Writing about equity is always a bit awkward for me. I am extremely white, extremely male, solidly middle class, and I have not had the same experience with some of these issues that other people have. It makes for a gigantic elephant in the classroom, so to speak. Yet, student equity is still something I care very much about, and I believe that many other educators feel the same way.
Regardless of who you are and what your life experiences have been like, the issue of equity is a critical one to help all students grow and thrive. To better promote equity for our students, we need to understand who they are: how they see themselves, how they see the world, and how the world sees them. This is not simple and involves listening to our students and how they frame their own stories.
Small, bold steps
So, how can we begin building classrooms that support and affirm our students? First, we must educate ourselves to understand current inequities. Then, we can design appropriate supports and advocate for structures which remedy those inequities.
Here are three practical steps for getting started:
- Educate yourself (and your students): One of the biggest steps we can take to address equity in the classroom is to challenge our own beliefs. What assumptions, experiences, and biases are we holding on to that may implicitly shape how we present information to our students? Challenge yourself by reading books from diverse authors and by looking at what researchers are discovering about issues like race, class, and gender. Above all, listen to your students and be a model for productive conversation.
- Move from education to action: Take a good hard look at your teaching materials and consider the substance it offers. Who/what is being represented? Is there a diverse mix of cultures, ethnicities, and genders? What can you add to make this a better representation of who we are for your students? Then, take action to grow your teaching resources in a way that allows every student to better relate to the information being presented. You can also combat stereotypes by celebrating differences in your classroom and helping your students see the benefit in diverging experiences.
- Incorporate PBL: Finally, work to implement project-based learning within your classroom. PBL is unique because it invites students to play a role in solving real-world problems. Think about your students, their backgrounds, and the things that influence their education. Use PBL to empower them and show them that they have a voice. When students become a force for positive change, it allows them to tackle issues of equity both within and outside the classroom.
Build with empathy
Equity will always be a difficult subject to navigate, but we don’t have to walk this path alone. Look for support from like-minded educators. Seek out curricular supports that help you and your students make a difference. Above all, be quick to listen, especially to your students. When we create a classroom where they can feel supported and seen, we unlock their power to change the world. So, let’s step into this new school year together, with open hearts and minds ready to learn!