How to help teachers put equity into action

If you’re not talking about how to foster the fullest abilities of teachers, then you’re not really talking about equity.
Fenesha Hubbard
Fenesha Hubbard
Fenesha Hubbard is professional learning content design coordinator at NWEA and author of "The Equity Expression."

Everyone’s talking about putting equity into action in K-12 education, but there are some key pieces missing from conversations—one critical piece being the role of teachers in the equity equation. If you’re not talking about how to foster the fullest abilities of teachers, then you’re not really talking about equity.

Two things we haven’t addressed enough, particularly in professional development, are teacher efficacy and pedagogical content knowledge. How can we expect to achieve equity in education if we don’t invest in our teachers’ ability to teach effectively? Increasing the level of confidence that teachers have in their ability to guide students toward success, and strengthening their belief that all students are capable of academic success, are key components to making equity actionable in teaching and learning.

Putting equity into action

As educators, we have the responsibility to engage in substantive equity conversations to make sure all students have an opportunity to succeed and thrive in their schooling. This starts with our own academic identities—the attitudes beliefs, and dispositions toward teaching and learning. Unhealthy academic identities can manifest as disengaged students in class; behavioral problems; teachers’ inability to move students’ scores; or students who think they can’t succeed.

Consider mathematics, for example. If we are all working toward improved student performance, then math academic success should be a nonnegotiable goal for students, but it’s not. That’s because most of us are content with not being a “math person.”

How many adults proudly affirm that they’re not a “math person?” A mindset of “not being a math person” is a hindrance to one’s academic identity. There are non-math-people teaching our students right now, and that is creating a different problem: unhealthy math academic identities.

Our academic identities are constantly being developed, as are those of our students. Early on in my teaching career, I became aware of my unhealthy math academic identity and was able to reflect on how it could influence my instruction. Employing strategies to help all students thrive in the mathematics classroom was how I placed equity in the context of teaching and learning.

Operationalizing equity requires courageous discussions and deep reflection, both within you and with others. Attending to the work of equity means being deliberate in raising your awareness of self and others, exploring your beliefs, examining your actions, and strengthening your academic identity.

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This type of inner work doesn’t always feel comfortable. But if we want to see ourselves as equity change agents, then we need to start by owning the contexts and identities that we bring to our work. In other words, if we get vulnerable and self-reflective, we can start to find opportunities to make our efforts and experiences more equitable.

A key to student success

In my book, The Equity Expression: Six Entry Points for Nonnegotiable Academic Success, I provide you with a framework through which you can put equity into practice. Using the entry points to make equity actionable in your work is not about doing anything new. Rather, it’s about thinking differently, entering the equity conversation from another perspective, and closing the gap between having knowledge about equity and putting it into action with intention and focus. The entry points for equity can support you and your learning team in taking ownership of equity.

Students’ success hinges upon the dispositions and beliefs they have about teaching and learning. Our call to action as educators is to cultivate a practice of understanding ourselves and others. Question your biases. Hold yourself accountable. If you reach the point where you feel that you can’t grow any further, then you’ve restricted the intellectual spaces to which you and your students can go.

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