Three Ways to Start Building More Equitable Classrooms

by | 08.3.18

When we think about working to make our classrooms more equitable, it makes sense to me to start with why we got into teaching. We got into this not for the income, obviously, but for the outcome: We want to help students become better people. We have a desire for them to learn and grow and become productive members of society.

But we need to start doing a better job supporting the segments of our student population that are black and brown. Our goal is to teach everyone. To help everyone. Helping kids of color achieve doesn’t take away from anyone’s education. With students of all races succeeding, we all benefit immensely.

So how can we change our practice to make sure each student has what they need to learn and grow? There are a few things that I really believe make for great teaching – teaching that supports all students:

1. Developing deep expertise in our subject area. It is absolutely critical that teachers have a thorough understanding of the content we’re teaching. A lot of times – and I know this having gone through teacher training myself – our emphasis as educators is on mastering teaching methods, and it’s up to us to make sure we study and engage with the content. Teachers have to take that time to become experts if we are going to be able to dig deeply and teach in a variety of ways so we can reach all students.

2. Approaching education with the mindset that teaching is jagged, not smooth, (an idea that comes from Todd Rose’s “The End of Average”). I think we all love the smooth class. The class where you get in, kids raise their hands predictably, there’s no disruption, and if there is, it quells right away. We go through the process of direct instruction, guided practice and independent practice, then class ends and everything is fine. But I believe that straight line isn’t enough. The cycle – direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice – needs to happen two or three times in a class period. All kids aren’t going to get it at the same time. Kids only get better through feedback on their process and by having a chance to respond. There is no other way. We need to establish feedback loops that give kids lots of chances to try again. One way to approach this is to scaffold the objectives for a class period, with different markers along the way to mastery – and different chances to receive feedback from the teacher. It won’t feel as smooth, so the teacher’s mindset has to be open to asking, “How can I embrace the jaggedness of true instruction?”

3. Reflecting on your own history with black and brown communities – especially if you’re a white teacher. Ask yourself: “What is my knowledge of these communities based on? What do I know about my students’ cultures? What biases might I have, and what might be the truth? Have I only interacted with black kids from a power setting, where I’m the teacher and they’re a student?”

If you’re a white teacher, consider whether you’ve interacted with black and brown people in a situation where you’re on an equal footing or when there’s a power imbalance in which you’re learning from them. How often has it happened? If that’s not part of your history, then I would say you don’t really know black and brown people in the way you could – and that’s something you can start working on.

Thinking about those three things will put us, as educators, in a better place. A place that will prepare us to support all students and make our classrooms more equitable.

About the Author

Josh Parker
Josh Parker

Josh Parker is an educator in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @Joshparker777.

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