Addressing educational equity issues is not entirely under your control, nor is it a journey with a clear destination. However, there are steps you can take to make an impact right within your classroom.
Why is classroom equity important?
Striving for a more equitable education has a powerful and direct influence. First and foremost, it promotes and protects the social-emotional health of your students. With equity infused into the classroom, students will feel validated in their struggles, heard as a unique voice, and seen in the representation of the class norms, curriculum, and relationships.
Equity issues also translate directly to student success. Within unjust environments, many students struggle to progress academically, which negatively impacts graduation and retention rates. It also can stunt desires to pursue post-secondary academic opportunities because of implicit biases about their lack of ability or the absence of validation or support.
Strive for Cultural Competence in Your Practice
The first step in making improvements in educational equity is to examine yourself as an educator. Be honest about what you do and do not know, and realize that while you may have the best of intentions, you do have biases—many of which you may not be aware of.
This internal work is crucial in order to make positive changes in your classroom. Understanding that you have different experiences, values, and cultural norms than your students can help broaden your perspective. This can help you understand how your language and approach to teaching and interpersonal management can impact your students. For example, different cultural backgrounds receive and process feedback differently, and there are many embedded unspoken biases about academic abilities based on those backgrounds as well.
It’s important to remember that achieving cultural competence is not a destination, but a lifelong journey. Continually seek out multicultural educational opportunities to learn more, and advocate within your school for professional development for all staff and faculty.
Advocate for Diversity in Curriculum
Having broad representation in the material you teach has a direct impact on addressing equity within your classroom. Infusing multicultural issues into your curriculum content both brings greater exposure to issues and also in turn helps your students to grow in their own cultural competence.
If you see gaps in the curriculum, attempt to work with your colleagues and school and district administration to address it, advocating for more equitable representation of all cultures and groups.
Create a Culture of Flexibility
Boundaries and structure in the classroom are essential in order to deliver lessons and foster the wellbeing of your students, and these shouldn’t be dropped in the name of flexibility. Rather, classroom flexibility is the creation of an understanding environment—one that realizes the uniqueness of each student, their experiences, and their path to learning.
This means accommodating different learning styles when possible, relaxing the pressure that getting answers correct is the only way to be considered successful, and understanding that home needs and things like Internet access issues or housing insecurity may prevent all deadlines to be met.
This lens of flexibility breaks away from a blanket approach to education that generalizes all students. It attempts to break the mold, offering dynamic lessons and assignments that can better support a realistic view of success for all.
Be Sure Every Voice Matters in the Classroom
It is important to uphold high standards for every student, reinforcing your belief in their ability to succeed. This is challenging what the Education Post noted to be the Belief Gap, which is the erroneous assumption that there are different levels of student ability based on socioeconomic status or race.
At the beginning of the school year, classroom norms can outline to students that each voice mattress. Students should be encouraged to express their needs, ideas, and opinions clearly and to respectfully object to things they perceive to be unfair. This can help to build a trusting relationship with your students to let them know they can share and will be validated in their feelings.
Finally, look at how your classroom operates on a macro level. Notice uneven levels of participation, especially if there is any student commandeering the conversation, making it difficult or intimidating for other students to share. This also reflects how valued each voice is and that you are an ally to all.
Lead the Charge Toward Educational Equity
Creating a more equitable classroom involves acknowledging and addressing the intersections of many issues, such as race, socioeconomic status, and ability. It is a complex endeavor honoring the diversity and unique needs of your students, examining yourself as an educator, and also making tangible changes to how your classroom operates. The work is challenging, yet meaningful, and has the power to impact the lives of your students for years to come.
Get to know more about the University of Redlands School of Education and our mission to make a difference in education.