As classroom demographics continue to shift into a more diverse population of students, many educators are looking for ways to create a more inclusive and socially just learning environment. Equity minded educators understand that education requires high expectations for all students, ensuring the linguistic, cultural, and experiential backgrounds of all students are systematically integrated into curriculum. Although equity can be a very broad term, and may include race, gender, ability levels, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, the key characteristic is access. How are we making sure all students have access to the resources they need to be successful academically, socially, and emotionally?
Begin with Radically Honest Conversations
Issues of race, culture, and identity are deeply personal and oftentimes emotional. As we engage with students, families, and other stakeholders around these concepts it is important to frame conversations in a way that creates a safe, affirming space for all.
Respect Preferences and Honor Experiences
In conversations about race, culture, and identity, the most vital principle to acknowledge is that the ultimate authority on a person’s identity and experiences belongs to that individual. For example, if a student tells you that they identify as a particular ethnicity, respect that identity. If a parent says that they have experienced racism, believe them. Above all, commit to respecting the other person’s preferences and honoring their lived experiences.
Acknowledge Bias and Privilege
Be intentionally aware of your privilege and your implicit biases. Acknowledge how your appearance, social class, upbringing, or affiliations might place you in a privileged position. If you have not done the work of identifying and unpacking your own biases, consider taking the Implicit Bias Association Test before choosing to embark on conversations about equity.
Own Your Learning
As you discuss complex notions about race, culture and identity be open to learning something new – especially from your students! Be careful, however, not to rely on the other person to teach you everything about their race, culture, or identity. Engage people on their terms, and do not expect them to accept the burden of automatically educating you about unfamiliar topics.
Communicate Positive Intentions
Always lead with positive intentions. Explicitly communicate your respect for the other person and your commitment to treating them with care. Never expect students or families to presume that you have positive intent just because of your role as an educator. This is especially important if you do not yet have a strong relationship with the person.
Avoid making assumptions or inferences about a particular racial or ethnic group based on limited or biased samples. While it is excellent to research different cultures and backgrounds, be careful to ensure that your sources of information are credible. Remember, statistics aren’t people they’re averages. Active listening is key to learning about any individual’s experience
Reject Color Blindness
To build relationships, it can be powerful to connect with students and families over similarities. However, do not neglect to celebrate your differences! Refuse to be color blind. Take time to appreciate the uniqueness and individuality of each person you encounter.
Be mindful of the social and historical context in which you operate. Approach the conversation acknowledging your position as a member of the majority or the minority. Keep in mind that there may be a history of certain groups being underrepresented or mistreated in your particular educational or geographic context.
Be Open to Being Wrong
Be willing to acknowledge that you might be wrong! Understand that we all have implicit biases that can misinform how we perceive the world. Approach the conversation with the goal of learning and understanding, not persuading or convincing.
You’re here to get it right, not to be right. Brene Brown
Get Comfortable with Discomfort
Because concepts of race, culture, and identity are complex and deeply personal they often bring feelings of discomfort. Many of us enjoy talking to our students about the latest movies we saw over the weekend, music, activities, and events in our communities. Yet, racial issues such as police brutality and xenophobia are avoided at all costs. Whether we address them in class or not, our students are thinking and talking about these issues. We cannot avoid these conversations because they make us uncomfortable. Get comfortable with your discomfort, and do not use it as an excuse to avoid engaging with people who are different from you.
Bring People Together
After you’ve taken steps to learn about equity and inclusion, collaborate and hold conversations with diverse groups. Reach out to educators using a culturally responsive curriculum. Learn ways to diversify your content and purposefully include diverse cultural perspectives and voices.
In order to create more equitable realities for all students, schools and educators must take a comprehensive approach to examining current practices that might perpetuate inequity. Creating an equitable learning environment includes work at the individual, interpersonal and institutional levels. It requires ongoing learning and reflection. It demands a shift away from surface-level celebrations of culture and toward deep explorations of inequity and bias that impact local and global communities. It includes an examination of how we teach, what books we keep in our school libraries and how students are represented in our lesson plans.
To know that their stories and histories matter, all students need to see themselves reflected in their schooling experience in positive and affirming ways.
For additional information on creating equity in the classroom:
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network