody that looks like you in the school system, that matters,” Taylor said.
While noting this week’s conference is run by racialized teachers for racialized teachers, she said there will be room for discussions about issues that “bring discomfort,” such as microaggressions and other examples of racism BIPOC members experience on the job.
The union leader added she hopes participants will meet mentors and begin to build a support system, especially if they are the only racialized teacher at their school.
Michelle Jean-Paul did not enter teaching to become an administrator, but she ended up accepting a vice-principal position when she was only 27.
Jean-Paul credits mentors and colleagues — many of whom were involved with the Black Educators Association of Manitoba, then an active advocacy collective — who urged her to submit her resumé for jobs she thought not within her reach.
“It’s very easy to underestimate yourself, particularly when you don’t see examples like you leading the way,” she said, noting a growing body of research shows women, BIPOC and other historically oppressed educators are far less likely to apply for advancement in the workforce.
Now, Jean-Paul is the assistant superintendent of staff services at the Louis Riel School Division.
Her advice to up-and-coming leaders is to kick imposter syndrome — to this day, Jean-Paul said she occasionally gets mistaken for clerical support staff — by networking and in turn, building confidence and resilience.
“It may not be within the division you’re working in or even in the city you’re working in, but there are a lot of really dynamic racialized leaders across the country,” added Jean-Paul, who co-founded the Educators of Colour Network.
Laurelle Harris, principal of Equitable Solutions Consulting, and Jim Agapito, host of CBC Manitoba’s Recovering Filipino podcast, are headlining MTS’s two-day symposium in Winnipeg.
Just under 50 people were registered to attend, as of Monday.
The Local Journalism Initiative supports the creation of original civic journalism that is relevant to the diverse needs of underserved communities across Canada, broadening availability and consumption of local and regional news on matters of civic governance. Launched by the Government of Canada in 2019, the Local Journalism Initiative provides news organizations with funding to hire reporters to cover underserved communities.