Dominique Smith, Nancy Frey, Ian Pumpian, & Douglas Fisher BUILDING EQUITY—Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners
I am starting my twentieth year in education this fall. How the years have flown by, and how much the classroom and the school learning environment has changed! Although, a bit of honesty here, the biggest change for me personally was the lessons and experiences that were not necessarily easy for me to look back on. Early in my career, I provided each of my students with an equal amount of resources in the form of time, materials, activities, and curriculum. Although my intentions of fairness were sincere for all of my students to grow and learn. Wisdom learned…not each of my student’s experiences were equitable.
As I started my administrative pathway, I heard a quote that continues to push my thinking forward today. It spoke of equity not defined by access, but by outcomes. My determination to understand how to ensure equitable outcomes for each of our students is one of the reasons why I picked up the book Building Equity, Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners by Smith, Frey, Pumpian, and Fisher. After devouring the book I was not disappointed as well as reassured what was defined as fair in years past has evolved. The authors share their definition of fair and equal as,
“Today, we think of fair as being not just equal but equitable…Whereas equal means everyone gets the same treatment and services as everyone else, equitable means each person gets what he or she need to succeed” (p. 2).
The authors developed an Equity Taxonomy built on five levels of “practices and outcomes that support critical standards of equity in a school or district” and are outlined in their first five chapters of their book. The levels are not necessarily linear but connected and more effective when purposefully interlinked. The taxonomy levels include the physical integration of student’s differences and experiences, accessing the needs of the whole child’s social-emotional engagement, and having multiple opportunities for students to engage in deep learning by providing instructional excellence to engage and inspire learners.
What I appreciated most from the authors were the examples of schools and educators across the country who are engaged in building equity. Their stories were insightful and left the reader with more than one way to move from teaching practices we have “done” with our students towards empowering each student as learners. Here are three ideas I want to commit to that were shared in the book that can provide more opportunities to build equity in our school community starting with purposeful actions by this administrator.
- Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. Hattie’s positive link to a student-teacher relationship with achievement has an effect size of 0.72, indicating a potential equivalency of two years’ worth of growth for our students. One way I can begin to ensure this happens is to connect those students who have difficulty with social-emotional engagement with a caring staff member. Although I have tried this before, I need to develop systems to consistently provide these dedicated staff members opportunities to share their success and get a recommendation from each other on what is working for them as they continue to connect and build relationships with our students. I also want to prioritize the relationships staff members have with each to be just as valuable as the relationships we have with students in our school culture.
- Students definitely know you care and are vested in them when you know their name and use it regularly. This is my downfall. There is something about looking them in the eye using their name, talking about what you know interest them, and giving them a smile of confirmation. In other words, I value you and who you are. My goal is an activity recommended by the authors to engage a student in a conversation for two minutes a day. My vision is to take a two-minute walk and have a talk about what interest them outside of school consistently for ten days and associate their name with our time together.
- I also want to enhance the narrative we have created with our amazing families and get to know their hopes and dreams for their children. The authors provide an example of a new family survey, but with a bit of modification, I could enhance it to hear the voice of our family’s perspective on the school experience we are creating for their students.
I came into this profession later than most and still find it hard to believe year twenty starts officially tomorrow. I still have years ahead of me and I am nowhere near my finish line, but still striving to create multiple opportunities for effective equitable outcomes for our students and to "create a school every student needs and deserves" with purposeful leadership actions. The authors said it best.