Leading Courageous Conversations

When Principal Ebony Grice ’17 thinks about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, she pictures a line drawn down a sheet of paper. One column includes the names of Black victims of racial violence. The other, the names of the white people who killed them.

“All of them were once students who were in the classroom,” she says. “We need to help students understand each other, to knock down assumptions and bias. Our job is not just to teach, but to help students connect and feel like they belong, and that happens in the classroom.”

Grice is bringing that mission to her new position as principal of Wauwatosa West High School, a role she assumed as the community and nation grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice issues.

“This is the best time in be in education,” says Grice, who was previously principal at Atwater Elementary School in Shorewood and earned a master’s degree in education from Alverno. “It is hard, it is stressful, but we know that means growth. It means we’re going to have to shed whatever we did before and do something different. We don’t have a choice. We have to take the stress so we can grow as educators for the sake of our students.”

Grice, who has worked in education for nearly decades, began her career in special education, which informs her perspective on equitable practices.

“It really makes you think differently about who needs what and how will I get it to them?” she says. She asks teachers: “When you’re planning your lessons, are you thinking of every student who might be in front of you? Is it culturally relevant? Is it culturally sensitive? Is it biased?”

As much as Grice loved teaching, serving as a school administrator allows her ask these important questions of teachers. She also values being able to help them find the answers. “I love the ability to be a teacher’s teacher,” she says. “I’m big on coaching, and character and learning.”

Building a culture of anti-racism — especially at predominantly white schools at places like Shorewood and Wauwatosa — doesn’t happen overnight.

“I really believe it comes down to conversations and communication,” she says. “When people pose questions and truly listen, that’s how you create that culture. As adults, sometimes we don’t talk about these things because we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, and it builds. It’s important to have systems and protocols in place so we can have courageous conversations.”

Students are hungry for courageous conversations, too. “Today’s students are using school as a place for social justice change, and I love it,” she says. “This generation is exceptionally reflective, and they are thinking about things we aren’t always thinking about. School is not just academics; it’s character and citizenship. They go hand in hand.”

This article appears in the fall/winter 2020 issue of Alverno Magazine.

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