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Toxic School Environments Make Teachers Sick

Is your workplace a toxic environment? If there is more than one person per week out sick in your department, chances are it is. Before I left teaching one of the primary problems was the inability to take an actual sick day. You know, the kind when you are really sick. If I needed to take a sick day for myself or to attend to my daughter, my ethical compass would steer me away from that decision. My daughter and I ended up in school many times when we were unwell. This did, I admit, cause some resentment towards peers who seemed to take an average of at least two days off per month. While my sick days were building up, so was my stress level.

Cognitively, I understood why there were so many teachers out each week. Yet, I did not see the district or my school in particular doing anything to fix the problem. None of these teachers were bad teachers. It is just that education has gotten to the point that what is actually taught is irrelevant, and as long as students can be trained to pass tests like seals jumping through hoops, we do not need to invest a great deal of time immersing them into complicated plot lines, or delving into characters to determine motive. No, all we have to do is to make sure students are able to accurately identify which key term is associated with a cold passage read, and viola! We have done our jobs.

The sick days were needed because the toxicity of the school environment, of the district expectations which do not at all seem fitting with what I observed at the state or national level. So, the sick days are real because creativity is atrophying at lightning speed for teachers in our schools.

 On any given Friday as many as 25 teachers were out of a total of 290. That is nearly 10% of the teaching staff. By Wednesday each week what I began to call the “guilt” emails were circulating letting teachers know how many had already asked for Friday off. These emails ran up stress levels for many, myself included. You see, when my students came to my class after having at least one sub, and at times two on Friday, they were bored and restless. However, I had an engaging lesson ready to go, or more than likely an essay test or some activity to assess what was learned that week. Yes, even though their course scores did not factor into how well I was doing as a teacher, I knew that how they were doing in my class did matter to them.

 My soldering on ended up getting the better of me, however, because I was not taking time off from an environment that was becoming increasingly toxic. The overall lack of trust between administration and teachers was palpable, and it was permeating what had once been strong bonds between teachers. How can you trust your colleagues when you are having to lose your planning period at least once per week to cover their classes; and sometimes, when you are sick yourself?

 When situations like this occur in schools or other work environments, it is not because the teachers or employees are bad people, or are even irresponsible people. It is because leadership has either brought or introduced a toxin into the environment. When people love and are excited about their jobs, they do not miss work. There was never one meeting with the faculty at large or with individual departments to talk about the illness that was causing the need for sick days. There was no leadership accountability.

 When the work environment is toxic, it is trickle down. Toxic leadership leads to a toxic environment. Teachers need to be allowed their creativity for more than meeting a lettered standard. Good teachers meet those standards every day without having to write them on a board, or put them into a formalized lesson plan.

 If chefs in the finest restaurants were told they all had to cook the same meals on the same days, and that they had to survey restaurant patrons to collect data to determine if they were going to be allowed to be chefs anymore…they would take sick days too.

 One of the reasons for toxicity in the work environment is a lack of true diversity and inclusion. The current climate of many schools is that teachers are supposed to be the same, what I call Stepford Teachers, yet they are to differentiate the “standard fare” for their diverse classrooms so that every student can learn the same thing, and be able to apply it in the same way on a standardized test. That class is an example of a paradox. 

 If teachers cannot be diverse – using their individuality, their uniqueness and creativity – to diversify the lessons organically, then the entire concept of differentiation is missed. Teachers become teachers because they are creative people who have a desire to share their knowledge with others. Their knowledge, not what has been boxed and properly labeled for them.





Diversity and Inclusion Executive Summary for Cobb County School District, GA

Diversity and Community

Diverse Communities are Strong Communities

CCSD: One Goal, One Community Strong

Diversity for the Future of All

2017-2018 Diversity and Inclusion Plan

On Behalf of a Diverse and Growing Community


Submitted by

Jacqueline Burnett-Brown, PhD


May 17, 2017




Cobb County School District’s Mission Statement Slogan is: One Team, One Goal. Their overall mission statement is Success for All Students. However, there is no sustainable Diversity & Inclusion Plan for Cobb County School District, one of the largest and most racially and culturally diverse districts in the state of GA. Students of color, differing cultures, and those with learning disabilities show the lowest academic performance of all CCSD students. A strong push towards actual inclusion of ALL students, teachers, and staff in an actionable, sustainable, and measureable way will increase student as well as teacher performance throughout the district. Research supports that when education systems adopt a multi-cultural approach to the curriculum, teachers feel more confident and students thrive (1).


