Greetings, everyone! My name is Toni Woodlon and I am thrilled to join the Higher Achievement team as its first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)! Having now been part of the team for about two months, I feel affirmed in my decision to join this organization and work alongside so many dedicated and talented people.
As an educator and DEI practitioner who has spent my entire life and career in Baltimore, Maryland, I am no stranger to nonprofit organizations that do good work in dynamic communities and cities like my hometown. In fact, I have worked with several nonprofit organizations in Baltimore to close the opportunity gap for scholars, their families, and communities. Therefore, Higher Achievement’s mission and commitment to equitable outcomes for scholars have felt so familiar. Much like Higher Achievement’s commitment to DEI and the impactful work the organization has already engaged in, my own journey began with scholars in mind.
I can recall my first day as a classroom teacher. I entered the room, thinking I knew what I needed to give my scholars. I knew what I was going to teach them. I knew the lessons I wanted them to walk away with. My lesson plans were scripted and I. Was. Ready. However, even after all the planning and preparation I had poured into making the first day of school – the first day of my career – a successful one, I was not adequately prepared for all that my scholars would teach me and all the lessons they would leave me with. I had not considered all the ways our classroom culture would be shaped by them and their experiences. I had not even thought about the extent to which the classroom was theirs – or ours. Further, I never even realized that my DEI journey began on that day.
Over the years, after that very first day of school as a teacher, I continued on my journey and remained committed to ensuring that I worked with scholars and their families to co-create learning environments that represent them, celebrate them, and challenge them to be the best versions of themselves. I wrote curriculum and assessments that invited my scholars in, rather than leave them out. As a middle school assistant principal, I sought new ways to positively impact school culture and foster a sense of community and belonging. As an instructional coach and teacher mentor, I partnered with other educators to build capacity in them as they, too, worked to bring about educational equity. As a DEI consultant and facilitator, I have led shared learning experiences for schools, nonprofits, and government organizations that seek diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities. Most importantly, I have continued to do the self-work necessary for me to be challenged and grow in my understanding of what it means to truly be a steward of this work.
I am honored that, while Higher Achievement is a new part of my journey, I am also part of Higher Achievement’s journey. Although this work is never-ending, I look forward to the years ahead, learning and leading together. I invite you to reach out and chat with me about what you love about Higher Achievement and ways we may collaborate to continue to move the organization forward.
Toni Woodlon, Ed.D.