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Reflections: Giving Thanks & Building Equity

Sometimes the big stuff gets lost in the details of the everyday hustle

I recently had the privilege to attend a day of thinking all about equity – though that wasn’t what I had expected. Since we use Achieve 3000 at my district and I coordinate the program, I was invited to attend their School of the Future conference. Dr. Doug Fisher was on the speaker list, so I was definitely going regardless of what else was on the agenda. Once I got there, I was sincerely thankful for the invite because the whole day was discussing equity in education – something I care deeply about but rarely feel like I get to focus on in my daily work. It’s just so big an issue to tackle, and I feel like sometimes the daily hustle gets in the way of working on it.

As I listened to Dr. Fisher, Annette Gurley, and others I was reminded about the importance of building equity in education. I remember back to listening to Shanna Peeples say, “ Equality is giving all kids shoes. Equity is giving kids shoes that fit.” And I started to reflect on the push-and-pull we have in education. The concept of “fairness” that gets in the way of giving students what they need. For example, I think of arbitrary deadlines that turn into punitive measures for students who really need more time or whose life is getting in the way of an assignment. I think of grumbling about the extra help we must give some students. I think about the push back I get from those that hold the purse strings when I request they buy books for students to read.

I feel like it is our job as educators to focus on those first steps to bring our students the equity they deserve.

And at that point, I started reflecting on my own education and everything that it has afforded me. I went to a highly regarded district and attended highly regarded schools. I always had access to books. I had access to extra-curricular programs, GT education, and good teachers. I had access to music – in fact my aunt was my piano teacher. I had access to art – my uncle is an art professor. I had family members in a variety of professional careers – my dad is a veterinarian, my aunt a journalist, my uncle an engineer, etc. We went on family vacations. I got to be outdoors. I may not have had as much as some – that was clear when I went to college and met classmates who attended elite private schools and went on more extravagant family vacations - but I had a lot. Now looking back I realize I grew up with so much more privilege than most – so much more privilege than the students who I have taught and whose teachers I now support. I am so eternally thankful for the access I have had. I know it set me up for success. I was successful in college because I was prepared and was surrounded by people who knew about this college thing. I had financial support when I stumbled as a young professional. I had, and continue to have, moral support from family and friends.

My point is that where I am today is because of the incredible foundation I was able to build as a kid. I am so thankful for that. But I also realize that that is not the story for many, or even most kids. I also know that much of what goes on in students’ lives is beyond my control. But there are some things that we can control, help, advocate for. So I wonder to myself, how can we offer all students more access, more opportunity? How can we give all students that solid foundation?

It seems like a huge task – one that must be taken one step at time. As a distance runner, I understand that a marathon starts with that first step, that first mile. And so I feel like it is our job as educators to focus on those first steps to bring our students the equity they deserve. If education can really be the great equalizer, we all need to be part of a public educational school system that can make that happen. And we can all do our part.

For me, that means being an advocate of opportunity. The students in my district need quality, diverse books to read. They need to be surrounded by them, have access to them, have choice of which ones they want to take home and explore. They also need access to the technology that supports their learning and that they will see in their post-secondary education and work. They need instruction of the highest quality, and I have to make sure that my support helps their teachers achieve that. They need a supportive environment where they feel welcome. They need a safe space where they feel their voices and experiences are valid and valued. And I need to make sure I communicate that when I work with their teachers.

So really on this Thanksgiving I ask that you give thanks for the educational opportunity that got you where you are, but I also ask you to reflect on how we make sure all children have that opportunity to succeed.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

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