Chief Equity Advocate

1-minute summary; 6-minute read

Core Question:  How do we touch hearts and minds for good?

“Everything hangs on one’s thinking …” Seneca

“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Core Idea: What we aim at … we eventually achieve.  

Words matter. Values matter. Start by defining our north star and why it is so important. Holding to that vision is hard work and takes constant attention.  

Chief Equity Advocate

Creating an education system where every child thrives and succeeds takes intentional work. 70-90% of change initiatives fail. Successful change requires an advocate, a team, and consistent messaging. The superintendent, whether or not they want to be, is the chief equity advocate.  

Key Concepts explored:

  • Start with the aspirations of students 
  • Amplify a preferred vision of student success
  • Develop a road map
  • Choose words that touch hearts and minds
  • Use dialog to co-create with stakeholders

Go Deeper:  

Read more about how districts are using these key concepts to lay down bricks on their pathway to equity for every student. Read these postcards from their equity journey.

Start with the aspirations of students

Begin with the end in mind.  We stand on firmer ground when we stick to what we do best, tending to the students in our care. Avoiding the political to the extent possible.  

Listed below are some of the student aspirations found on district websites. All are important, but they range from TO to WITH to BY.  Pause to consider whether we are focusing on our aspirations or student aspirations. 

TO:  Help students TO be:

  • Safe
  • Cared for
  • Kind
  • Engaged 
  • Known
  • Supported 
  • Welcomed
  • Respected 

These are certainly good places to start. But they imply that we know best, can read students’ minds, and can make good things happen by doing TO or for students.  

WITH:  Work WITH students on:

  • Voice and choice
  • Accessibility 
  • Opportunity 
  • Advocacy
  • Feeling Valued 
  • Being Believed in

These envision a shift in our relationship WITH students. We create forums and actually listen to students. Students are given voice and choice in assignments. We tear down systems barriers to AP classes. We listen and make changes based on what we hear.

BY:  Help students achieve and thrive BY growing their:

  • Identity 
  • Agency
  • Actualization
  • Happiness
  • Pride
  • Connection
  • Strengths
  • Dreams
  • Genius

These move us up on the Maslow Hierarchy. Seeking to unlock the genius in each child. Partnering with them to find their identity and strength and dream, so they thrive.

Consider co-designing the “Profile of a Graduate” with your community.  

Amplify Preferred Visions of the Future

Here are some phrases adopted by districts to capture what we want for our students. They give meaning to the acronym C.O.P.E – Create Once, Post Everywhere.

  • Every student known by name, strength, and need, and graduate prepared for the future they choose – Highline
  • Every student known by name, strength, and dream – Edmonds
  • We all belong here – Walla Walla
  • Every student has a dream, access, and opportunity for a happy and successful future – Spokane
  • Access, Opportunity, and Equity – Quincy

Develop a Road Map: How we get there

Mission statements tell us HOW we will get there. Here districts share their commitments and promises. And many post their detailed plans on their web pages.

  • QuincyTogether with students, families, and community, the Quincy School District will eliminate barriers and increase access to support for each and every student.
  • Walla WallaWe All Belong Here Plan. Extending the Equity Table from the school board to the community: Creating a culture where all stakeholders have a seat, a voice, and a responsibility for change. They list beliefs and supports on their web page.
  • Issaquah Equity and Cultural Competency – The Issaquah School District believes in building and sustaining a culture of kindness. Doing everything we can to support ALL students to thrive is at the core of our mission. In order to thrive, students need to be treated with respect and kindness by adults and other students. They need to have a positive sense of belonging and the belief that they have the power to be successful. Our responsibility is to educate students as informed citizens, to teach them to respect other perspectives and to show kindness to others
  • Northshore InclusionRacial & Educational Justice: Northshore is committed to creating a safe, caring, and mutually respectful environment within our school district community so that all students, families and staff feel welcomed, valued and supported.
  • Wenatchee We promise to build a foundation of diversity, equity and inclusion from which each student emerges future ready. Wenatchee’s Strategic Plan shares their process, their promises, their values, and their priorities.  

Framing: Word Choices Matter

Work done by FrameWorks and others has identified words and phrases that communicate openness and honesty with fewer unintended triggers that might derail conversations.  

Talk About


Each and Every All
Opportunity Achievement gaps
Anti-racist education Culturally responsive teaching
Historically unrepresentedMinority
Life SkillsSocial Emotional Learning
Promise and Commitments Accountability 
Structural and Institutional Bias Injustices 
How we can love your childWhat do you need 
Accurate and honest curriculum The ‘truth’ 

The FrameWorks research found that two rationale statements resonated best with a broad audience:

  1. “When students of color see positive representations of themselves in their curriculum they do better in school.” And when they do better, student relationships and school climate improve, and all students do better.
  2. Our students “need accurate information about race and history … if we want students to build a better future.” Students need skills for the future.

Use Dialogue to Co-Create with Stakeholders

Adaptive Leadership says we must learn our way into a new way of being. We can’t impose it or wait for it to emerge from the ground up. We can set out the adaptive question: How can we create a system where our students – (fill in one of the preferred visions of the future)? Then we can work with staff and community to build a coalition to make that a reality.

Individually, invite questions and respond—with coffee when you can. Keep the conversation going. Keep listening. Keep learning. Keep calibrating.

Collectively, you might try a process like this:

  1. Intentional invitations: Far too few people have time to come when we simply provide an open invitation. Needed is a specific, personal and persistent invitation. Make a list of the community groups you serve, including all of the diversity represented in your community. Find out who the leaders are. Invite them personally. Ask board members to call. Don’t take no for an answer. Ask who they will send if they can’t come.  
  2. Share the Adaptive Question. Present some of the data and the dilemma. Invite student voices and student stories that convey the messages of the heart. Share your own commitment.
  3. Seat people intentionally at tables—with a student, parent, teacher, classified, admin, community, and/or diversity leader at each table. Plan to use a specific protocol, so each person is heard in order. This sends the message that we are creating a safe place to hear and be heard.  
  4. Ask these four magic questions in four rounds of data gathering and reporting by each table group:
    1. What do we need to know and do to address our adaptive question [fill in here]?
    2. What conditions are needed to address our adaptive question?
    3. What commitments will we make to address our adaptive question?
    4. Based on what we have heard today, where could we best begin?
  5. At this point, you might want to emulate Spokane’s process. They announced in advance that they would listen, reflect, and share what was already underway. By doing so, they opened a two-way dialogue “reflecting, framing, listening, and calibrating.” 
  6. Keep reporting back on what you heard and what you are doing as a result. You are creating a shared community mandate and committing yourself to meet the public’s interest in creating an anti-racist education that promises success for every student.  

Resources: More examples of districts sharing their equity commitments

  • Board Statement (Monroe)
  • Book studies (Lake Washington)(Federal Way Board)
  • District Statement (Mukilteo)
  • Executive Limitations (Issaquah)
  • Message from Supt (Issaquah)(Lake Washington)
  • Organization Chart (Puyallup)
  • Partnerships listing 
  • Policy (Mukilteo)
  • Resolution (Spokane)
  • Resources page
  • Teacher Guide (Lake Wash.)
  • Web Resources (Issaquah)(Lake Washington)


Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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