Secrets in Equity Work: How to Coach Beliefs

by Jessie Cordova, a Bright Morning Senior Associate and guest blogger


First secret: Equity work is needs and beliefs work. Every action we take, every behavior we exhibitis because it serves us in some way—otherwise we wouldn’t do it. The needs we have are birthed from the belief systems we hold. A person might find they need (or think they need) a lot of money, a car, a house and a family comprised of a significant other, 2.5 children and some kind of furry pet.If we probe, we might find that this comes from beliefs around their definition of success or what it takes to belong,or beliefs about their purpose in life,etc. These needs, as a result of this belief system, would lead the person to take a series of actions, whether they’re conscious of the beliefs or not.

Personally, I often need ice cream. It offers me a little sweet escape and I do believe sometimes we need a timeout from the hustle and bustle of life. But if I take the time to uncover why the need for a “sweet escape” has come up, I realize there are other ways of getting to the same feeling—much healthier ways. I can create other options for myself. You get the point. So, let’s go from this basic example to the complex ones we find in schools.

When we see inequity, perhaps disproportionate “discipline” policies in a classroom or a school, we want the policies and actions that enabled that inequity to quickly stop. That, my friends, is a temporary fix. Because soon enough those oppressive polices will just be replaced with other oppressive ones. Here’s the next secret: To create sustainable change that actually matters to kids and transcends time, we must go deeper—to the needs and beliefs of the people that created and implemented that policy. But how?

In my time facilitating learning spaces about equity, the number one question I get asked is: “How can I make someone else behave differently? They are treating students unfairly and I want them to do something different but they won’t change.” For some insights on why people don’t want to change, you can read  Top 5 Reasons Why People Don’t Want to Change Their Beliefs.

Oh, if only we had that kind of power.

I know the question comes from a place of fierce love and protection for our children. Here’s the next secret: one human being doesn’t have that kind of power over another. In some relationships it might appear that way, but in reality, we humans just don’t have that kind of control. Nor should we. The good news is we do have some influence! We have direct control over the conditions we create and the spaces we hold for people. If we invite them into a space where they know we have their backs and we will love them and hold them accountable, then we can make progress. And here’s the final secret: the how.


To Change Someone Else’s Actions/Beliefs

Step 1: Identify your own beliefs first. Get clear on where the rub is. What is it about what the other person did or said that goes against what you hold to be “right?”

Step 2: Remind yourself that your beliefs were formed by your experiences. This is why they make perfect sense—to you.

Step 3: Get curious and ask questions. If your beliefs make such perfect sense, chances are the other person is holding beliefs that make perfect sense to them too. Find out why. Frame your question through observable facts and use coaching stems to clarify and probe deeper. “I heard you say ___ or I saw you do ____. What makes you say that? What made you take those actions?” Remember tone, volume and pitch of your voice are all important. These questions can come across as extremely condescending if you are not careful.

Step 4: Attempt to synthesize and reflect back what you hear. Listen carefully and try and distill a value or belief the person holds based on what they are sharing. “It sounds like you really value control in your classroom. Is that accurate?” It is important that you remain detached from the outcome. In other words, you might be wrong. That doesn’t matter; what matters is that you both get on the same page about the value or belief at play for clarity and focus in the rest conversation.

Step 5: Go deeper.Ask the person to share some experiences in their life that helped shaped that value/belief.

Step 6: Bring them back to present moment and situate them in the context of what happened. Ask questions that prompt the client to consider the impact of holding that belief in the current context. How does that belief or value hold up against the values of the students? How can we reconcile that? Ask any questions that help them consider how the manifestation of their value is impacting children.

Step 7: Find alternatives. You might ask: “What might be an another belief that could better serve everyone involved?” Help the client brainstorm alternatives and have them practice saying the statements over and over until one “feels right.” It has to be true to them but not at the sacrifice of children.

Step 8: Belief integration. What would holding that belief look like and sound like in the classroom? Get specific and concrete and have the client practice embodying those actions—what to say, how to say it, how to stand, how to walk etc.

Step 9: Practice and repeat. Taking on a new belief is like getting a new pair of shoes. They won’t fit perfectly right away. They need to be broken in,so check in with the person and provide both celebration and accountability for how they are integrating that new belief. Revisit Step 7 as new scenarios come up in the classroom so the application and integration can get more nuanced and sophisticated.

Notice this process is organized into neat steps. Real life is not that neat. Beliefs work is not this linear. It’s much more human than that. It can be messy. The learning is in the mess.

I was once coached on my need for ice cream. I promise you, that conversation had nothing to do with ice cream. The final secret: the actions we take are always about something deeper, so be sure to dig.


The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion or position of Bright Morning.