To achieve Cobb County School District’s primary objective of student achievement, there needs to be an implementation of district-wide diversity & inclusion initiatives into the Cobb County School District to include all leadership, teachers, and staff.

A Plan Designed for A Diverse School and Community

The current Diversity and Inclusion statement employed by the district has a permanent residence on the school district’s website. It is not a living instrument, the stated goals are in black and white, but they are not voiced to teachers, students, or parents. Diversity and Inclusion is more than lip service, it is more than annual cultural days and Black History Month. The proposed D&I plan is designed to take a top down approach to the implementation of diversity and inclusion from the district office, to the board members, each school, every teacher, student, parent, volunteer, support staff employed, as well as the community at large.

The Cost of Diversity

  • The district will generate a budget for salaried diversity and inclusion personnel.
  • The district will generate a budget for materials and technology to support D&I training initiatives.
  • The district will generate a budget for social and local media advertising of their D&I initiative.
  • The district will generate a budget for the recruitment and hiring of a diverse leadership, teaching, and support staff.
  • The district will generate a budget for multicultural text books and other academic resources.
  • The district will generate a schedule and budget for teacher professional learning days to be allocated for D&I training outside of normal school days.

The Benefits of Inclusion

Teachers feel more free to teach in an environment where they are free to discuss issues of race, culture, gender, and other differences2. When these are treated as controversial topics, and therefore considered taboo, it stifles teacher as well as student creativity (3). When teachers are teaching under the myth that they should be color (4) politically, and gender blind, they are teaching under oppression as they are disallowed the necessity as well as joy of seeing their students. Teachers are asked to differentiate, but are not allowed to discuss the ways in which we are all different (5), or to advocate for the rights to those differences (6,7).

In addition to culture and race, it is vital that gender, gender identity (8), and learning and physical disabilities9 are interwoven into the vision statement as well as the curriculum.

Infusing multiculturalism into the curriculum is inclusive of all students, as it allows them to react and interact with one another in a real and measurable way. Students of color and differing cultures often feel the curriculum is not designed for them, but rather for their White American counter-parts (10). Students who recognize their history and their culture11 in the curriculum are more motivated to learn (12), than when they do not.

Research supports that inclusive school environments have less turn-over of teachers13, especially teachers of color (14) and when there is less turnover with the faculty, and they are a part of the community, students and parents have more confidence in the schools and district (15).

Diversity and Inclusion: The Responsibility of Every One

The proposed diversity and inclusion initiative is a top down approach that begins with elected officials: District Superintendent, Chris Ragsdale and board members, as well as HR, district support staff, district and local school leadership.

It is only with total buy in from Mr. Ragsdale down that this initiative can work, so that the district slogan: One Team, One Goal: Student Success becomes a reality.


Milestone 1. Director of D & I hired or appointed within 3 months

Milestone 2. Broad publication of D&I initiatives and revised mission statement within 6 months

Milestone 3. All elected officials – Superintendent and Board members as well as District, Local School Leadership will reflect in word, deed, and their own diversity the D&I initiatives and mission statement within two years.


1 Jacqueline Burnett-Brown, Racial Dialogues: A Phenomenological Study of Difficult Dialogues from the Perspective of High School English Teachers (Northcentral University, 2014), http://search.proquest.com/openview/c9f429614a0306c789151930462db1bb/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y.

2 Ibid.

3 Kamilla L. Venner and Steven P. Verney, “Motivational Interviewing: Reduce Student Reluctance and Increase Engagement in Learning Multicultural Concepts,” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 46, no. 2 (April 2015): 116–23, doi:http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.1037/a0038856.

4 Angie Beeman, “Walk the Walk but Don’t Talk the Talk: The Strategic Use of Color-Blind Ideology in an Interracial Social Movement Organization,” Sociological Forum 30, no. 1 (March 2015): 127–47, doi:10.1111/socf.12148.

5 Derek Cavilla and Belle Wallace, “Thoughts on Access, Differentiation, and Implementation of a Multicultural Curriculum,” Gifted Education International 30, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 281–87, doi:10.1177/0261429413486576.

6 Burnett-Brown, Racial Dialogues.

7 Steven J. Sandage, Sarah Crabtree, and Maria Schweer, “Differentiation of Self and Social Justice Commitment Mediated by Hope,” Journal of Counseling & Development 92, no. 1 (January 2014): 67–74, doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00131.x.

