- Tonya Breland
Are You A Leader for Equity (Part II)
By the time I because a principal of a school identified as needing improvement, my equity focus expanded from one classroom to a building of learners who I believed could be successful. But this time, I had to influence the teachers who were in front of these students everyday. I had to operationalize the quote: “The role of leaders for equity is to make inequities visible, disrupt policies and practice that perpetuate inequities, and create and design ways of engaging in communities and educator our young people so that everyone experiences a sense of belonging and thrives.” (NationalEquityProject.org)
We started with the data. The data told a story about what was happening in classrooms. We looked for the following in the data: Disparities in academics, discipline, attendance; Groups who were lagging behind - Black and Brown students, English Language Learners, Poor students, Students with Disabilities; and other important data. I wanted to know how long these differences existed? “Inequity…reigns when programs, practices, and policies result in inequitable outcomes in education, socio economic status, mobility, and beyond.” (Luria & Kaufman, 2017) Because the school was in improvement status with the state, it was obvious that some of these issues were longstanding issues. Something about the system was failing our students. We had a lot of work to do.
I had to start with the data literacy of my staff, and help them understand the disparities and explore the root causes. This was long before the days of conducting equity audits. One issue that came to light was low literacy attainment. Students were not readers and writers. Buy why? We had to look at what was in place at the time of this data. How was teaching happening? How much time was allocated for reading and writing? What materials, resources, and books were being used? What did the curriculum include? What capacity did teachers have to teach reading and writing? What strategies were being employed in classrooms to increase literacy skills? Were the right people teaching reading and writing? Did teachers know their students' reading levels? Did students know their reading levels? Were students reading and writing everyday? Was small group instruction taking place in classrooms? And what did students do who were not in small groups? How was time being used during the literacy block? Did students enjoy reading and writing?
All of these ideas and more were considerations to address literacy, but as a leader, I needed to provide the resources, materials, invest in professional learning, provide coaching support, adjust scheduling, and promote the vision for making literacy a priority. I even met with the oldest learners in the building and conducted one-on-one goal setting sessions with students. I held a before-school reading club with students while implementing other interventions and strategies. I also had a team of educators and parents who worked with me to establish and accomplish goals and objectives.
Shared leadership was another key component to moving the needle for students. And we formed professional learning communities so that teachers could learn from one another, look at data and student work samples, develop assessments and grow together. We gave books to students who did not have books at home, updated the libraries and provided opportunities for students to fall in love with reading. We developed excitement around literacy and created programs and activities to share the importance of reading and writing and we started to see results.
Leaders for equity are not afraid to make the inequities visible, challenge the status quo, and make the necessary changes to help students be successful. This is just one example of making inequities invisible. Let's engage in further discussion:
Questions to consider: In what ways have you sought to make inequities in your classrooms, schools and districts visible? What did you have to consider? Who have you engaged in dialogue about identified inequities? What action have you or will you take? Who can help you?
Luria, S. R., & Kaufman, J. C. (2017). Examining the relationship between creativity and equitable thinking in schools. Psychology in the Schools, 54(10), 1279-1284. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.22076