To Advance Equity, District Leaders Need to Define It

 //  Oct 4, 2021

To Advance Equity, District Leaders Need to Define It

In this post, Sabrina Hope King, EdD, president of education firm ATAPE Group and adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Fordham University, offers district leaders strategies on how to define and advance equity as they navigate this school year.

Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the insurrection at the Capitol building, and the surfacing of disagreements from the multiple perspectives around all of these events have been devastating. The equity implications from these events include, but are not limited to, lost learning opportunities for students of all ages, heightened health and social-emotional needs in many communities, but particularly communities of color, as well as the need for social justice action.

In fact, our collective experience of these events has rendered it all but impossible to ignore the centuries-long struggle for equity and the positioning and potential of districts and schools to tackle equity head on. But where and how should district leaders begin? In order for districts to advance equity within schools, they must first define it. As a result of my work with school districts across the country, I have put together five equity principles as outlined below:

  1. Educational equity is the work to provide all students with whatever they need in order to achieve school success.
  2. Educational opportunities vary widely by school, neighborhood, race, first language, teacher and school leader initial training and ongoing support, existing human and material resources, leadership skill, and community involvement.
  3. Advancing educational equity is about working to address and overcome any factors that may get in the way of learning. These may be factors that impact student lives; these may be factors that impact the work and mindset of educators; and these may be factors that exist outside of the school walls.
  4. Educational equity is not a phrase to be used with a hammer. Educational equity is a phrase we need to believe in, a phrase that we shouldn’t be scared of, and a phrase that should empower us. It frankly has to be a phrase that we associate with love, hope, determination, and unswerving intention.
  5. Educational equity work should be informed by an understanding of the transformative power of education to uplift.

Once district leaders have embraced these principles, one way to begin or continue the advancement of equity is to engage in a four step District Wide Equity Defining Process. This is a process I have developed based on my work with schools and districts who decided to advance equity in their work. Given the many dimensions of equity and the plethora of equity needs, this process helps to define and focus effort.

A 4 -Step District Wide Equity Defining Process

1. Invite all staff to participate in an open conversation about equity.

Utilize a small group discussion protocol, and emphasize that this initial conversation will be the first of many and help to inform an equity definition and focus. Leaders must affirm that there are no right or wrong answers, and that impactful equity action needs to be informed by the collective. Potential guiding questions for these conversations can include:

  • What is equity?
  • What are the different ways to think about equity?
  • Why do we need to address equity in our district?
  • What are our equity needs?
  • What are our equity opportunities?

2. Recruit a smaller group to draft a district-wide definition of equity.

Task this group with the review of the perspectives of their colleagues from the initial all staff conversation, the review of existing definitions of equity (perhaps include a hyper link to some definitions), the drafting of a definition of equity and an area of focus that this group feels meets the needs of the district and the opportunity of the national moment.

3. Develop a one pager outlining the district definition/vision for equity and the current area of focus. Synthesize the ideas generated in the all staff conversation, the work of the smaller group, and the best thinking of the leadership team into a one-pager that is easily accessible to all and which can frame your district’s equity work going forward. Here is an example.

4. Share your outline widely through speaking to it in staff, parent, student, and community gatherings. Encourage reflection and integration of the definition, vision, and focus into the daily practices of all stakeholders.

Defining equity reveals commitment to change and intentionality of action. Defining equity allows for the advancement of targeted equity work. With a clear and focused definition of equity, district leaders can mobilize stakeholders around collective goals and actions to advance equity in the service of rigorous, empowering, culturally responsive student learning and stellar outcomes for all students.