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Professor engaged in conversation with students in the classroom

Equity can be defined as a high-quality education for all students. By federal mandate, all children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, so an understanding of the importance of educational equity and its relationship to success in schools is essential for Lead Teachers. Disparities in the educational experience have been well documented (Cranton, 2006; Cummins, Brown, & Sayers, 2007; Kozol, 2005).  Efforts to close the achievement gap have been, at best, only partially successful.

Lead teachers treat all students equitably because they understand how individual differences relate to students’ abilities to achieve their potential. They create a classroom culture and provide differentiated instruction that accommodates those differences.  Similarly, they demonstrate an appreciation of cultural, racial, ability, gender, and economic differences in their social interactions with students, their families, and other educational community members and expect the same from their students.

As a result of accepting the responsibility to create safe, equitable, and inviting learning environments, they apply multicultural, invitational, transformative, and other relevant theory and research to their practice (Banks & Banks, 2006; Cranton, 2006; Irvine, 2001; Novak, 1994; Purkey & Strahan, 1995; Wong & Wong, 1991).

  • Lead teachers understand and respect communication patterns, preferences, and choices of different cultural groups, and encourage communication in ways most comfortable for students and families. They work to overcome bias in all forms of communication, such as language, attitudes, and interactions. They avoid bias in language usage, such as exclusively using masculine pronouns and titles. They are careful not to identify people by race/ethnic group or disability unless it is relevant and avoid the use of terms such as non-White and culturally-deprived. They minimize bias in language by being aware of their own language use in class, stay informed about nonbiased alternative language, and use the classroom as a safe place to educate students about biased language (NWREL, 2001). They use person-first language when referring to students with disabilities (e.g., a “student with LD” instead of an “LD student”).

    Similarly, Lead teachers’ pay attention to their attitudes and the attitudes of their students. Prejudice and bias have no place in an equitable classroom, and can lead to diminished student performance. More subtle attitudes, such as holding lower expectation for some groups of students, or believing boys are better at computers, can also hinder students’ academic success (Johnson, 2005). They make an effort to avoid bias in dealing with students, examine and reflect on their behavior, and are aware of stereotypes and other biased attitudes and how they are formed. They serve as role models for students and do not allow students biases to remain unchallenged.

    Lead teachers are aware with how they interact with students as interactions influence students’ self-esteem and success. They demonstrate high expectations for all students and communicate their expectations regularly. Lead teachers call on all students to give them an opportunity to look good in front of their peers, not to embarrass them. The teacher allows more time for less confident students to raise their hands and respond. Lead Teachers apply discipline equitably and use praise and reinforcement to teach appropriate behavior to all students (NWREL, 2001).

  • Lead teachers realize all students should have equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of the educational process. They understand the digital divide, know which students have or do not have access to computers, provide alternatives to home computers, and work with their school and community to ensure Internet and computer access before and after school in such settings as Boys and Girls Clubs, libraries, and school computer labs.

    Lead teachers are computer proficient and are aware of technology issues related to educational equity. They are aware of opportunities and issues such as online classes, universal design, assistive technology, online tutoring sites, and electronic home school communications (Freiberg & Driscoll, 2005). Virtual high schools allow students to take advanced classes and electives not offered in their home schools, and learn content beyond the confines of classrooms, thus lessening the divide between those with access to Honors, AP, and other advanced curriculum and those without. Universal design and assistive technology assure all students have access to the rich resources of the Internet. They use the communication strengths of technology to help students learn, involve families and communities in the learning process, and broaden the horizons of their students.

    Lead teachers understand how technology can enable students to interact with others who are geographically at a distance and may be diverse in terms of race, religion, beliefs, culture, life-style, economics, class, and language. Information and computer literacy are required 21stcentury skills, and they take responsibility for ensuring their students master these skills. They give extra encouragement in learning and using technology to students who may be less confident, such as females or lower income students. Computers are used for instruction and enrichment, not merely remediation (Cummins, Brown & Sayers, 2007). 

  • Lead teachers are knowledgeable about the use of standardized tests and can interpret and utilize test results in their classrooms and schools.  They disaggregate school and classroom data, and use data to inform school improvement efforts, identify curricular and instruction changes, and guide equitable resource allocation (NWREL, 2001).

    Ensuring both equity and excellence in school settings requires the use of assessment that accounts for variances in student learning styles and cultural backgrounds and is effectively aligned with school curricula, instruction, and systemic improvement goals. Traditional, uniform measures of assessment alone, such as "high stakes" standardized tests, are not sufficient to gage the full breadth of students' skills or to use as a basis for formative, educational decisions. Depending solely on these indicators often presents an inaccurate reflection of student performance due to inherent bias in test questions or to the unintended measurement of certain skills (e.g., a math test designed so that success depends not only on the skills the school intends to measure, but also on other skills, such as language proficiency) (NWREL, 2001).

    Lead teachers use multiple assessment strategies including performance-based measures such as portfolios, teacher observation, oral assessment, student self-assessment, and work sampling as well as data from standardized tests (American Educational Research Association, 1999; Lehman, 2000; NWREL, 2001).

