As I excitedly stepped into my new teaching position in what was touted as a high achieving suburban school district, I felt honored to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of a new population of learners. Well, it didn’t take long for me to notice the disparities in performance; the inconsistencies in expectations between white and non-white students. I was baffled by the fact that this group of students that I gushingly described as bright, intelligent, creative beings, had not all been appropriately educated or nurtured by those teachers who had come before me. How could it be that students who had been together since pre-kindergarten, in a school full of opportunities were not all proficient in reading and math?
As I began to question the data, listened to how others spoke to and about kids, and engaged in very direct, sometimes difficult conversations, it became abundantly clear that equity, both educational and relational, was missing. What was more alarming was that it didn’t appear as though anyone was prepared to do much about it. Had teachers been taught the importance of creating an equitable classroom climate along with how to create one, I'm convinced that academic achievement would have been attained by all students.
For an environment to be conducive to the growth and success of all students, the foundational and daily practices, principles and expectations must be rooted in equity; doing what’s right and fair.
That may seem like a subjective idea because what may seem right or fair to one may not be seen as right and fair by another. Can I venture out and say this doesn’t have to be the case? A proper understanding of equity should be objective: one based on facts and unbiased.
Cultivating an equitable climate is one of the greatest commitments a school can make.
It is a set-up for success and it places a high level of value on each student. So how do we create that type of environment and what are the ramifications when we don’t?
An equitable climate is established when schools are built on equitable principles and have equity at the very core of daily operations. This environment is saturated in freedoms, respect, optimism, and impartiality; one where all limitations or barriers have been removed, and all students are encouraged to be the very best version of themselves.
As I reflect on my time as a classroom teacher, I can honestly say that I had no clue I was being equitable when I was doing what was right and necessary for each student. To me there was never a one size fits all approach. Each student was unique so it was my job to meet their unique needs. I took the time to really get to know my students and I allowed that knowledge and acceptance of who they were, to influence my interactions and expectations of them. For example, after reading a novel together as a class, the criteria for the final project was presented. The learning styles of the students varied, so I provided them the opportunity to decide how to show their learning. They were given a variety of options to reveal mastery of skills but if the options I presented didn’t fit their needs, the students were able to propose another idea. Giving them a voice in this way was an equitable practice. Allowing this choice in no way lowered the expectations for any of my students.
In an equitable environment, everything is done and said in a way that conveys the message that success is not only available to all but made possible and intended for all.
To create an equitable environment, one must be intentional. It is not a societal norm to cultivate and ensure equity for all people, therefore it takes willful efforts.
When trying to determine if your classroom or school is operating equitably, here are some things to consider.
Practices, policies, and expectations are fair for all. (You can use Equity Lens Consultants Equity Screener to help you determine this)
Words spoken are affirming and full of hope. They speak the best about people therefore positively affecting them. Language is a vital component of an equitable environment.
Opportunities for all to thrive. There is no favoritism, partiality, or bias. Everyone is given the necessary resources to excel.
Favorable conditions exist for all. For example, in a school, all students are given what they need to excel and failure is simply not allowed.
Let’s be determined to create an equitable environment for our students. If you believe in equity for all, let that light a fire under you to help make the world a more equitable place.