In light of the recent events that have significantly impacted society, all segments, systems have been called to question policies and practices surrounding race, discrimination, institutional and structural bias. We have been forced to reflect on our own personal biases and efforts made to confront and address them. Whether children, adults or families comprise the audience, equity and inclusion, as a component of social justice, must become a defining characteristic of the services we deliver and the work we do.
In education, we must examine how we ensure equity and fairness for every student and family to help maximize learning in school settings? To begin, we must look at the outcomes. The promise of education should be that race, location, income or background, does not dictate or limit a student’s success. Recognizing that every student is unique, and comes from different circumstances, backgrounds and experiences, we must take care that our expectations of achievement do not fluctuate. The goal is to ensure that every child is fully equipped with the essential skills for life beyond and after school.
It is essential to understand the demographics of your community. Examining that data alone can guide you to asking more informed questions about achievement patterns.
- Where do different racial and ethnic students live in your community?
- What are the housing patterns and the history of those patterns?
- Who is being identified for special education?
- What are the attendance patterns at different levels and the graduation rates?
- Which students participate in which programs?
- What is the racial makeup of various advanced placement classes? Accordingly, do you offer advanced placement instructional programming in your school? Making no excuses, why or why not?
- Which students are being disciplined most often, and how and why?
To begin assessing the equity in your environment, ask these questions, as well:
- How does ‘this’ practice impact all learners?
- What might create a negative or adverse impact on any identifiable population?
- How might you avoid these adverse impacts?
- What precautions will you take moving forward?
- How do you monitor your progress to ensure comparable high outcomes for all students?
Every school possesses the tools to achieve more equitable outcomes. Starting with a clear vision of success that includes the success of every child, it is imperative that you develop clear, specific goals for student performance. Having a compelling vision is the beginning, if you want to be successful.
- How are the various student groups doing in your school? The boys? The girls?
- What are you doing to improve the learning and learning experiences of these different groups?
- How will you know when progress is being made and you are reaching your goals?
These are not closed questions, but rather open-ended questions to make you think in specifics. With clear focus, equally focused answers emerge.
Consider staff influence on equity and achievement outcomes[the process is critical]. Do not dismiss the influence that implicit bias has on learning outcomes, classroom behavior, attendance and disciplinary practices. In a comparative analysis, are students engaging in lessons? Which students are engaged most often? Explore that on a deeper level than simply attributing any noticeable engagement patterns in a student’s distracted stance or inattentiveness to the home environment and leave that door open without asking further questions. Is your focus on what you need from them or what they may need from you?
- Are you authentically engaging all learners? Their parents and caregivers? How do you know; what are the signs?
- Are you affirming your students on a daily basis? How do you know? Have you asked the learners themselves, or their parents?
- How do you ensure that the learners feel safe and that they belong in the environment? Against what do you measure this? Be specific with your answers.
- In what ways do you demonstrate respect for diversity and how do you ensure all children feel included and appreciated?
- What are the specific ways that you communicate encouragement, acceptance and understanding to students?
- How are students’ voices heard? Is there a designated safe space where students can voice their opinions, make suggestions, and know that they will be appropriately addressed? How will they know that they are heard?
- Is there a suggestion box, easily accessible, for students, staff and families to leave their ideas and comments in and around the school? Is there an online portal for them to do so? If these exist, how often are they read and addressed? Is it anonymous, language friendly?
- Do you ensure that there is no digital or device gap among learners? In what specific ways? How do you address these issues?
Now, regarding teaching and other support staff.
- Do you provide spaces for staff to come together and support one another’s efforts to advance achievement? How often does your staff
- Is there an open door policy for staff to seek consultation from administrators?
- Does the staff feel free to ask questions, and comment on sensitive topics without fear of reprisals or judgment? Do they feel supported?
- Do you fight for funding and access to supplemental instructional materials for staff who wish to broaden their scope of lesson design or context? Is there a designated grant writer in your school who can identify organizations as potential resources to help meet budgetary demands?
- Where and how is student diversity equitably recognized and appreciated around the building, in books, lessons, and acknowledged in the classroom? What about school-wide events and activities? Do they celebrate diversity in culturally responsive ways?
- Are staff, students, families, and community stakeholders included in school and district-level decision-making, event planning?
- How frequently do you consult with parents about their desires and concerns? Is your idea of authentic engagement approached from a top-down leadership model, a bottom-up or a hybrid approach where partnerships are central?
- Is your school the hub and a vital member of your community, a place where what is sought to capture is ‘buy-in’ and not ‘allowed in’?
The notion of ‘inclusion‘ as it pertains to diversity, sits right at the heart of social justice, equity and anti-racist teaching and policies. It is much more than a buzzword, and it is always actionable. It requires effort, consistency and fidelity. It demands that we employ conscious awareness, dedication and commitment to raise the bar in all we do, think and say. It is a way to be that encourages everyone to reflect, empathize and if necessary, revise our perceptions and perspectives on the ways we respect differences that exist between humans. It requires that we assume existence of strengths to build upon and leverage the value alongside and in collaboration with others in every environment-inside and out, top to bottom.
These are but a few questions to ask and consider as education strives towards being an equitable, quality-filled learning construct, in theory and practice. We must entertain the probability that the parameters will have to be deconstructed, re-imagined, humanized and de-politicized and then reconstructed to demonstrate comprehensive equity throughout . This is to happen without fear, with attending skills armed with authentically unselfish intent and always with our focus on the process, as a vehicle to progress and positive outcomes.
Children are heavily influenced by school settings. Thus, this is the perfect environment in which we must demonstrate that the world is not as unfair as they may have already heard from their parents’ adult conversations. They represent the change, and schools represent the change agents. If we do not begin by asking and answering those important questions, are we really creating solutions? What will we do when the voices of protest come to hold us accountable as being educationally negligent? We cannot blame the ‘system’ as being broken; it works as intended. Finally, WE are the system, and if indeed ‘broken’, every area needing repair, revision or replacement, is within our power to get it done.