Shomari Jones, the director of equity and graduation support at Bellevue School District, has led a multitude of initiatives aimed at closing stubborn achievement gaps throughout the district. In a recent article for District Administration, he shares a few lessons the district has learned throughout that process. Shomari emphasizes that there clearly has been national progress, but there still remains tremendous potential to ensure that underserved and struggling students receive access to the specific and varied resources they need to graduate college-and career-ready.
He shared the following six tips on how to ensure an equity initiative can be effective with some preparation and considerations before launching a new program:
- Clarify your purpose. What are you seeking to achieve and what barriers do you want to overcome? Those conversations prior to implementing an equity initiative will help to guide your equity mission and help ensure you achieve your goals and to help communicate these goals to administrators, teachers, students and community members so that everyone clearly understands the purpose and direction of what you are trying to accomplish.
- Listen. To truly do equity work well, it’s incredibly important to listen to not only administrators, teachers and students, but also to parents and community members. Creating an open forum and a two-way communication model to listen to one another’s perspectives, we have the potential to understand concerns, biases and where we can spend more time focusing our work.
- Identify key supporters. In this work, it’s paramount to have buy-in from organizational decision makers, and key stakeholders amongst your community, families, students and staff you serve. There is much more value in building a unified movement, inclusive of multiple perspectives, and you will want to include the voices of many, encourage administrators, education leaders and staff to become champions and stewards of the equity initiative.
- Keep students at the center. Our greatest aspiration with equity work is to positively impact all students, particularly historically underserved groups of students. It’s important to always keep this in mind when making decisions and staying focused on that goal can help to guide decisions and priorities on how to best serve this population of students.
- Know your blind spots and provide regular training. We all have some level of implicit bias, which is when our brain automatically processes negative stereotypes that have become embedded over time about particular groups of people. This can happen without us even being consciously aware of it when it’s occurring. That’s why it’s so important to talk about implicit bias, conduct regular trainings and professional development and continue to monitor the effectiveness of these trainings as a major component of an equity initiative.
- Methodical use of technology. Meeting the needs of diverse, underserved populations can be a challenge because it often means serving populations who are English language learners, below proficient readers or students with learning gaps.
One tool educators can use to provide balance and access at scale is online learning; however, a technology that personalizes instruction can’t single-handedly create equity. It must be combined with a well-designed and supportive learning environment in which staff are culturally competent and understand how to address the unique needs of each student. This includes proper implementation and planning of the technology, effectively addressing the existing culture to enhance learning opportunities and being strategic in the selection of a rigorous digital curriculum provider.
To learn more about how Apex Learning can support your equity program through the use of digital tools, visit: www.ApexLearning.com.