For the first time in my 16-year-long career as a school administrator, I feel like we’re finally starting to get to a place of actually having real conversations across the country about figuring out diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism in education.
At the end of 2020, the Massachusetts chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (MASCD) came together through a webinar to revisit the topic of racial equity in schools. Panelists included school leaders from our state and across the country. The lessons learned that day have shaped my actions regarding equity throughout this school year. I’m a 49-year-old White educator, and I understand my privilege in this system. However, no matter my role or background in education, I have to listen, learn, and grow. I want to share some of what I learned from that session to help other educators who are striving to provide students with a more equitable education.
We have to start by taking a whole-child approach. We must understand that our students’ needs come before the curriculum or standards. We have to know our kids and where they’re coming from—both where they live and their perspective. To do this, we have to move out of our comfort zones and into a place of discomfort to accept students however they show up to school. Having these conversations with students will allow them to get comfortable with the infinite possibilities of who they are and where they are in their educational journey.
It’s hard for us to realize that some of the work we’ve been doing for a long time has helped only some students and not all students. What is more challenging is that sometimes we’re not sure how to break that cycle. These strategies from our team will help you get started.
1. Hire an equity and diversity director. When a district has explicit leadership to champion equity and diversity, the initiative will come from a positional authority and have the follow-through needed to build momentum and long-term success.
2. Eliminate giving students a zero for late work. Allow students to turn in work late to earn a percentage of the points. Zeros or multiple zeros for late work are incurably damaging for students. We don’t know students’ situations or support at home. If the goal is learning, allow for flexibility when needed. Additionally, permit the students to redo an assignment. Again, if the goal is learning, why do we give them one shot and hold them to a low grade? This pattern leads to frustration and eventually giving up.
3. Remove prerequisites for honors and Advanced Placement classes. Having entry barriers eliminates many Black and Brown students from higher, more challenging courses. Judge students by potential, and use honors and AP as opportunities to identify kids who can make that educational leap. Take the time to speak with students individually. Interview them as a way to coach them up and say, “Listen, you can do this work.” Our panel has seen firsthand where students who would not traditionally succeed in those courses excel with support, individual motivation, and encouragement.
4. Move toward standards-based grading. Moving to this practice will focus on learning and student growth rather than having the student identify with a number or letter. Fully understanding that colleges need student transcripts, we encourage standards-based grading whenever possible. This practice will level the playing field for students to focus on a journey of learning, not a final grade.
5. Increase staff training. Having in-house staff-led sessions will bring a passion and relevance to the training. If you don’t have someone available for this, try bringing in educators from outside your school. You may want to start the year with a keynote on equity that gets followed up in faculty meetings.
6. Review hiring practices. Review the websites where you list district jobs and what college campuses you visit to recruit. If you’re not getting candidates of color, change your recruitment and interview process. Additionally, look at how you screen résumés. Too often, we look at where someone went to college, not the individual. Hire talent wherever you can find it.
7. Disaggregate performance data. When we look at school and district data as an average, it may show that the school is on par or successful. However, look deeper at each student who is struggling. We cannot look at the whole picture of data without looking at the parts. Every student counts, no matter the standing of the school.
8. Review curriculum. Look at the curriculum to ensure that all students see themselves reflected in it. Updating the curriculum to mirror your current population will allow students to feel connected to it, increase learning opportunities, and increase content retention and engagement.
9. Involve students in the conversation. Take a look at your school/classroom culture to see if you’re shutting down racial equity conversations in class. Ask yourself, “Is there space for kids to have these conversations?” Ask Black and Brown graduates about their school experiences and find out their views of the curriculum. Increasing student conversations is critical because the person doing the talking is the person doing the learning.
Increasing student talk around racial equity can be difficult for educators at first. Ensure that educators’ strategies to participate in these conversations with students are part of the staff PD discussed above. Empowering educators to respond with “I hear you” will show that you value student voice. Our students need encouragement and comfort to support them during their educational journey.
I applaud so many teachers who have done the work. When we have crucial conversations like the MASCD event, the change happens.