Capture the Opportunity: Steps to Redesign School-Level Systems for Equity
At the age of five, my shyness was taken for lack of understanding and I was tested for English as a Second Language (ESL). At eight, I was pushed into gifted math and made to feel defeated and stupid. At twelve, I was told I could not “handle” taking a foreign language, despite being in an advanced English class. At seventeen, I repeatedly heard my teachers attribute my academic success to my race rather than the countless hours I put into my school work. For eighteen years of my life, I was called by the wrong name. These are just a handful of instances in which the biases and beliefs of my teachers and the underlying systems within my school failed to serve me as a student of color.
In my first year as a teacher, I repeatedly sent a student out of the classroom (using power as discipline) because I wanted to do what was best for them. In my first year as a leader, I was too run down to continue to pick battles when well intentioned teachers used microaggressions with students and families. In my first year as a district leader, I saw the vast systemic disparities between teacher quality in the different pockets of my city, but did not have the tools to address them. Today in my role, I see the same behaviors perpetuated at all levels of education. In all my “firsts”, I approached my work with the best intentions, but was also shaped by the unspoken beliefs of those who mentored me and my own implicit biases. Over the years, I gained self awareness that allowed me to better the systems within the spaces that I led. However, in other ways, I was inadvertently helping to uphold the broken systems that continue to fail people of color.
Reading our testimonials may have been difficult for you and triggered a range of emotions---empathy, defensiveness, confusion, and guilt, among others. We would urge you to pause and reflect on why that is. Then consider that those experiences only scratch the surface of what our Black and brown students are faced with day in and day out as part of an educational system designed within the context of racism. The deeply embedded inequities that exist within our school systems are not there by coincidence. They are the result of intentional decisions made by those with power and privilege. People came to those spaces with beliefs, biases, and assumptions and made decisions that created systems that allowed for further marginalization of groups. Over time, they perpetuated deep levels of institutional racism working against marginalized groups. The vastness of these inequities is the primary reason to start reexamining systems within our control rather than waiting for change within the larger systems.
“Any return to normal is a return to the normality of racism.”
- Ibram X. Kendi
With districts and schools in the process of planning for fall return, now is a time when schools are able to substantially change systems that only uplift some students, not all. We believe that as schools make changes and design new systems, they must explicitly design with equity at the center. We challenge you – individual leaders and teams – to start redesigning the school experience for marginalized students within your community as a way to start the eradication of these barriers across all levels.
Yesterday, we released the final installment of the COVID Reimagining Series, “Capture the Opportunity: Steps to Redesign School-Level Systems for Equity,” to guide schools to redefine their systems for an equitable learning environment for all your students returning to school this fall. We engage in dismantling systemic education inequities at Education Elements through a three-part methodology: Connect, Include, Create.
- Connect: Unpack the challenge by understanding the experience by those most deeply impacted with an equity lens
- Include: Include and elevate the voices of stakeholders at the margins
- Create: Design prototypes that create equitable outcomes for ALL students
As exemplified through our personal vignettes at the start of this post, we also know and believe that any work around addressing inequity must start with oneself and a willingness to cede power depending on the privileges one holds. Therefore, prior to engaging in the methodology of Connect, Include, Create, we provide resources and guidance for leaders and teams to start with themselves to deeply analyze their own assumptions and biases and offer strategies for them to cede power to those without a voice at the table.
We would love to hear from you about redesigning systems for equity. Please take 2 minutes to answer our VideoAsk.