Posted by: bwoof | July 18, 2012

Equity and Learning

I recently had the privilege of taking a course about Equity in Education. It was a humbling learning experience and caused me to reflect on my position(s) of privilege and my position of responsibility to ensure that everyone at my school has an equitable opportunity to learn. It’s easier said than done, but here are a few musings….


Equity is not optional

I have bias and need to humbly recognize that it affects my daily speech, choices, impressions, assumptions and actions.

I come from privilege – I have education, money, experiences and resources that set me apart from many. Therefore, I need to be both grateful for what I have and non-judgemental of others for what they don’t have. I need to be continuously aware that my lens of privilege may be an impediment when I work with others.

Equity requires intentionality – if I am not purposeful I will easily slip into a personal comfort zone that is easy for me and less than helpful for others . I must carefully choose my words and examine my presumptions about life before I speak and act. I must deliberately seek to understand others by asking questions, thinking before I speak, and considering how my perspective is not the entire story. I must also examine my values and remember that they may not be the same as my students’.

High standards are important – presuming ahead of time that some students cannot achieve (and therefore I should expect less) is counter-productive and may actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, I should set high standards and corresponding ways for all learners to reach those standards. This is hard work!  I must purpose to find the energy and vision to do the hard work.

Equity requires courageous creativity – Doing the same things over and over will only get the same results. Therefore, I have to consider options that might at first glance appear contrary or impossible. Admittedly, I wonder at times how to be creative in a ‘union shop’ where we think we are constrained by a collective agreement that quantifies to the point of minutia what educators can and can’t do. At times I feel annoyed that we can’t have more flex in a school day. My job as an administrator is to cast vision and then try to collaborate creatively with others to make the vision turn into reality.

Equity requires an immovable belief in the fact that everyone deep down inside wants to learn – I do, in fact, believe this and use my plog as a story-starter for this belief. The hard work comes in trying to find daily ways to actually live it out.


As you think about your ALP for this coming year, I wonder what data you might be considering as you align your work and learning with the School Effectiveness Framework and our school commitment to provide equitable education for all.

Here is a summary of our school demographics and you might choose to consider this information when designing your plan and even when allocating the library budget for materials. Did you know that we have 1000 students, and that 60% of them speak something other than English at home? And in our school population we have 40% of our students who were not born in Canada. As you know, we have a large ELL population, many of whom come from a varieties of cultures, religions, and customs. To that end, what might we do as a school and how might the library support learning for such a variety of students?  What seasonal events could be celebrated in a respectful fashion throughout the year?  What resources would best reflect the fact that our school has many visible minorities and that research (read Avis Glaze book, for example) shows us that students learn best when they have familiar images and stories to connect to new learning?

From what is visible in the library space, it appears that you do a thorough job of celebrating some students’ backgrounds. Thank you for your efforts in this regard. However, as we’ve discussed earlier, it would be better  to extend these practices to our entire school population now. Is there anything I could do to help you make a specific plan with specific look-fors that will prove we are using our library resources in an equitable fashion?  It is imperative that every student have ample access to the best learning opportunities and at present it looks like only some students are afforded that opportunity.

Let’s take some time to think about things and let’s meet in a week’s time to talk about your plans again. Incidentally, I noticed today that there is an Equity conference being hosted by our board. While it would require a day away from school, perhaps you would like to attend and be the school ambassador who will bring back the ideas. We could provide release time for you and two colleagues to attend and then collaborate on a workshop for our staff at our next PD day.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to chatting with you next week about the specifics of the plan to more equitably support student learning for all at our school. And, don’t forget to confirm with me about the conference. It would be a timely opportunity for you and we are happy to support you in that way.


Breaking Barriers: Excellence and Equity for All (Avis Glaze, Ruth Mattingsley,and Ben Levin) , 2011.

