Reflections on the School Leadership Summit in Washington, DC
by Mathew Moes, Principal of IANT Quranic Academic (TX) and Board Member of ISLA
Matthew Moes, Principal of a full-time Islamic school in Richardson, Texas and Board Member of The Islamic Schools League of America (ISLA), joined approximately one hundred leaders in education at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) National School Leadership Summit held in Washington D.C from November 13-14, 2019.
The chief objective of this gathering was to share best practices and examine capacity in leading for equity-based and culturally responsive teaching and learning environments.
The importance of the school leadership summit was effectively communicated over multiple sessions which varied from an inspiring keynote presentation to facilitative discussions challenging participants to examine biases and strategically plan using logic models on common “problems of practice.” Panel discussions were also held on “cultivating a community of care and support,” social and emotional learning (to be addressed at the ISLA Leadership Retreat in December 2019), and ways of “engaging families and communities meaningfully as partners.”
The conference elicited some provocative questions that challenge ourselves to self-assess some of the existing age old assumptions about equity and inclusiveness in our own Islamic
Here are a few questions to start with:
- Is it really legitimate to assume that just because our Islamic values dictate racial/ethnic equality that our schools are successful in modeling this?
- Do Islamic schools record and track the achievement of gender, ethnic, social-economic, and other special categories for the purpose of ensuring that there are no gaps in performance between these groups?
- Have Islamic schools trained staff to become aware of their own implicit biases and to actively look for ways to become more sensitive and inclusive of all students and families
that attend the school? Again, this could apply to race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status and other differences present in these schools.
- Are the financial aid policies of Islamic schools sensitive to the needs of families who are struggling financially? Is the financial aid adequate in reaching a proportionate number of financially disadvantaged Muslim families?
- Have Islamic schools made a reasonable effort to assess and accommodate learning differences?
- Do Islamic schools simply ignore, under serve, or dismiss special learning needs on the basis that it does not have the resources? Is this still a legitimate stance?
- Do Islamic schools have a process for students and/or families to report (or simply talk to someone in trust) about feelings of being isolated, bullied, or not fully included due to perceived differences?
- Do Islamic schools have a qualified school counselor who can help address issues of identity, feelings of isolation, depression, bullying, etc. in students while also mobilizing
the attention and resources of the administration?
An honest reflection and discussion on questions such as these will serve as the first step toward examining some of our long-held assumptions about Islamic schools and help initiate new strategies and approaches for broadening the capacity of our schools to serve the whole community.
As a board member of the ISLA, Mr. Moes left the gathering hoping that his organization could serve to facilitate ways to carry such discussions forward on a larger scale, such as through its professional development workshops or annual Leadership Retreats. These are among the issues that our fellow educators are grappling with in other American schools. A
s with any professional development conference, the OESE School Leadership Summit was also a wonderful opportunity to network with colleagues and develop new relationships to sustain ongoing professional growth and support. Mr. Moes came away from this gathering with novel approaches and resources gained from interacting with the other principals and leaders that he had the opportunity to work with at this event.
Organizations like ISLA and the Council for Islamic Schools in North America (CISNA), which was also represented at the conference by its Executive Director, Sufia Azmat, invest time and money in these national conferences in order to ensure that leadership from Islamic schools is always represented at such events, sharing in learning opportunities on the most pressing needs affecting schools across the United States.