Despite what many may believe, inequity in education did not originate during the pandemic. The truth is the schooling of students of color has not included equitable practices since its inception. We say that we no longer have separate but equal methods. However, if we were taking a long, hard look how would your school really measure up? Consider whether your school offers the same level of courses as other schools within your district, has access to the latest technology, types of books, school funding, etc. Ask yourself, do parents in your district have to work to get their children into schools because only a few of them offer certain classes or opportunities that are not available at all schools? Based on these things, what rating would your school or district receive? While many education leaders may not set out to create inequitable environments, we must admit that inequities exist, work to identify them, and help everyone understand why these practices should be stopped. This is the only way we will be able to work to close the achievement gaps and truly create racially equitable atmospheres for all of our students. Each day school leaders strive to reverse–and not add to–the inequities which are already deeply rooted within the educational structure of our country.
Although most educators acknowledge an equitable environment is important, do we, as school leaders truly understand how to develop a racially equitable culture? When you look up the word “equity,” you will find words such as fair, just, unbiased, and inclusion. Tracy Ore, author of The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality, defines racial equity as the circumstance that would be accomplished if one’s racial identity was not a factor, in a statistical sense, used to project how one fares. In society when people say this term, it is based on the premise of racial equity being part of racial justice. Hence, it is expected to consist of things such as addressing the root cause of the inequity instead of simply focusing on its origin.
Take a look at the example below. Then reflect on the depth of your school’s protocol for conducting a root cause analysis.
Additionally, requiring the removal of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages which emphasize disparity in outcomes by race or neglects to remove them. If we consider the root cause analysis in the figure above, one of the root causes revealed School XYZ being suspended at a rate that is three times that of the other subgroups. If the school focuses only on adding in systems and scaffolds to help the African American students with academic interventions without addressing the practices, attitudes, and school-wide policies which led to this occurring, the racial inequities will likely continue to be present.
Every person within your building should feel included, valued, and know they belong (Cobb and Knownapple, 2019). For school leaders, when working to foster racial equity your overall goal should be to create an environment that promotes equity, diversity, and antiracism among everyone in the building. This type of environment does not occur by happenstance. It must be nurtured, encouraged, inspected, and expected from all. Creating this kind of atmosphere is delicate and decisive work, which requires intentionally planning out how each aspect looks and sounds within the school.
4 Ways To Become A More Equitable School and District
Refrain from assuming every person in your school has the same beliefs regarding what racial equity should look and feel like within the school. We all have unconscious biases that we are not aware of. Many of which we have become “so comfortable with that we ultimately adapt to and embrace stereotypes, rooting them so deeply that they’re passed along unquestioned to each new generation, over decades, and centuries” (Eberhardt, 2019, p. 35). To determine the underlying beliefs that your staff have regarding equity, consider using Insight ADVANCE’s Racial Equity Framework Walkthrough Tool to conduct 15 to 30-minute visits to multiple classrooms with your Instructional Leadership Team. This tool examines the beliefs, practices, and policies that have been adopted within your school’s culture and community.
Although your team may prefer to do them in person, one of the most powerful ways to examine classroom practice is through the use of video. Video technology will afford you and your team the opportunity to revisit and review certain portions. Doing this will support taking a deep-dive into what was seen and heard. It will also ensure the leadership teams views of the overall expectations are calibrated. This way, the entire team will be able to assist in helping to create an equitable culture throughout the school.
Just as everyone may have their own set of beliefs regarding racial equity, the same is likely true when discussing terms related to race and equity. One way to avoid the ambiguous vocabulary trap is to bring your entire staff together and discuss what each term means. Having each member of the staff present will help to minimize any misunderstanding of what is intended for each term that your staff deems important within this work. If your school has not already created a list, RacialEquityTools.com has a comprehensive databank of terms you can use to get started. Regardless of which terms you choose, the intent is to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of each of them. Comprehending these terms will also help staff, who have not experienced these things, build background knowledge and be able to contribute to the conversation. The book, The Skin You Are In: Colorism in the Black Community, has an in-depth companion guide built for schools to use as they begin to discuss race. A book study is a great way to provide context to racially specific terms and build background knowledge.
Research suggests the establishment of norms could help promote equity and diversity. Authors Singleton and Linton suggested using these four norms in their book, Courageous Conversations About Race (2006): stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak your truth, and accept non-disclosure. It takes courage to authentically have conversations about race in any setting. Therefore, leaders will need to carefully construct inclusive spaces where staff feel comfortable speaking openly about this topic. This will help everyone remain “connected ethically, psychologically, and mentally with everyone in the conversation” (White, 2020, p. 117). To help staff get used to experiencing discomfort, it would help if the leader or someone on the leadership team framed the conversation by providing a real-life example of a time they experienced discomfort and how they moved passed these feelings. If this is not possible, some form of media, print or video, could be used to depict the same level of discomfort and adjustment. No one likes to feel uncomfortable. Race discussions have been avoided for years because of this specific reason. Whichever norms you choose, this one is vitally important. Not only will it demonstrate your own vulnerability with the staff, but using forms of media will also help to build empathy. If they have not had any of these experiences, stories, videos, and pictures will assist everyone with forming an empathetic viewpoint.
Respect is an expectation within all settings. As society has long accepted inequitable practices as the norm, many of your staff, especially people of color, will abstain from sharing their true feelings on topics of race for fear that it will be frowned upon or not accepted by all involved. To get to the root causes of the belief systems within your building, it will be essential for everyone to speak truthfully about how they feel or have felt within your school. The last norm will be the hardest. We have become accustomed to resolving all issues, or at the very least creating action steps to help us solve and confront obstacles. Leaders will need to stress that challenges involving race will likely take many on-going conversations to get to a resolution.
A lot of information has been shared. Don’t feel obligated to integrate each one in your school tomorrow. I encourage you to start slow. These practices have been in place for many generations, so it will take time for you and your staff to create the type of racially equitable atmosphere you are seeking. These steps outlined above are not meant to be an all-encompassing list of strategies to establish a racially equitable culture. Beginning with these key processes will help you foster a culture where everyone understands the expectations, has explicit knowledge of the vocabulary regarding race, and includes set protocols for sharing views, opinions, and values. Gradually working to shift the racial culture and embedding the practice of routinely gathering equity data will ultimately result in your school becoming a place where inclusion, belonging, and dignity are embraced by all.