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  • Tonya Breland

Are You a Real Leader for Equity? (Part I)

Those of you who have known me for any number of years know that I am a champion for equity. Long before equity was a buzz word in education, I believed students could achieve anything if given the opportunity and necessary supports.


I remember the days when I was a fourth-grade literacy teacher and the extent to which I would go to make sure I created an environment for all of my students to succeed. I was not satisfied with the notion of struggling learners. I strongly believed that if they were struggling academically, it was my personal responsibility to ameliorate that struggle. I was the queen of differentiated and small group instruction as well as giving students every opportunity to succeed.


If they failed a test, I took ownership and gave them another opportunity to retest. I provided students with what they needed, including autonomy, choice, space to collaborate, opportunities to read and reread, write and rewrite, make mistakes and then find success. I was committed to the individual and collective success of all of my students. If one student struggled, you better believe that student received the additional support and/or resources they specifically needed to succeed. It was my pleasure to make sure no student slipped between the cracks under my watch. I was essentially leading for equity in my domain at the time: my classroom.


"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 educate our young people so that everyone experiences a sense of belonging and thrives. (NationalEquityProject.org)

How do you know if you are a real leader for equity? At the close of my work email signature, I have the following 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 educate our young people so that everyone experiences a sense of belonging and thrives.” (NationalEquityProject.org) What a packed statement! I will attempt to unpack this statement in this and future articles.


A First Step to Addressing Equity


Firstly, as leaders, you need to be able to identify the inequities and be willing to acknowledge and own them in your district, school, and/or classroom. Where would you begin to look for those inequities? When I was in the classroom, I started with the expectations I held for my students and the degree to which I provided high quality instruction. My belief was and remains that all students can succeed, and it was my pleasure to lead them to that success.


I did not believe that any of my students were incapable. I held high expectations for all students, including the ones whose third-grade teachers said were not great students. And they knew I expected their best efforts.


Learning and engagement were keys to my success as a teacher…students were actively engaged in their learning and took ownership of it. There was a lot of autonomy and choice in the learning activities students could select on a daily basis that ensured their academic growth. I spent hours weekly meticulously planning a differentiated classroom where students were engaged in independent and small group learning most of each day. And I knew my students exceptionally well. I had a positive rapport with them and made it my priority to give them what they needed socially, emotionally and academically.


In this new reality of COVID-19, how can educators create engaging learning environments when students are remote or practicing social distancing in the classroom or a combination of both? How does engagement differ in this new learning environment compared to full, in-person classrooms? I wonder how educators can come together in professional learning communities to share and exchange ideas about effective engagement strategies for learning today. And I wonder what students and parents would say if you asked them how to best reach students in the COVID-19 era. Food for thought. I'd love to hear your ideas. Feel free to comment.


Equity Question for you to consider: Where will you begin to make the inequities visible, and disrupt the policies and practices that perpetuate inequities?

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