Wednesday, May 2, 2012

equity consciousness

The knowledge and skills to educate all children already exist... There are no pedagogical barriers to teaching and learning when willing people are prepared and made available to children. If we embrace a will to excellence, we can deeply restructure education in ways that will enable teachers to release the full potential of all our children. 
- Asa G. Hillard

Something I've been working on lately with teachers is to think about education in terms of equity instead of equality. The difference may be subtle to some, but to me, this is a huge shift in mindset. Equity is about providing the necessary and often different support and resources to ensure that all students can achieve high standards, which is different, then, to treating all students equally.

Your school may have a data team or may even have an equity team in order to wrestle with how to put this mindset to practice in the classroom. What we know from lots of data on schools in Minnesota that your data team might be looking at is that despite our efforts, we have not made enough progress to meet the needs of students of color in our classrooms. When we hold consistent for factors such as SES, students of color continue to fair worse on assessment measures, indicating we still have much more work to be done.

So what can you do? I'll be coming back to this topic several more times in the coming months, but for now, at this point in the school year, I think reflecting on your current practices and building a habit of thinking about equity is the best place to start.

One place I go to in order to prompt my thinking about culturally responsive teaching and a focus on equity is Teaching Tolerance (a site I've mentioned before), particularly the "Reflective Thinking" section of their website. There are some really interesting activities and writings designed to help you begin thinking about equity and culturally responsive teaching. It's a good place to begin.

You, no doubt, have heard a lot about reflecting in your preparation program, perhaps in a Master's program, or in your professional development at your school. And at times it can seem like an impossible task, given the constraints of time. But maybe while your students are taking the MCAs this week, you can use a little of that downtime to think about these questions to prompt your thinking and raise your awareness of your own teaching for equity.
  • How do I currently attend to gender, race, cultural and socio-economic equity in my
    classroom and school?
  • Who benefits from my current teaching practices and understandings? Do all children, parents and staff benefit equally?
  • What knowledge do I have currently about gender, race, cultural, and socioeconomic equity in my classroom and school?
  • What assumptions am I making about gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity in my classroom and school?
  • How do others in my current workplace understand and respond to the issues of gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity in their daily work?
  • How have I taken account of children's perspectives and experiences on this issue? Do I know what the students understand about gender, race, culture, and class?
  • How have I taken account of parents' perspectives and experiences on this issue? Do I know what parents understand about gender, race, culture, and class?
  • What are the differences between how I understand the issues of gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity and how others I work with understand them?
  • Whose interests are served by how I currently understand and practice gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity?
  • How might I challenge my current understandings and teaching practices and bring new insights to them?
  • What in my current understandings and teaching practices might restrict the possibilities I have for working more equitably?
  • What would I risk by working on a daily basis to promote gender, race, cultural, and socio-economic equity in my classroom and school?
**Adapted from the Centre for Equity and Innovation
Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

These are difficult questions to answer, sometimes because we aren't satisfied by the answers we're able to give. As I stated in the post on Teaching Trayvon Martin, students are interested in talking about race, equity, and culture, and they need opportunities to have structured conversations about these topics with caring adults (that's you!). 

I have found that the more time and energy I spend reflecting on these questions, the more capable and confident I am at leading conversations about equity in my own teaching. The questions posed here will have a different answer on different days, and every year you teach, your experience will lead you to different conclusions about your current understandings and evolving teaching practices. The value in this practice doesn't lie in the answers, but the willingness to engage.

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