Three Ways to Smash Inequity
By Pamela Hall
Awakening events, like George Floyd’s immoral death on May 25, 2020, gut-punched the world and aroused thinking, talking, listening, and learning. It triggered speaking up and speaking out. It fueled the desire to have conversations around racism and equity.(I hope we never ever forget, and we keep the conversations going backed with actions.)
Equity is a pervasive problem. It’s not new. Arguably, it’s been around since the beginning of time. I’m not an equity expert. I’m an amateur who passionately wants what is best for all kids, and I know it starts with me. Honestly, it’s easier for those of us who have privilege to ignore it because it hurts. It’s easier to stuff my feelings deep down inside and carry on with life as usual. It’s easier to ignore such brutality and injustice occurs, but just because I don’t want to acknowledge it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It does, and we must take a stand.
As educators, we have a moral responsibility to lead and teach with equity. We have a moral duty to meet the needs of all kids. We didn’t sign up to only serve “gifted” kids, or high socioeconomic kids, or favored kids. We signed up for all. We need to reach and teach those dealing with poverty and trauma with the same high expectations and opportunities. We need to reach every single student, regardless of their background or ability, so they have a bright future.
We have a responsibility to role model and teach social justice. We don’t want or need another tragedy such as what happened to George Floyd. As humans, we have a moral allegiance to teach our children and grandchildren equity for all. The U.S. founding fathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: the Right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Every single human deserves those rights and respect, a sense of community, and an education-based upon what they need.
Pedro Noguera, one of my edu-heros because his work resonates with my passion to reach all kids, says educators need cultural competence to meet the needs of all students. So how do we ensure equitable outcomes for all students? We’ve got to begin by addressing equity disparity.
What is equity?
In this recognizable to most illustration, equity clearly showcases giving each learner what they need to be successful. It recognizes all students aren’t the same. On the other hand, equality is giving everyone the same thing regardless of their needs.
Equity is not:
Choosing which students to serve
Treating everyone like they have the same needs.
Equity is providing for all learners. Educators must reach all learners. You’ve heard it before, but based upon the current state of our world, we need to hear it again. All means all!
Have you heard the following definition of insanity? “Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.” Nothing is going to change unless we change.
The following three ways to smash inequity aren’t a cure-all, but they are a good starting point:
“Instead of advancing opportunities, schools are reproducing inequity,” stated Pedro Noguera at a keynote. “How do you know? Ask the following: What kids are advancing and thriving?” Usually it’s students enrolled in AP classes and students whose parents are highly involved. To avoid this trap, have high expectations for all students with supports in place to help everyone achieve.
Don’t dumb down but make learning meaningful and connected to life.
Provide opportunities for higher order thinking skills.
You get what you expect. Expect the best. Scaffold and believe in all learners.
Expect all learners to produce high quality work to demonstrate what they know. Provide opportunities for kind, helpful, and specific feedback from peers and you with time to refine their work. Austin’s Butterfly found on YouTube is an amazing example of what kids can do with constructive feedback. Recently, it took me five rewrites and more time than I remember to produce a 30 second video. No one wants to edit, but editing produces excellence.
Excellence starts by eliminating barriers so all students can learn. Ask the following: What are the barriers? What have we found to overcome barriers? Finding out what works is worth reproducing.
Build a safe environment that builds confidence and competence. Find out which teachers make kids feel confident and competent. Replicate what they do to reach all kids.
Excellence involves teaching and role modeling respect, responsibility, conflict resolution, compassion and honesty which creates healthy school environments and promotes healthy relationships. Meet all basic needs and academic needs.
Create a community rooted in relationships. Learning becomes more powerful when it’s a collective experience. Bring in experts and mentors who represent all kids in your building. Representation is key.
Look at data but don’t dwell on the gap. Use it as a tool to grow strengths and guide instruction. Drilling deficits isn’t motivating and isn’t proven to raise achievement. Instead provide opportunities for students to be in control of learning, and connect learning to life.
Prachi Shah, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, found that elevated curiosity was linked to higher achievement. Kids learn by doing and asking questions. A desire to learn begins with critical thinking. Plan lessons according to these needs.
Create deeper learning experiences by connecting learners to interests. Know your students. Ask questions. Listen. Engage.
Spend time on learning, not achieving for a test score
“How do we know we’re meeting the needs of all kids? We know it when they want more. How often do we hear students say, ‘Wow. What a day! That was inspiring. I want more.’ Our goal as educators is to make learning so meaningful with the correct mix of challenging and doable that it gets kids intrinsically motivated to learn.”1
Learn from each other. Let differences make you stronger instead of divided. I’m an American who is thankful for global experiences. They opened my eyes to a wide variety of cultures. I’ve adopted many others’ sustainable ways of living. Best of all, I learned we may speak different languages and have different physical needs like hair products and food, but deep down we all want to belong, contribute, and be loved.
Beyond doubt, having high expectations, empowering through engagement, and expecting excellence for all learners reduces injustice. I believe every stakeholder needs to make teaching and reaching all kids through equity a goal. Then, and only then, will we smash inequity.
Pamela cares about community and would love to connect with you.
For inspiration on all things education and self-care check out the following: