Equity in education involves providing every student an environment, opportunities, tools and resources to be successful.
While most of us often consider the term ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ as one and same, they are actually different. While equality means treating every student the same, equity means making sure every student has the support they need to be successful. Equity in the classroom requires putting systems in place to ensure that every child has an equal chance for success. It requires understanding of the unique challenges and barriers faced by individual student or by populations of students and providing adequate supports to help them overcome those barriers. While educators cannot ensure equal outcomes for all, they should strive to ensure that every child has equal opportunity for success.
How can teachers promote equity in a classroom?
Designing or maintaining a classroom’s learning environment is a challenging task for any educator. It involves many forces or strategies. Therefore, it is important to take into consideration each of these forces and employ those strategies in order to ensure a positive learning environment for all students and that all are given an equal opportunity to learn and thrive.
There is no magic recipe to promote equity in the classroom. But here, we bring you certain ways, strategies and practices to help teachers promote equity in the classroom. We hope these practices, alongside each teacher’s own experiences, background, and personal strengths can create an equitable learning environment for all students in the classroom.
Every educator must understand the saying ‘People cannot give what they don’t have; they can only give what they have’. Yes, everything begins with self. Teachers set the tone for the classroom setting. If as a teacher you try hard to be even-tempered, fair with your students, and equitable in rule enforcement, then you already have set a high standard for your classroom. Of the many factors and strategies, the first and foremost thing that will do the magic of promoting equity in the classroom is teacher’s own behavior and their characteristics. Teachers must first possess or have themselves what it takes to change or promote anything.
Second thing to promote equity in the classroom is self awareness. Educators must recognize how intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, and different physical abilities impact students individually. They must understand how a student’s identification or belonging to a certain group or community has advantages over others, and they must be open to actively listen to marginalized groups who experience life differently because of their social groupings. Educators must acknowledge their personal biases and seek to understand students who all are from different backgrounds and have different experiences in life.
Setting Class Norms
Another important way for teachers to promote equity in the classroom is setting norms in classroom in a way that promote inclusion and openness among the students. For this, educators need to be explicit about the way their class and their students should behave. They should open up space for every student to share their ideas, opinions and knowledge. They should also teach students to disagree others’ point of view respectfully. However, teachers should also challenge negative stereotypes immediately and openly. Additionally, teachers can create list of class norms together with their students to give students ownership and show that everyone’s voice matter and are heard.
Promoting the act of “Calling In”
This method of promoting equity in the classroom is derived from the idea that teachers must always listen and identify moments of bias, oppression, and other subconscious, identity-based assumptions and ideas that students bring up in the classroom. In these instances, it is important that rather than ‘call students out’ on what they don’t know or where they disagree, educators should instead ‘call in’ and address the issue head-on so that students can learn from and through their differences.
Teachers can enforce the act of “calling in” when certain student makes certain insensitive comments or remarks against someone’s gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. during any discussion or interaction. In such cases, they should immediately stop the discussion, identify the wrong and right away say the comment is insensitive. Such steps simply involves calling attention to the comment, explaining why it demotes inclusivity and dissecting with the rest of the class what the commenter’s experiences and background may have instilled these biases, and help develop respect for each other despite their differences.
The ‘Whip around Strategy’
Through ‘Whip around Strategy’, a teacher could pose a question to his/her students in the class and give every student an opportunity to have a voice and answer the question. This technique serves as an important part of the learning process because it shows all students that their opinion is valued and should be heard.
The mechanics of the whip strategy are simple. Each student gets few seconds to respond to the question, and there is no question of right or wrong here. The teacher whips around the classroom and gives each student a chance to voice their thoughts on the given topic. Students are encouraged to use their own words to describe their opinion on the topic. Using strategy like this will provide all students an equal opportunity to participate and share their thoughts while actively being engaged in the lesson.
Cooperative learning strategy is perhaps one of the simplest ways teachers can effectively keep their students engaged while promoting equity in the classroom. The reason being it gives all students the opportunity to share their thoughts, knowledge and work for a common goal. Through this strategy, teachers make students work in small groups to accomplish a common goal. In order for cooperative learning groups to be successful, the teacher and students all play their part. While the teacher’s role is to play as a facilitator and observer, the students work together to complete the task. Each student that is in the group is responsible for learning the information given, and also for helping their fellow group members learn the information as well, and they work together to accomplish the common goal.
These types of group activities help promote participation of all students and ensure inclusiveness in the learning process.
Whilst the above practices are aligned with strategies an educator can use to promote equity in the classroom, there are certain responsibilities that fall as much to the students and organizational leaders within a school or university as it does to the teachers. They can positively partake in generating an equitable learning environment by simply being open to the process. This includes listening to and learning from one another, standing strong in their own perspective, while also recognizing the differing views of fellow peers, differentiating between opinions – which everyone has, and informed knowledge—which comes from sustained experience, study, and practices, striving for intellectual humility, and reaching for curiosity and new understanding when challenged.
In simpler words, equity in classrooms is a work in progress in which educators inevitably bring the different social identities and social locations into the learning process. It means educators must not only be able to recognize the differences in race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other social identities among their students, but also adjust their approach to teach those students accordingly.