    Lead teachers use assessment outcomes to achieve equity and excellence in their schools. In particular, they take care to ensure all assessments are developed to measure the skills intended and to guard against outcomes reflecting differences in student experiences, cultural values, language abilities, or the quality of education received, and ensure appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities and students who may be limited in their level of English proficiency (NWREL, 2001).  Assessment data is used only for its intended purposes and confidentially is maintained.

  • Lead teachers recognize that “It takes a Village to Raise a Child” and achieving educational equity will take the combined efforts of educators, parents, communities, local, state and federal agencies, and higher education personnel, among others. Working together allows all to understand varying needs and views and work toward narrowing the achievement gap, funding schools equitably, and ensuring every child a quality education (Williams & Pritchard, 2006).

    The federal mandate that all children are entitled to a free and appropriate education occurred largely from the tireless efforts of parents and advocacy groups in the courts and legislatures of this country. A working knowledge of educational policy-making coupled with knowledge of equity legislation, such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, and the "No Child Left Behind" legislation of 2002 are critical to continued progress in this area (Spring, 2007).

    Lead teachers recognize their responsibility to promote diversity and collaboration not only in their classrooms but in their schools and communities. Some ways to accomplish this are by including community cultures in the classroom to enrich the learning experiences (e.g., cultural, religious, and national holidays, weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs, Quinceañera, first rice celebrations, birthdays, wakes, the arts).  Lead teachers involve their classes in discussions and appreciation of these events and ask students whether they see similarities to their own cultures  (NWREL, 2001).

    By respecting and celebrating diversity, all students have a broadened appreciation of culture and experience the positive side of diversity. Students also experience an affirmation of their own cultures and can take pride in sharing with the rest of the class. When students from various culture groups interact regularly, and particularly when they come together as equals, work toward a common goal, and see themselves as members of the same team, they are more likely to accept one another’s differences – and perhaps even value them (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1999; Oskamp, 2000).

    Within their classrooms, teachers ensure when students collaborate, groups are diverse and all group members have a chance to take on all roles. Within their schools, teachers make an effort to collaborate with diverse teachers to continually learn about other cultures. Teachers recognize their classrooms are part of a larger community and strive to understand all diverse aspects of their local communities.

  • Lead teachers look for bias in textbooks, curriculum media, institutions, and school-wide practices, such as tracking. They formally and critically reflect on and inquire into the pedagogical, ethical, political, social, and economic dimensions of education.  Formal reflection includes interpreting and judging the findings of current educational research to meet the needs of instructional or policy changes.

    Textbooks, audiovisual, and other materials should be reviewed to minimize bias in their content, graphics, pictures, and language. Examples of subtle and not-so-subtle bias in materials range from science textbooks illustrated with only white male researchers to absent or minimal discussion of the historical contributions of some cultural groups or women of all races (McCormack, 1994; NWREL, 2001). Curriculum, both expressed and hidden, often conveys unintended messages, such as racial lessons (Lewis, 2007). Lead teachers include contributions from non-European sources to provide a balanced study of world cultures and include the past and present experiences of people of color and women in studies of current events, economics, government, history, social studies, and science (NWREL, 2001). 

    Lead teachers recognize the effects the media has on our understanding of minorities, women, people with disabilities, homosexuals, and many other groups. The media is often creates and perpetuates stereotypes and a superficial, distorted understanding of people. Lead teachers recognize their responsibility to identify and critically examine these misconceptions and stereotypes in themselves and their students. They make conscious efforts to correct students misunderstandings based on incomplete or inaccurate knowledge of others.

  • Teachers are leaders and must be prepared to take on the challenges that come with leadership. One role, in relation to equity, is teacher as change agent. Here, Lead teachers are expected to apply their knowledge of equity legislation and policymaking as a tool to reduce the negative influences of class, race, gender, and ability on students’ success in school. They are equipped to partner with parents, community members and others to improve the schooling experience for all children, addressing issues like access, fair funding, technology, facilities, teacher quality, curriculum, testing, grading, and promotion (Darling-Hammond, Wise, & Klein, 1995; Novak, 1994). Teachers need to address the achievement gap, and act as change agents in their communities, classrooms, schools, districts, and at the state and national levels.

    Lead teachers understand the social consequences of capitalism and materialism and are able to apply these understandings to education. They understand the strength of the media in shaping understandings and imparting values. They understand the importance of engaging in critical thinking and teaching their students to use critical thinking in their approaches to learning. Learning from their experiences, they can work successfully with students who are different (McLain, 2002).

    Ultimately, Lead teachers recognize the need to strive for more equitable teaching for all students. When educators demonstrate a willingness to accept responsibility for their role in maintaining school structures that foster equality, and when local discussions of these issues move beyond a search for blame to a search for concrete solutions, the possibility for genuine progress in raising student achievement can be significantly increased (Noguera, 2001).

