Making classes more equitable begins with educators recognizing how race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, and being able-bodied impacts students’ learning. As educators, we must become aware of how particular groups have more privilege than other marginalized groups who have had different life experiences. All of these affect how students learn and should be considered when designing classroom environments.
Differentiating Equity vs. Diversity
While sometimes used simultaneously, it’s important to understand the difference between equity and diversity. Equity is the approach that everyone ensures access to the same opportunities. Diversity is the representation of different people, experiences, and backgrounds.
In practice, equity recognizes that advantages and barriers exist and as a result, we don’t all start from the same fair and equal vantage point.
Creating a Safe Learning Environment
Establishing a safe learning environment can cultivate equity in the classroom. Promoting inclusion and openness to others’ opinions and ideas is a great place to start. Clearly discussing how to be respectful of others’ ideas, opinions, and values can help institute equity. Also, educators should encourage students that it is okay to disagree with each other but teach students how to disagree respectfully. Once students feel safe that their ideas, opinion, and values will be respected equity will thrive in these classroom settings. This is something that will take time, planning, and persistence to establish.
Align Classroom Strategies Around Success
One of the first key steps in making your class more equitable is to understand where people are coming from. Their background, their experiences, and their motivations are key elements in getting to know a student and can be the difference in helping them succeed. When thinking about equity best practices it’s important to:
- Challenge the Idea of “Can’t”
Confront issues of assumed failure and push students to give a real reason why they can’t do something or can’t accomplish something. Often these assumed perceptions are keeping them down without ever really trying.
- Embrace their Culture and Priorities
Culture and background matter…a lot. People of different backgrounds can have different motivations, cultural traditions, and priorities. It’s important to understand and even promote these priorities to help students succeed.
- Provide Students with Guidance on How to Succeed
Don’t tell students how to learn, show them how to learn. Laying the foundation for how to successfully learn will pay off in dividends greater than any single class.
- Align Penalties and Consequences to Success Strategies
At the end of the day, classrooms have rules and penalties if you don’t follow them. Turn something in late, get points off, etc. But it’s important to really think through the penalties so that they only benefit students in the long run, rather than penalize them for following classroom rules they may not be familiar with.
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that a class will be very equitable without purposefully planning to address the topic. Discussing diversity and equity can be awkward for students and teachers alike, but avoiding this important topic is not the answer. Not only is it important for educators to discuss these topics with students, but it also gives students ownership by allowing them to help establish ground rules of making a classroom more equitable. Giving students ownership is one way to encourage students to contribute to this process. Students and educators should both be aware that it is an ever-growing and changing process throughout the semester.
All classes can and need to become more equitable. Educators need to take the initiative to make this possible. Not only are more students given the opportunity to learn more in classrooms that have more equity, but also ideas and thoughts that are contributed in these settings have might not have been shared otherwise. Everyone learns in their own unique way and should be given a fair opportunity to learn in a classroom environment that cultivates this approach.