February 5th, 2021 – by P. Sloan Joseph
If you search the internet or any social media platform, you will find equity is a hot topic. It is included in almost every keynote message at every conference in every state. On Amazon.com, there are currently 783 books about educational equity available for purchase. With access to so much information, why does the equity gap seem to keep widening?
The widening gap doesn’t mean that educators aren’t working towards fixing the problem. Some are engaged in bold, brave conversations with school and district leaders. Others have acknowledged there are inequities, but are uncomfortable and unsure of how they can positively impact change. I’ve worked with both types of educators, and I usually share the five steps I use to keep moving forward in my work as an equity advocate.
It is imperative to begin by consuming reliable information from individuals who have done the research and continue to do the work of equity advocacy. This information will develop your understanding of issues that you may or may not have personally experienced. It has the potential to reduce your uncertainty and positively influence your feelings about engaging with others. If you enjoy reading books, check out “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. If you like podcasts, listen to The Leading Equity Podcast with Dr. Sheldon Eakins. If you enjoy watching videos, go to the TedTalk Youtube channel and enter the phrase education equity. Each resource is filled with research by reputable educators who are committed to creating equitable learning environments throughout our country.
Each time you consume information about equity, it is important to engage in self-reflection which leads to self-awareness. To develop your understanding, you must be honest about your thoughts, words, and actions. Some questions to consider during your reflection:
- What emotions am I feeling while engaging with the information?
- What information did I already know?
- What questions do I still have?
- How do I plan to get the answers to these questions?
- How are my thoughts, words, and actions similar or different than what is being presented?
Engaging in meaningful conversations about equity will help you further process what you have learned during steps 1 (information) and 2 (reflection). It’s important to have discussions with people who have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Sharing and learning with people of your same race, gender, educational status, and experience will stifle your advocacy development. Receiving a variety of perspectives will provide an awareness of historical barriers and their current impact while outlining appropriate actions to bring about change. Twitter chats are one way to begin engaging in equity conversations. These will help build your professional learning network (PLN) locally and around the country. A few I enjoy are #BreatheEDU, #CultureEd, and #MasteryChat.
Now it’s time to put your equity advocacy into action. Not in a performative way, but genuinely taking steps in creating equitable learning environments. Be realistic about what you are willing to do without comparing yourself to other advocates. Don’t be afraid to start small. I believe there is power in doing small great things. For example, make sure you are correctly pronouncing each student’s name. If they say “It doesn’t matter how you pronounce it,” respond with “How does your family pronounce it?” Another example, use resources, like Newsela, to provide access to content on reading levels that best fit students’ needs. In both scenarios, you are making connections with your students and building their competence.
Being an equity advocate is a long-term commitment. It is not something that will be completed after one book, discussion, or interaction. We must be willing to go through each step in the process, over and over again. As you move through each step, mistakes will be made. That’s ok. Progress is the goal, not perfection. Find a fellow equity advocate or an equity coach who will support you and hold you accountable.
By reading this post, you are moving in the right direction toward being an equity advocate. Stay committed to the process and remember you have a community of people who are here for you. Now is the time to decide you will no longer turn a blind eye to the inequities in our schools and communities. There’s a future generation of compassionate, competent, and confident leaders counting on you.
Teachers – this blog is a platform designed to elevate your voices! It’s a space to share your tips for maintaining a sense of purpose and wellbeing in and out of the classroom.
We’re calling for blog submissions now! March’s theme is Learning through Challenges. This year, what’s something you’ve discovered – or rediscovered – about yourself, and maybe from the students you teach? How do you ask for help when you need it? Who or what helps you along the way? Submissions due by March 1st.