  • Some theorists believe that practice that is derived from varying sources and perspectives is more likely to meet the needs of a diverse population and make it more culturally relevant (Banks & Banks, 2006; Irvine, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1994).  Lead teachers must draw on geographical, historical, and/or sociological perspectives and incorporate demographic data from reliable sources in their planning and assessment to better meet the needs of all students.

    Lead teachers apply research about culturally responsive teaching and how students learn differently. They use of instructional materials that promote positive images of diverse groups (NWREL, 2001). Whenever possible, they make connections between subject matter and the lives of students by providing culturally meaningful examples and analogies to help students make the link between their prior experiences and new knowledge (NWREL, 2001). 

    Lead teachers know and apply research in learning and teaching styles. Learning styles may be related to culture (Delpit, 1995; Grant, 1999).  For example, African American children often prefer a more social learning style, talking and interacting in small groups whereas Asian and Native people often learn by listening to others, tend to conceal individual knowledge, and may not feel comfortable speaking out in class (Delpit; Gay, 2000). Lead teachers utilize a variety of teaching styles to meet individual student needs (e.g., hands-on learning, small-group discussion, problem solving).

  • In addition to the above information related to diversity, the School of Education believes that there are four additional constructs that are important for lead teachers to possess. These are:

    • Belonging
    • Equity/social justice
    • Cultural awareness/self-identity
    • Family/Community

    This vision of diversity, represented by an adaptation of the Circle of Courage from the Sioux Nation, is a medicine wheel, a sacred circle, divided into 4 quadrants. The sacred circle suggests the interconnectedness of life and represents the sacredness of the number four - the four directions, the four elements of the universe, and the four races. According to this model, all four parts of an individual's "circle" must be intact for that person to have a self-secure, pro-social approach to life. Relative weakness in any of the four areas of development results in adjustment difficulties. The Circle of Courage at the School of Education transposes the original four quadrants into the four constructs previously mentioned. Belonging, within the original Circle of Courage, is maintained due to its importance in education.

    Human beings have a basic need to belong, to be accepted, and to feel socially included and connected. The first construct belonging, focuses on the necessity for teacher candidates to incorporate diverse perspectives of family and community in the learning process. The psychological sense that one belongs in a classroom and school community is considered a necessary antecedent to the successful learning experience. Teachers must maintain a safe, inclusive, culturally responsive classroom where all children feel valued and have a sense of belonging. Importantly, the belonging construct asserts that teachers believe that each student matters and that each one deserves and desires to be loved and accepted. Finally, the construct of belonging asserts that families of all types should be welcomed into the classroom.

    Within the equity/social justice construct candidates are prepared to assume an active role in shaping the social, cultural, and political future of their communities and beyond. Teachers must know how and be able to provide students with equitable access to knowledge and an understanding of the realities of their lives. Teacher educators, therefore, help candidates to acknowledge and support the personal and individual dimensions of experiences while making connections to and illuminating the systemic dimensions of social group interaction. Teacher educators also help candidates to develop effective strategies for managing classroom situations of discrimination or cultural conflict by differentiating classroom management based on the needs of the student and ultimately leading to successful classroom community memberships.

    Cultural awareness/self-identity, the third construct, is the ability and willingness to objectively examine the values, beliefs, traditions and perceptions within our own and other cultures. At the most basic level, it is the ability to walk in someone else's shoes in terms of his or her cultural origins. In the Cultural Awareness and Self-Identity construct candidates reflect on, evaluate and acknowledge their own cultural identity and how that identity shapes their perceptions of and relationships to the students they serve. When a teacher is aware of students' cultural identities they attempt to see cultural schema from the view/perspective of a native of the culture and begin the process of shedding stereotypical views of students. They also become advocates for the students they serve, seeking information from a variety of sources to analyze and evaluate conditions and policies that shape communities and schools and evaluate conditions, policies, and implementation of services related to a school environment. They model appropriate behaviors, speech, and attitudes that show respect for the rights and concerns of others and avoid imposing values that may conflict or may be inconsistent with those of others’ cultures or ethnic groups. Finally, they plan instruction around student’s experiences, interests, and cultural competencies.

    The final construct, family and community, represents an expansive literature base representative of the social sciences, education, and medicine. In order to effectively instruct all learners, teachers must understand the various ways people envision family structures, and how diverse family and community values and practices can affect educational motivation and achievement. Teachers need to understand that there are many ways to form a family and raise children and that all families have strengths and weaknesses. To better teach a student, the teacher needs to recognize and appreciate the family within the context of the micro and macro cultures (Szapocznik  & Krutines, 1993). To effectively teach all learners, teachers must understand the various ways people think about families and how family and community values and practices affect educational motivation and achievement.

    An important factor in the family and community construct is the recognition that prejudice, discrimination, and homophobia are still rampant in society today (Kruks, 1991) and it is the responsibilities of teachers to recognize the challenges children face within their families and at school. From sexual preference to children of gay parents teachers must be aware of and address the various factors, which contribute to the multiplicity of problems that face youth.

    Finally, for teachers to effectively teach an increasingly diverse student population, they need to develop specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to diversity. Teachers can increase their understanding of their students' cultures by listening to families with respect and without judgment (Pang, 2011).

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