8 Sara Staley and Bethy Leonardi, “Leaning In to Discomfort: Preparing Literacy Teachers for Gender and Sexual Diversity,” Research in the Teaching of English; Urbana 51, no. 2 (November 2016): 209–29.

9 Deborah L. Voltz and Loucrecia Collins, “Preparing Special Education Administrators for Inclusion in Diverse, Standards-Based Contexts: Beyond the Council for Exceptional Children and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium,” Teacher Education and Special Education 33, no. 1 (February 1, 2010): 70–82, doi:10.1177/0888406409356676.

10 Venner and Verney, “Motivational Interviewing.”

11 Thomas S. Dee and Emily K. Penner, “The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance,” American Educational Research Journal 54, no. 1 (February 1, 2017): 127–66, doi:10.3102/0002831216677002.

12 Terry Meier, “‘The Brown Face of Hope’: Reading Engagement and African American Boys,” The Reading Teacher 68, no. 5 (February 2015): 335–43, doi:10.1002/trtr.1310.

13 Susan Fairchild et al., “White and Black Teachers’ Job Satisfaction: Does Relational Demography Matter?,” Urban Education 47, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 170–97, doi:10.1177/0042085911429582.

14 Betty Achinstein et al., “Retaining Teachers of Color: A Pressing Problem and a Potential Strategy for ‘Hard-to-Staff’ Schools,” Review of Educational Research 80, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 71–107, doi:10.3102/0034654309355994.

15 Sadaf Naz, Mohammad Majid Mehmood Bagram, and Shahzad Khan, “Impact of Teacher Turn over on Students Motivation, Psyche and Performance,” International Review of Management and Business Research; Peshawar 1, no. 1 (December 2012): 26–46.

14 Betty Achinstein et al., “Retaining Teachers of Color: A Pressing Problem and a Potential Strategy for ‘Hard-to-Staff’ Schools,” Review of Educational Research 80, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 71–107, doi:10.3102/0034654309355994.

15 Sadaf Naz, Mohammad Majid Mehmood Bagram, and Shahzad Khan, “Impact of Teacher Turn over on Students Motivation, Psyche and Performance,” International Review of Management and Business Research; Peshawar 1, no. 1 (December 2012): 26–46.


Teachers: Seeing Color Is Seeing Your Students


Teachers who work the hardest for their students of color are often under appreciated, more often than not, harassed and bullied out of education. These are the stories that make good non-fiction.

School systems that expect teachers and students to march to the drumbeat of the White Status Quo are killing creativity in both teachers and students.

Learning begins with building relationships. A teacher cannot expect students to be attuned to concepts and principles of the curriculum if they do not feel there is a purpose for their being in the classroom. Passing the course is not an objective, nor is it a purpose. Students should look forward to entering the classroom whether it is a subject excelled in or one in which they have had previous failures. The teacher at the podium makes that distinction.

A teacher who effectively builds meaningful and lasting relationships with students is the teacher who sees the best work ethic, attitudes, and performance of each student. Students can sense when a teacher is excited about the art of teaching, and the empowerment of learning. This dynamic combination is experienced fully when students know the individual at the podium has a stake in student outcomes, personal as well as academic. Even in larger instructional environments, the teacher who is well-versed in the skill of relationship building can generate a positive and personal force with students, thus engaging them on both the personal and academic levels. When students see the investment of self on the part of their teacher, then they are more likely to invest themselves.

The academic success of students is predicated upon many factors. The level of education and teaching skills of the teacher is never to be minimized; however, individuals who leave the halls of academia for their prospective professions do not remember the teacher whose students had the highest test scores, they remember the teacher who had the ability to make each student feel seen and heard.

This involves: Seeing color. When well-meaning teachers tell their students they do not see color, they are saying, “I do not see you.”

When Crickets Chirp

CCSD has still not responded to my Diversity & Inclusion Plan. An AP is suing for religious discrimination, I was railroaded out for the same reason, 90% of the kids in ISS/OSS are of color. What Gives CCSD?


Diversity is More than Lip Service!: A Message to Cobb County School District, and All GA School Districts

Dr. Burnett-Brown’s Proposed Diversity & Inclusion Initiative for CCSD vs. CCSD Current Cliché D&I Plan: Let’s Get Real With it Cobb County School District! As a former teacher in this system, and a mother to a child in the system, I am calling on all teachers, staff, parents, students and the various commuities impacted by Cobb County School District to call for action.