Avis Glaze, Ruth Mattingsley and Ben Levin in Breaking Barriers: Excellent and Equity for All contend that student learning is best achieved in environments that are predicated on a belief that all students can learn and that all students should have equitable access to learning regardless of their cultural, ethnicity, ability, socio-economic or experiential backgrounds. They implore educators, administrators in particular, to make equity a matter of highest importance, not just in words but in actions across every facet of the classroom, school, and district levels of education.  They acknowledge that students have differing personal circumstances, but that everything should be done to not let those factors impair or impede a student’s ability to learn and grow.  They recognize that some students may be profoundly impacted by personal situations, but that should not preclude them being very successful learners if they are given appropriate support s and strategies.

Glaze, Mattingsley and Levin argue that resilience (the ability to bounce back and/or be flexible in extenuating circumstances) and social capital (the connections that learners have with others, others who are able to promote learning and practical application of that learning) are important contributors to student learning and that schools should focus on developing capacity in students for each of these factors. To that end, the authors identify strategies that focus on inclusive structures, effective instruction, culturally responsive classrooms, early interventions, and the development of character attributes that go across the entire curriculum.  [Note: I have downloaded 21 pages of strategies that are found at the Pearson website as supports for the concepts identified in the book. All of these sheets come in a checklist format and I’m going to print them and have then on hand as self-reflection tools when I go back to school in the fall —]

I concur with the authors that there are complex issues that many students are faced with long before they ever get into a school or classroom setting.  And I agree that a school’s true indicator of success has to go beyond just academics into the realm of equitably providing individualized learning for each person, in a way that is respectful and responsive to the realities that each learner brings to the school.  And finally, I believe that an educator’s prior belief about learning can and will affect how that educator interacts with students and with the structures of a school. For example, if one truly believes that a student’s personal background is an absolute predictor of future success, then one would be guilty of pre-judging and, therefore, limiting student success. If, however, one (and I trust that I am one of these people) comes with a deep, sincere, and immovable prior belief that a student’s DNA is coded [that’s my personal metaphor] for learning, then it frees up that person to approach students with an ‘asset’ lens’ rather than a ‘deficit lens’.  As educators we are called to ‘see’ the potential rather than the problems, although in practical terms one still needs to consider that students come to us with complex  issues that often present as problems. It would be naïve to ignore this reality, but it would be just as negligent to label, tag, or predict students as failures before they even have a chance to rise above  their present situations.  As Glaze, Mattingsley and Levin suggest, it is the educators’  and schools’ responsibility to do everything possible to create environments that mitigate any negative influences in students’ lives and try to replace them with supportive opportunities that will, in the end, spark learning.

The authors imply that the work of educators and schools is daunting—and I agree!  At times I’m overwhelmed with the distractors and distressors that my students seem to suffer through, many of which render their minds and hearts seemingly unavailable for learning. It is as if they are in emotional, perhaps even physical, survival mode, a mode where it can appear that they are not capable of success. It is this [mis]perception that the authors say we must resist. And as an educator, I do recognize that I want to be an idealist and always seek the best for students, and I also see the realism and the challenging task we have as we seek to do the hard work of equity. To that end, I am grateful for the suggestions and admonitions represented in the book  Breaking Barriers: Excellence and Equity for All. It is helpful to have a strong reminder about the power and necessity of equity—and it is also humbling to self-identify the all too many times when I have not fully lived equitably with others.  On a personal note, I hope to continue my learning, particularly in the area of mental health which, it seems, so frequently interferes with the potential that students have.

Additional thoughts…

I really (!!!) wish I knew how to implement what the authors suggest in relation to ‘Strategy 1 – High expectations” (see below)”  as it pertains to attendance. Honestly, we’ve tried everything we know of, but just having ‘appropriate’ policies doesn’t make a peck of difference if we can’t get deeper into students’ values and help them see that school actually makes a difference.  I wish there was some way to find out WHY students are late or absent.

 “Implement appropriate policies and supports to reduce lateness, absenteeism, and negative behaviour.”

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