Last week I had the privilege of subbing in a 4th grade class. As a district level administrator, it was a welcomed experience. I had about 25 students whose teaching, learning, and belonging experiences were my sole responsibility. For some students, clear expectations, quality instruction, and a positive, trusting adult was all that was needed. For other students, they needed me to restate the expectations and offer support to meet them, while others needed individualized instruction and individualized relationship-building. As a professional, I adjusted my strategies to what students needed. I put equity in action. At the end of the day, several students asked if I could return for the following week and one student said I was the “best substitute [they] every had.” In my humble opinion and according to the students’ feedback, it was a good day!
At the end of my amazing day subbing, I returned to the district office and reflected on how meeting the needs of my remarkable fourth graders was a microcosm of the district-wide work supporting the success of all students. Every student getting the same (equality) perpetuates the disparities in academic and behavioral data and experiences. Students have equal protections and rights, but they need equitable support and resources. Success for all students requires ongoing conversations about and actions to eliminate barriers. Moving from conversation about equity to equity in action must be understood as “the way we do business”.
The challenge of moving from policy to putting equity in action requires consistently considering the rate of impact (urgency) and speed of comfort. It is common and strategic to adjust between moving at the rate of impact and the speed of comfort depending on a multitude of factors. Even with adjusting, equity work requires a commitment to constantly move the work forward. When equity work is unpopular, misunderstood, uncomfortable, resisted to sustain the status quo, it is necessary for leadership as a collective to be more aligned and more strategic, not dissuaded, and stagnant. The urgency of most Equity leaders is driven by the negative impacts that compromises to equity work have on students’ and families’ educational experiences.
Equity leaders stay on message and are strategic when reading the room to keep the equity work moving. The messaging about equity work is important. It clearly communicates expectations for staff and informs the community. The message simply put is equity provides ALL student what they need to succeed. To message or fail to correct a message that equity work is about a specific student population will be a huge misstep. ALL means all. All ability levels, all ethnicities, all socio-economic statuses, all language acquisition levels, and all proficiency levels are included in ALL. Equity leaders are data driven. They determine who needs support and the level of support needed based on objective data. Equity leaders make decisions about curriculum, instructional supports, staffing, negotiations, contracts, allocation of funds, and all other operational matters through the lens of equity and impact. Equity leaders hold accountability for not only messaging about equity but also implementing and sustaining equity work. There is a multitude of equity work happening on campuses every day of which equity leaders may be unaware. Sometimes equity work involves scaling up promising practices, not implementing new practices. Equity leaders advocate for time and resources to support equity innovators. Equity Leaders ensure equity is the agenda, and not an item on the agenda.
It’s not enough to be an equity leader practitioner. Equity leaders must also create equity leaders. Education is a system with structural and complex inequities and historical, institutionalized barriers. Given the system, equity work happens at the board level, district and school leadership level, in the classrooms and school offices, as well as the community. It is imperative to have equity leaders at each level of our system. Success for all students requires a collective leadership effort that moves our system from conversations about equity to equity in action. It must be “the way we do business” in education.