I, as a former CCSD teacher who was not respected for my differences, and who was constantly questioned regarding my athiesm, i.e., “If you do not beleive in God, how do you know to do the right thing?” Yes, I was asked this question by one of my principals. This is just one of the many ways my civil liberties were violated.

This plan calls for action and diveristy initiaves from the Top down, beginning with a Board that truly represents Cobb County School students and parents.  

Cobb County Parents and Community Members: Challenge CCSD to incorporate REAL actionable Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives and hold its principals accountable. 

Goal 1: To implement diversity & inclusion initiatives into the CC School District Schools to include all leadership, teachers, and staff.

Goal 1 sub-goals:

  • Hire a diversity & inclusion consultant to perform an evaluation of current diversity & inclusion status of district from the district office to the local schools.
  • Conduct external talent search for credentialed diversity & inclusion consultant/trainer to work at the district level office as an outsource to train district personnel.
  • Conduct internal and external talent search for credential diversity & inclusion director who will continue the D&I goals on an ongoing basis.
  • Leadership and management at the district level will work closely with D&I consultant with openness and transparency so that evaluation will garner the most authentic results.
  • HR will work closely with D&I consultant, district leadership, and principals from local schools to provide accurate data in order to garner the most authentic results.
  • District will recruit, hire, and retain teachers who are visually and culturally representative of the student body and community in which each school is located.

Goal 2: To increase diversity in district leadership and board members by 20% within two years.

Goal 2 sub-goals:

  • Create mission statement that integrates D&I goals at every level
  • Begin campaign to recruit diverse leadership
  • Invite community stake-holders to nominate or run for board membership with the stated goal in mind of having a board that is culturally reflective of all students and their families.

Goal 3. Develop and deliver ongoing diversity & inclusion training for leadership, principals, teachers, and all staff in the district office as well as in the local K-12 schools.

Goal 3 sub-goals:

  • Appoint designee at each local school who will report to principal who will then in turn report to diversity & inclusion director
  • Teachers, school counselors will receive initial and ongoing D&I training to include multicultural objectives for instruction.
  • All staff to include campus police, office personnel, custodial, cafeteria, substitute teachers, and community volunteers will receive initial and ongoing D&I training
  • Each local school will provide D&I lessons and activities to students, encourage support groups, and make D&I the objective for each day.
  • D&I initiatives and vision statements will become on ongoing part of district and local school communications.

Goal 4: District and local schools will conduct community outreach to include families of diverse  cultures, languages, and other nationalities.

  • Schools will be broadly promoted as “safe havens” for students of ALL nationalities, ethnicities, races, religions, genders, and gender preferences.
  • Schools will not promote dominate race, religions, or political beliefs above all others.
  • Schools will honor separation of Church & State in all their operations; sporting events, to incude practices, and any event that is led by a school employee, and also in regard to outside groups allowed on the campus, i.e., there will be no proselytizing from groups such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes on school campuses or during sporting activities. 

Goal 5: District will conduct ongoing assessment of D&I goals to ensure they are meeting the needs  of all employees, volunteers, students, families, and community.

  • District and local schools will conduct surveys, focus groups, and “town halls” in which student families and community members are encouraged to participate.
  • District will make public the results of all survey data.

Responsible for overseeing each goal:

Goal 1. Search Team/D&I Consultant

Goal 2. D&I Director, District and School Leadership

 Goal 3. D&I Director

Goal 4. Principals of each local school.

Goal 5. Principals of each local school

The deadline for each goal: 

Goal 1. Within 3 months

Goal 2. Within 2 years

Goal 3. Within 6 months

Goal 4. Within 3 months

Goal 4. Within 6 months

The deadline for Sub-goal 1: Within 6 months

The deadline for Sub-goal 2: Within 2 years

The deadline for Sub-goal 3: Within one year

The deadline for Sub-goal 4: Within 6 months

The deadline for Sub-goal 5: Within 1 year and bi-annually

The top 3 things that needs to be done to achieve each goal are:

Milestone 1. Director of D & I hired or appointed.

Milestone 2. Broad publication of D&I initiatives and revised mission statement

Milestone 3. All elected officials – Superintendent and Board members will reflect in word, deed, and their own diversity the D&I initiatives and mission statement.