Magazine article The Learning Professional

Tap into Educators' Sense of Purpose to Create Equitable Classrooms and Schools

Magazine article The Learning Professional

Tap into Educators' Sense of Purpose to Create Equitable Classrooms and Schools

Article excerpt

Most professional development in diversity focuses on two aspects: recognizing issues of inequity and building cultural knowledge. While these are important and necessary steps in developing cultural proficiency, they are not enough. In order to address systemic inequities and create culturally responsive classrooms and schools, educators must take action to transform policy and practice.

Sometimes the action is simple, such as providing parents with documents in their native language rather than assuming they understand communication in English. Another relatively easy strategy is to broaden students' perspectives by helping them learn about cultures other than their own. Educators tend to be willing to take actions such as these because they are familiar practices and most people will agree they are necessary and reasonable in today's diverse schools.

However, when the required action goes against accepted school norms, educators are less likely to act. Educators know that acting against accepted practices disrupts the school climate and makes people uncomfortable. Colleagues and supervisors may question the motives of educators who raise equity issues or suggest changes. The educator may be viewed as a troublemaker. Because of this, educators are often reluctant to act, even when they believe it is the right thing to do. Taking action that is necessary but unpopular requires a level of courage and moral conviction that may not come naturally. Professional developers can help educators develop the courage to go beyond recognizing issues of inequity to taking action to address them.


Moving educators to action begins with tapping into educators' sense of purpose and commitment to educating all students well. While we would be the first to say schools have a lot of work to do to become equitable, we would also say that the inequities we find in schools have little to do with educators' lack of concern about students being educated well. In fact, we believe most educators have a deep desire to ensure all students have a chance to succeed. Professional developers can tap into educators' sense of purpose about their work to help them understand they have the responsibility and the capacity to help create equitable classrooms and schools.

Responsibility comes from professional ethics that call for educators to uphold the right of every student to have equal educational opportunity (NEA, 2012). What this ethical obligation means is that once an educator becomes aware that a student or a group of students may not have the same education opportunity as other students, the educator has a professional responsibility to do something to protect those students' rights. Educators may assume this responsibility belongs only to principals and other administrators, but that is not the case. Every educator has this responsibility. Professional developers can make this responsibility clear by giving educators scenarios that depict common equity dilemmas educators face. Working through scenarios and discussing possible outcomes help educators understand why action is important and what the consequences of inaction may be. Doing so allows educators to consider their own position and what they might do in a similar case.


The next step in helping educators develop the courage to act is understanding that taking action does not require having authority or even having a group of like-minded colleagues. An individual teacher has the capacity to take action that will make a difference. Teachers can create change by working within their own classrooms to develop culturally responsive practices that serve as models for other teachers. They can ask questions about practices that seem inequitable. They can engage other teachers in conversation about culturally responsive teaching and learning. They can organize a book study to help teachers understand what it means to create culturally responsive classrooms and schools. …

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