“Classroom equity,” “school equity,” “excellence through equity,” “equitable practices,” etc. have all become buzzwords in the education world…some might even call them “the latest fad in education.” When I noticed the uptick in the usage of the word “equity” as a part of education parlance, I immediately paid attention because it was relevant to who I am as an education professional.
My teaching career began in 1988 in Brooklyn, NY. I did not have language to apply to “equitable practices” in my classroom as a brand new teacher, but it was more than evident from day one that the learning, social and emotional needs of my students varied widely and I therefore knew instinctively that if my students were going to be successful in my classroom, I had better meet them where they were.
I eventually moved on to East Orange, New Jersey to continue teaching in the city that produced me from birth. Once again, I had no language to apply to “equity”…I simply knew that equitable classroom practices were a necessity because the needs of my students varied. When I became a principal, although I was no longer a classroom teacher, I was now an instructional leader. That role in and of itself demanded that I possess an “equity mindset.”
When I say “equity mindset,” I am saying that the teacher in the classroom has to be fair. The teacher has to consider each student as a unique individual with a focus therefore on meeting the unique needs of each and every learner in the classroom. As the teacher examines the learning needs, the social needs and the emotional needs of the student, the teacher is in a much better position to meet each of these needs via bringing to each student in the classroom an “equity mindset.” An “equality mindset” on the other hand might not only be devastating in “real time,” but can potentially have life long adverse implications as in the following scenario.
A baby is born into a family. She receives sustained love, care and attention from her parents. The home environment is pleasant and there are no major challenges such as poverty that the family has to contend with. What stands out for this baby from the very beginning is the mother’s attention to cognitive development, language development and listening skill development. Mother is constantly talking and reading to the baby in the first year of her life prior to being able to pronounce words. Eventually at around a year old, the now toddler starts to develop a vocabulary, listening skills are developing and overall cognitive development is intentional. Mother continues to talk and read to toddler and by the time she is three years old, she may have a grasp of anywhere from 250 - 500 words.
At the same time another baby is born into a family. He too receives sustained love, care and attention. This home environment is comparable to the aforementioned home environment. The major difference between the experiences of both babies however is the attention to cognitive development, language development and listening skill development. Yes, this baby is loved and cared for but the intentionality of cognitive, language and listening skill development via purposeful talking and reading to this youngster is just not there for whatever the reason and consequently, there is a higher probability that this toddler will have less of a vocabulary by the age of three than the first one.
At age three, both sets pf parents enroll their toddlers into preschool and they are in the same class. Clearly, one is behind the other relative to language development, but to no fault of the child. What distinguishes them is essentially how they are being raised in their home environment. Now that they are both in school, how they proceed in the classroom will boil down to two words – “equity” and “equality.” If the teacher brings an “equality mindset” to the classroom, both children will suffer. In the teacher’s effort to strike a balance, the first child might not be fully challenged predicated on her prior experience and the second child might not be met where he is predicated on his prior experience. An equality mindset simply will not work in this or any scenario. This scenario therefore begs an “equity mindset.” The teacher must identify where both children are relative to their own language development and meet them where they are toward true equity in the classroom. And just imagine if you will, that both children go for several consecutive years with "equality mindset" teachers. The gap in language development would never close and the implications would be potentially devastating...particularly for the second child.
The only place for an equality mindset in a 21st Century classroom is a museum. It is a relic from the past and has no place in a modern classroom. The equality mindset shortchanges children. It undermines their ability to maximize their potential. If the playing field is going to be truly level for all children, they must be afforded the opportunity to enter schools and classrooms where equity abounds for everyone.
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