Tuesday / June 25

How to be MORE than an Ally: 5 Steps to Make an Impact in the Path to Equity in Schools

In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, search trends for “How to be an ally” skyrocketed. Articles, videos, social posts followed all toting tips on how to standby fellow colleagues, students, and people of color.  

But just like trends ebb and flow, the buzz around driving a path towards equity has lost its intensity. Why? Because good intentions are not enough. We must focus on our impact and in order to make an impact, we have to make this work on an ongoing process. When it comes to our school systems, this is hard work–work that needs to be done as a collaborative effort. But one person can make a difference to light the match to ignite the fire within your organization. 

So, how do you harness your power, light the match, and start to change the trajectory of your students’ lives?  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that can transcend a classroom.  

Systemic barriers prevent students from accessing and engaging with high-quality instruction. Just as UDL can be used as a framework for lesson planning, it can also be used for reflective professional learning and designing classrooms and systems that work for students academically, behaviorally, socially, emotionally, and culturally. 

To offer a universally designed framework for beginning social justice work in your school, we have outlined a series of five steps that are critical in creating foundations for social justice and equity. These five steps outline possible barriers that have the potential to derail social justice work. These potential barriers include but are not limited to the following:  

5 Steps towards Implementing Social Justice  

Step 1: Concept Stabilization 

You must be able to define “social justice” for your classroom, team, and school, then create a shared vision of what social justice is in order to build a foundation for growth. This is a critical step to building a shared understanding of what social justice is and/or why it is necessary. Take time to write down or record your definition of social justice for your classroom and share it with your PLC or colleagues. 

Step 2: Concept Calibration 

In addition to naming a commitment to social justice and defining the term, it’s imperative that classroom communities, as well as the wider school community, calibrate their understanding. This step helps to build agreement and define what socially just, universally designed practice looks like in practice 

Step 3: Identity Development 

Explore and acknowledge the barriers that may get in the way of creating an environment that is culturally responsive and socially just, including the presence of implicit bias. Begin this process by reflecting on your own identity as well as the intersectional identities of your students. This provides an opportunity for all teachers to embrace their own identity and recognize bias, including but not limited to implicit bias 

Step 4: Equity Audits    

After thinking about your own identity, personality, and beliefs, it is critical that you objectively examine what the data says about the experience of marginalized groups in your classroom.  

Examining this data is critical as it provides evidence on the differences in student experience as a result of race, class, gender, sexual and gender identity, ability, language, and/or religion.Download tools to get started with your equity audit, including Criteria for an Equitable School, Criteria for an Equitable Classroom, and Teacher Behaviors that Encourage Student Persistence, available at resource/equity-audit-materials/

Step 5: Taking Action 

This step empowers educators to take action against inequity, oppression, and discrimination. Social justice in our world is literally in our hands. We have the privilege to make changes that allow us to create classrooms and schools that are linguistically appropriate, culturally responsive, socially just, and universally designed. To do this, we have to create communities where we empower all students to embrace their identities, personalize their learning journey through Universal Design, and to create their own pathways to success.  

Next Steps 

The disconnect between outward social justice beliefs and inward racist and/or deficit-based-thinking is a reality that must be addressed through consistent action. Good intentions are not enough; we must focus on impact. We hope that you join us in the ongoing journey towards creating a socially just and universally designed learning environment. Dive deeper into Equity By Design (book info and description). 

Written by

Mirko Chardin is a co-Author of the best-selling Equity by Design, Delivering on the Power and Promise of UDL  as well as Founding Head of School of the Putnam Avenue Upper School in Cambridge, MA and an active hip-hop artist.

Katie Novak is co-Author of the best-selling title, Equity by DesignDelivering on the Power and Promise of UDL, as well as an internationally renowned education consultant and practicing leader in education in Massachusetts.

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