A Commitment to Equity in the Classroom

A new year offers us a time to simultaneously reflect and move forward. That’s exactly what our Professional Development Day held on January 2 provided. Conducted by Jenna Chandler-Ward and Dr. Liza Talusan, skilled professionals who help organizations create more inclusive organizations, the full-day workshop offered plenty of opportunities to challenge our understanding of race and identity and its impact in the classroom. Chandler-Ward and Talusan asked the faculty and staff to tackle the complicated, and at times, uncomfortable conversation, of how our own backgrounds and societal conditioning shape the way we operate in our daily lives on an unconscious level. In order to explore our thinking and disrupt our ideas and beliefs to better serve our students, Talusan said, “Hope is not a strategy. We need to be skilled and have a strategy.”

To begin the workshop, the facilitators asked the participants to work in small groups to discuss one another’s backgrounds and share how their early education and family life was similar or dissimilar to that of the KO population. Some faculty attended parochial schools; others attended diverse inner-city public schools; some grew up in homogenous neighborhoods whereas others lived in foreign countries. Coined by Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Associate Professor Teacher's College Columbia University, this “archeology of the self,” asks one to dig deep and to see how these experiences of the past (family, religion, race, schooling, class) live within us. By knowing our own story, we can be open to the story of others and then see how our story inserts itself into our teaching practice and personal lives despite our well-meaning efforts to be "neutral" or objective.

Creating a positive, multicultural environment where all students feel safe and validated isn’t just a “nice to have” afterthought. It takes continual work, but it’s work that builds an equitable environment for all students to thrive and to be fully prepared to engage in society as full selves. Studies have shown that students who attend schools that celebrate diversity and inclusivity tend to be more creative, more collaborative, better at solving problems, more flexible and adaptable in their thinking, and able to notice and articulate difference without stress.

Chandler Ward described her own teaching experience where her own blind spot impacted her teaching style when she was observed in the classroom by other educators. Although she supports the principles of racial equality and sympathizes with victims of past injustice, she unconsciously tended to have lower expectations for her students of color. She shared how the extensive research shows that teachers demonstrate their lower expectations by calling on these students less often, showing less acceptance of their ideas, providing less information or feedback to their questions all the while giving them less praise and more criticism.

KO teachers were given tools and skills to create more inclusive classrooms for all their students and reflected on their goals for instituting these practices in their class. What action steps are needed to accomplish the goals? What are some of the things that might sidetrack you? What resources will you need? Who are your allies in support of this work? But as Talusan reminded the faculty, the work of equity, diversity, and inclusion has no real teeth unless one is accountable to someone else to gauge their success. The teachers were given time to find "accountability" partners who will provide moral support and practical feedback as they engage in their goal to positively impact their teaching practice. By being in the ongoing process of breaking down assumptions, making lessons that affirm all students, and representing multiple perspectives, KO teachers are creating meaningful classroom experiences where all students can become their best selves.
 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
Copyright 2018. Kingswood Oxford.