Equity in the Classroom

The following is an excerpt from Shane Safir's post from January 2016 on Edutopia. If you'd like to view the whole article, click here.

6 Steps Toward Equity in 2016

It's hard to sum up what it means to embrace equity in the classroom. My partner and I are veteran, equity-driven educators, and we wrestled with this question. Complexity duly noted, here are six ways to walk toward equity in 2016.

1. Know every child.

First and foremost, get to know each student as a unique and layered individual. Embrace storientation to learn where they're from, what they love to do outside of school, what their family is like. Don't subscribe to a single story about any child. The more you know, the more you can build trust and differentiate instruction.

2. Become a warm demander.

Author Lisa Delpit describes warm demanders as teachers who "expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment." An equity stance pushes us to couple high expectations with a commitment to every child's success. Two later posts in this series will unpack this step.

3. Practice lean-in assessment.

As you gather a student's human story, start to piece together his or her learning story:

  • How does she approach tasks?
  • What are his strengths as a learner?
  • What does she struggle with?

No standardized test will provide you with quality data on these questions. Use proximity and lean-in assessment to diagnose students' learning needs. Carry a clipboard with you while students are working, and take careful notes on what you observe.

4. Flex your routines.

Remember that one-size lessons do not fit all. Jane had mastered the art of the mini-lesson, but she was losing learners in the process. Be willing to flex or set aside your well-laid plans to individualize instruction. If pulling a student out of an activity to support him or her makes you uncomfortable, notice your discomfort and try not to let it control your decisions.

5. Make it safe to fail.

Teach students that failure is just another form of data. When a child feels shame about his learning gaps, he'll hide behind quiet compliance or bravado and acting out. In an equitable classroom, there's no need to hide, because struggle and failure are neutralized, normalized, and even celebrated. Consider this: once a week, have students meet in groups to share something they struggled with and what they learned in the process.

6. View culture as a resource.

Finally, don’t be culture-blind. When we ignore students' identities, we efface who they are in the world and lose a rich resource for learning. Understand this simple, powerful truth offered by my friend Zaretta Hammond in her recent book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: "Culture, it turns out, is the way every brain makes sense of the world." Help students activate their cultural schema to access challenging content. Invite them to share where they come from, not just with you, but also with each other. Value and affirm all forms of difference. My next post will focus on ways to promote identity safety in the classroom.