Equity Through Education

This if my first ever crossposted blog post. The motivation to start moving on writing our own blog came from working on blog posts for my job as a school leader.

We talk a lot about equity through deeper learning, but I don’t have a words to describe what that actually means. There are three levels of communicating: action, attitude, and atmosphere. I can either communicate my thoughts about something you should do. I can communicate my intentions around how you should think or I can communicate around how I would like you to feel about a concept. I’ve never really liked telling people what to do. This is true, in part, because I think that you can come up with a better idea of what you should be doing on your own. You can find a version of what I was going to suggest that better fits your personality and established skillsets. I don’t mind shaping what what you think about a topic. If I can do that, then you can decide what actions you want to move forward with based on new lines of thought. However, I would rather create an atmosphere where you are developing and challenging your own thoughts. The best way to do that is boil down a complex thought into something simple and then explain that truth in easy to understand ways. I want to try and do that with the phrase equity through deeper learning.

I always feel the need to preface something I post publicly because, in all honesty, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a topic, but not always a ton of time refining the communication of those thoughts. So, equity through deeper learning. Equity doesn’t mean the same. The content taught in school is a standardization of what is perceived to be important in a highly unstandardized and fluid world. There are standard pathways and progressions that lead to standardized outcomes. Except the pathways are flawed. By all accounts my schooling was a success. I had a high gpa in high school, a high gpa while earning a bachelors degree in Mathematics and a high gpa while earning a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I would argue that progression of education was actually more of a failure than a success because I use none of it. In fact, I have to actively fight to not regress into thinking anything I learned or did during my time in school meant anything other than provided me access to the job I have now. The only thing that distinguished me from anyone else that was less successful is that I have a good memory and have a knack for pattern recognition. I think there has only ever been three classes I have ever had to try in during the entire progression of my education. I have a feeling that says way more about the system I went through than any of my abilities.

The only way my educational experience can be framed as a success is if we use access as the measure of success. I did these things well, which let me do these other things well, which got me where I am at now which allows me to do the things I want to do.

What if there is another way to get what you want? What if there was another way to gain access to doing work you enjoy? How would we create a system that was built around identifying a kid’s passions and/or natural talents and giving them the requisite skills to use those passions and talents to develop marketable skills?

The first thing we would want to do is teach a kid to have enough self awareness to identify what excites them, angers them, or intrigues them. We would want them to be so self aware that they could direct themselves onto pathways of knowledge acquisition that give them fulfillment and satisfaction. We would also want them see themselves as the type of person that can access a multitude of careers because they are the type of student that can do anything they want. In fact, we would want to be very careful about what we tell them they can and can’t do. Failure wouldn’t be a term we would use lightly. We would want to treat them first and foremost as an asset and push back on any feelings that in any way is the student a liability, regardless of our chosen classroom structures. We would then need to empower them to make them think they can have access to whatever their chosen professional field might be. While showing them they do have access to the chosen field we would need to build them up in these four areas. Each student would have to have the requisite content knowledge to succeed on their individual pathway. Practically speaking, that looks very different for mechanics and doctors. However, the idea that there is content that needs to be mastered is universal. The particulars of what needs to be mastered is different. Once a student has made gains in mastering some of the content required for access to the career pathway of their choosing they will inevitably need to communicate around those topics. They will certainly have to use those communication skills when they work with others and maybe most importantly they will need to think critically about what has been done traditionally in their field and be the type of person that can solve current problems as well as problems that arise in the future.

A student that knows they have access to a particular field that they have chosen because they find fulfillment in the particular type of work and has the skillsets to succeed in the next steps of moving into that career field has a high probability of not leaving any unmet potential on the table and that’s the end goal. That goal can’t be met unless the student is at the center of all of our design decisions. What is described above are the 6 deeper learning competencies and 4 equity pillars. The 6 deeper learning competencies are well established while the 4 equity pillars (prevention of unmet potential, student empowerment, students as assets, and student centered design) are certainly up for debate and discussion.

Central to this is shift, not necessarily away from content mastery but certainly less of a focus, is giving space for students and staff to explore their own identities as individuals. Deeper learning, when done well, balances mastery of content, student identity, and creativity – the expression of ones identity sometimes through mastered content. What is missing in a rigid, traditional classroom is the opportunity for students to explore their identities in the context of what content needs to or should be mastered in order for them to make strides in meeting their potential as individuals. Moving toward growth in the deeper learning competencies allows for that space and when school systems are designed with the desire for students to express themselves as individuals, equitable outcomes can exist because successful outcomes are based on the individual, not the individuals progress through our arbitrarily created systems.