Looking at Your Sh**… And Other Ways to Sharpen Equity Tools

sharpen your equity tools

By Lori Cohen, Bright Morning Senior Associate

A Series in Three Parts Focused on Sharpening Your Equity Tools

Sometimes change comes not in the first round, but at the second, third or fourth. Change starts with one person questioning, challenging, speaking up and doing something to make a difference. We can each make a difference…because each of us is already part of the community where racism exists & thrives.

Paul Kivel

Everything we do is equity work 

Doing equity work is challenging. And liberating. And healing. And hard. Our identifying markers and privileges further complicate the work, as some of us bear greater loads and burdens. And it is time for all of us to see that equity work is non-negotiable if we truly want to transform the world. 

When I say we, I mean all educators. And when I say equity, I’m drawing from Elena’s definition:  

Educational equity means that every child receives whatever she/he/they need to develop to her/his/their full academic and social potential and to thrive, every day. By “thrive,” I mean academically as well as social-emotionally. Every child has a right to feel loved and cared for and to feel that they belong to a community. Emotional well-being is as important as academic success in this definition of educational equity. 

And when I say equity work, I mean the practices, policies and approaches to ensure every child gets what they need every day. And it means that we need to be doing the work (the focus, the practice, the intention) of centering ourselves on equity.

I’m a firm believer that all educators are equity practitioners. But not everyone sees themselves that way, nor knows where to begin. So for anyone who is looking for that tidbit of wisdom… or experience…or even a practice they can try to make them more aware of how our systems oppress and build barriers that inhibit the success of any of our children, this series is for you. And in this first post, I’ll share my own awakening and some first steps you might take as you frame your role as an equity practitioner.

Awakening to Equity

In my teaching credential program, I was assigned Paul Kivel’s Uprooting Racism, and that book transformed my entire worldview. Up until that point, whiteness and white supremacy were relegated to the fringes—terrible acts committed by individuals or hate groups. Kivel’s book was talking about the very system we were working in, about policies that had benefited (and continue to benefit) me and people who looked like me, practices that were having an impact on the very students I was working with at that moment—and the ways white people deflect, defend, and deny their complicity in it all. It was a polarizing text that led to polarizing conversations, and those conversations shed light on so much for me. Those conversations also made me uncomfortable. And I’m grateful for it.

By the end of my credential program I had learned that teaching is more than content, skills, and inspiring young people to wake up to learning. Teaching was also about understanding race, power, systems, and how the classroom is a microcosm for our society around us; it’s within that microcosm that the system plays itself out. And because of that understanding, I wanted to do more in service of equity. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I knew I had to start somewhere. I also knew that anything I expected of my students was something I needed to expect of myself as well.

So in my first years of the profession, I engaged in practices that helped me better understand what it meant to teach for equity. I’ve learned a lot from these experiences, and they’ve propelled me on a continuous learning journey every day of my career. If you’re looking for ways to get started, the following are some considerations:

It only takes one action to further your work in service of equity. We look forward to hearing what you are doing and are excited to be on this journey with you.

To Read:

Jessie put together a four-part series on equity. You can read her posts here:

  1. A Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Equitable Classroom
  2. Beginning Steps to an Equitable Classroom: Step 1
  3. Beginning Steps to an Equitable Classroom: Step 2
  4. Beginning Steps to Building an Equitable Classroom: Step 3

To Do:

One of our newest offerings, Equity By Design (February 27 – 28 in Brooklyn, NY), is a workshop focused on how teacher leaders and administrators can explore the current systems of oppression that affect our students and how to strategically, and compassionately, interrupt those through relationship-building, policy-making, and intentional practice. Register here.

Join Elena at Coaching For Equity (April 22 – 23 in San Diego, CA) to explore how the tools of transformational coaching can lead to more just, equitable school systems. Expect some insight from Elena’s forthcoming book Coaching for Equity. Click here to register