If equality means giving everyone the same resources, equity means giving each student access to the resources they need to learn and thrive.
As we all know, every child is different. If you want to be committed to the success of every child, then you must acknowledge the uneven playing field that exists for many: children who are learning English as a second language, students with special needs, children experiencing trauma or poverty, or students that may experience unconscious bias about their capacities based on race. By working towards creating classrooms that operate on equity, instead of equality, teachers can better serve their students and help them reach their true potential. Here are six ways to do so:
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 their family is like, and what they love to do outside of school. Don't subscribe to a single story about any child. The more you know, the more you can build trust and differentiate instruction to better meet their particular style of learning.
Become a Warm Demander
Author Lisa Delpit describes warm demanders as teachers who "expect a great deal from their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment." Similarly, an equity stance pushes teachers to couple high expectations with a commitment to every child's success.
Practice Lean-in Assessment
As you gather a student's human story, start to piece together his or her learning story:
- How does he/she approach tasks?
- What are his/her strengths as a learner?
- What does he/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. It might be a good idea to carry a notebook with you while students are working, and take careful notes on what you observe.
Flex Your Routines
Remember that one-size lessons do not fit all. Even if teachers can master the art of the mini-lesson, they may still be 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.
Make it Safe to Fail
Teach students that failure is just another form of learning. 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.
View Culture as a Resource
Finally, try not to be culture-blind. When we overlook students' personal identities, we efface who they are in the world and lose a rich resource for learning. 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.