Racial Equity: Steps Toward a Framework for Learning
by Larry Nyland and Kyle Kinoshita
Equity is so big it is hard to get your arms around it; indeed you cannot. One bit of advice is that it is okay to be where you are, but not okay to stay there. Another bit of advice is to start somewhere—start anywhere—but start.
Okay, where might one start? Here is one three-part construct we have found helpful in our eight-district collaborative. Think concentric circles with student success and educational justice at the center.
This outside circle can take many forms: policies, resolutions, equity lenses for decision-making and equity goals and plans. At a deeper level, what are your commitments as a leader? How are you deepening your understanding of racism and how it impacts the lives of our students? What are the statements you are attempting to live out as a leader? Do you emphasize those each and every time you meet? Do you train and embed those in all of your hiring and your PD? And ultimately is it just you, or are all of your leaders developing their racial equity literacy voice? And if you have leaders working for you who cannot advocate for equity, what do you do about it?
Racial Realism in Action
The next circle aims to change practice in the classroom and in the community. Meeting students where they are. Taking time to understand culture. Knowing students by name, strength and dream. Giving them choices in their assignments to demonstrate agency and identity. At a deeper level, what are the classroom moves that make the biggest difference for students of color?
- High aspirations … not deficit thinking
- Deep learning … not rote learning
- Teaching racial equity … not colorblindness
- Belonging and identity safety … not identity threat and micro-aggressions
- Involvement and agency … not family exclusions
And how are these learnings conveyed? Simply as another part of good pedagogy that would be nice to do? Or as life-and-death teacher moves that can and will impact the future of our students of color?
Systems (Racial Reconstruction)
Ultimately, most of the above is window dressing unless we do something more. Unless we intentionally begin to dismantle structural racism. These moves are difficult and can take years. The best examples are the districts that are tackling graduation. Step by step they are tracing 12th success back to 11th, 10th, 9th grade … and to the start of 9th grade and undoing the zero-based grading system. Making sure that 9th graders get off to a positive start in HS. Other benchmarks are disproportional discipline. 3rd-grade reading. 8th-grade Algebra. What one system can you take on, consistently and persistently, using improvement science and ensuring progress?
A Road Map
Here, then, is a road map. As with physical travel, you would not set out to take all of these paths at once. Rather, you would do the research to chart a course, to find paths that matter most.
Racial equity requires long-term thinking that addresses:
All three are required to make sustainable systemic changes.
Combining the research, analysis, and recommendations of several popular authors, you take an approach that resembles the following:
Take Jim Collins’ advice (Good to Great) and start where there is already a lot of energy. Do you already have a 3rd-grade reading program? Double down on it until it moves the needle for every student including each student of color. Do you already have racial equity teams in several buildings? Make them better and better and gradually take them to scale.
Take Carnegie’s advice (Learning to Improve): use root cause analysis to develop a problem of practice. Then appoint three groups to research best strategies:
- Exemplars – one group looks for outliers we can learn from
- Research – another group looks at published research to find promising practices
- Effects – and one group looks at John Hattie’s work to see what works best
From those, pick the most promising, design your implementation plans, and launch. Listen to feedback, use inquiry, refine practices, and move toward making this 50% goal into a 100% goal.
Take John Kotter’s advice (Accelerate): Write a compelling opportunity statement (positive, not negative). Advertise urgency. Fill a guiding coalition with eager volunteers from every level of the organization. Ask them for creative ideas and give them permission to recruit volunteers. This becomes the seedbed for ideas that move into the 50% goal and the 100% goal in future years. Use the power of the group to overcome the inertia of the status quo.
It is okay to be where you are. It is not okay to stay where you are.
Start anywhere. Start somewhere. Just START.
No one knows how to do this work. We truly are all learners. We learn by doing.
Do something today to get started!
- Kyle Kinoshita is a career educator and student and teacher of educational leadership. He is currently a consultant and an affiliate faculty member in the University of Washington-Bothell principal preparation program. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Horsford, S.D. (2014) When race enters the room: Improving leadership and learning through racial literacy. Theory into practice 53:123-130. The Ohio State University.