4 reflections for building more equitable schools

Every student arrives in our buildings with a unique experience. In their own lives, they’re wrestling with challenging interactions, aspirations, disappointments and the pressures of becoming who they want to be. At the same time, they’re uniquely impacted by the large-scale systemic issues and ongoing narratives that contribute to their marginalization. That combination of factors uniquely affects every individual student and impacts how they show up in the building every day.

When we discuss social and emotional learning and the environment we want to create for our students, those impacts are at the top of my mind. This reality motivates me to attend carefully to my sphere of influence and take the steps within my control to affirm students’ intrinsic greatness and support their success. Our schools may not exist apart from systemic issues, but it remains within our control to make our buildings into environments of consistent, unconditional support that actively contribute to more equitable outcomes.

Here are a few questions I ask of myself and my team to hone in our power as decision-makers to create that environment for our students and ensure they receive our best.  

1. Who am I as an educator in our students’ lives?

We can’t afford to lose sight of the very important value that we as educators and school leaders add to our students’ lives. No matter our individual roles in the building, whether as principal, teacher, counselor or coach, we are each playing a crucial role. We shape opportunities for these young humans, and who they’re going to become once they walk out of our doors. Finding ways throughout the day to resurface that importance and sense of value is crucial to sustaining a supportive environment for students.

2. What do I believe about myself?

When I take a moment to appreciate the value of that role and the scale of the impact it has throughout so many students’ lives, the next question I have to think about is: What do I believe about myself? I think of this as an expansive self assessment, where I take  inventory of my beliefs about how I’m showing up to this work every day. For me, it’s important to examine those beliefs and consider how they align with everyday reality. Am I bringing the best version of myself into the building and into my interactions with students, families and my colleagues? Why or why not? In what aspects of this work do I truly feel confident in my ability to support students in their educational journey? What are the areas where I could use more support, and am I actively seeking that support out?

3. What do I believe about our students?

Especially when we’re working with students from marginalized populations , we’re susceptible to a whole host of negative assumptions about who they are and the communities they belong to. We know those narratives have many detrimental functions from lowering expectations to higher likelihood of disciplinary action. Knowing that, one step we can take is to examine our beliefs about our students and ask if those beliefs align with their true limitless potential. Am I holding all students as individuals distinct from their structural circumstances? Am I holding all students in the belief that they are intrinsically capable of greatness?

4. What do I envision for our students?

To hold every student in that positive belief, I need to ensure that I have a vision for students that is powerful. That vision includes them being passionate collaborators and positive contributors in their community. It includes them having every opportunity to experience success so they can realize that impactful and fulfilling community role. 

Examining our belief system in this way builds towards that powerful vision that holds the highest sense of possibility for all our students. It continuously refreshes our awareness of the environment we create and the opportunities within our grasp to participate in systemic change – starting with positive experiences in our schools.