Building Equity in the Classroom

imagesThis is not a blog post about investing in classroom shares, nor is it an article about starting a stock market club for your students. This is really about excellence in pedagogy; specifically, I want to discuss what should be among the highest of the teacher’s aim:  to elicit engagement and questions from each and every student, every day, in order to create a high caliber educational environment in your classroom.

I call this equity of participation. Every student must add something to the unit, the discussion, or the community of the classroom. Such “participation” might be a question, a fact or research contribution, a discussion comment, a response to the teacher’s prompt, or even a bit of service help such as a classroom chore or some assistance to a fellow student. Over time, when the teacher has had an opportunity to know her/his students much more, the kind of participation can be pre-planned and may appeal to each student’s outside interests, hobbies, and talents. Have Susie bring her flute to class as a musical entrée to a poem that will be taught, or have Sammy bring his tambourine so he can shake it whenever a student gets a geography question correct.

There are two significant benefits to creating this ideal of participation equity in the classroom: one for the teacher, and another one for the students.

For the teacher, the mere act of executing an equity approach to the classroom proceedings helps to focus attention on each of the kids, every day, and will helpClassroom the teacher to develop an “individuation” mindset. What I mean by individuation is that the lessons are never taught in a uniform, one-size-fits-all way. Teachers must see every classroom lesson as a complex challenge of communicating to each student; yes, this will take time to develop at the outset of the new school year, but it will happen soon enough if the teacher is intent on knowing the students as individuals and of course as learners. The equity approach is also about valuing all students, which means restraining oneself from favoritism, from extending special treatment, from developing teacher pets, from showing one’s own bias or political bent or interpretive stance, let’s say, on a piece of literature. Perhaps most importantly, the equity approach supports the teacher’s effort to embrace diversity in the classroom community. Students typically have an acute sense of their teacher’s feelings and orientation toward diversity—indeed, even very young students can sense if a teacher is favoring one category of students over others, and when they do sense bias and favoritism, that’s when the student-teacher connection frays and the trust dissipates.

As for students, the equity approach is highly beneficial because students of course will be more authentically engaged in the classroom proceedings. When students see that they have a role in the classroom, that they are valued by the teacher, that their interests or talents are being sought and factored by their teacher—that’s when students gravitate toward the subject in more meaningful and passionate ways. When participation is managed with equity in mind, students themselves learn the values of appreciating differences,  and they are much more apt to engage successfully in cooperative learning.  Equity means less competitiveness, less tension, less alienation. Students feel valued and supported when they see their teacher reaching out to all students, valuing all differences, and promoting participation among all students. The biggest benefit for students in the classroom that pursues equity participation, is that more learning, and more effective learning,  takes place. Equity translates into deeper thinking, more creativity, and livelier participation.

Building equity in the classroom is indeed an investment that pays great educational dividends–in real and engaged teaching and learning.


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