“Just education begins with intentional reflection that leads to transformational change.”
-Kori Hamilton Biagas, M. Ed.
Recently I provided training with two members of my team to a medium sized school district in the Mid-Atlantic Region. This district has been working with a variety of partners to intentionally and strategically address inequities that exist within the system. Training the school based staff was one milestone in system-wide transformation they are working toward.
This was the first training for approximately 500 teachers, administrators, and support personnel on Cultural Proficiency. The groups were divided into elementary and secondary, and the presentations for each group were identical, having been customized to address the overall needs of the district. What was revealed throughout the day was that there were many teachers who had lost hope in the idea of change and transformation. Instead, they had conceded to the fact that this was just how it was and how it would remain. Most poignant was that they felt that there was little that they could do to change things for themselves or “these kids, today”. How can a district transform into a just and equitable system when the individuals within it do not believe? How can the mindset of school professionals be shifted to embrace the idea that change is not only possible, but they are essential agents of that change? So, I ask. How does Just Education look in your school district? The simple answer is, Just Education begins with you.
Key factors for paving the road to just education
- Self reflection. We all have limitations, and bias is one area that does not discriminate; EVERYONE HAS BIASES. Knowing this, it is important to build your capacity in understanding your biases and how they impact your work. As the landscape of education rapidly changes, we come face to face with bias on a much more regular basis. Building capacity requires that we honestly come to terms with our limitations, biases, and perceptions of others and ourselves. Intentional, guided reflection can serve as a powerful tool in facilitating system transformation. Understanding how your life experiences and upbringing influence your view of the world, your work, and your perception of your students can be transformative.
- Leadership commitment. There must be a belief that all students, all students (did I say ALL?), can learn and are entitled to a high quality education. The type of education that you would want for your own children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And that sentiment has to exude from the highest levels. If the superintendent, the school board, the president, the directors are not supportive and leading the change then transformation cannot happen. Leadership buy-in is essential for sustainable change to occur.
- Relationship building. It may seem simple, but getting to know your students, the families of your students, and your colleagues is of the utmost importance. Just Education requires stretching beyond the books and making real life connections; that’s not possible without positive, genuine relationship building. Recognize, however, this is not always an easy thing to do. Having a sense of what your students and colleagues bring into the school building and classroom can drastically improve climate. We are all people first, and people want to feel accepted and included. Relationship building has the potential to create the inroads that lead to substantive change toward equity.
- Policy change. If it is not in writing then it does not exist. Much of the inequity in education, and in society at large, persists due to written policy that helps to maintain the status quo. Policy review and revision, through an equity lens, is necessary to truly achieve Just Education.
Start on your pathway to just education
The journey to just education is different from district to district, school building to school building, classroom to classroom, and school professional to school professional. There is no one right path to achieving equity for all in education. However, working in collaboration and partnership with others is how we will make it. These are just a few tips to help set you on the road to more equitable education. Because I believe that #JustEd4All is possible.