As debilitating as many of the events of 2020 have been, as we end the year, more recent events have proved that we have persevered and are moving in a positive direction despite these obstacles. The senseless killings of Black and Brown men and women in the U.S. led to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the search for equity in all arenas, from the corporate boardroom to our classrooms. The demand for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professionals has increased tenfold to ensure that organizations begin to meet all stakeholders’ needs. The spread of COVID-19 kept many of us close to home and provided the time and space to connect with and initiate change in our immediate communities. The move to hybrid models of instruction or full distance learning in many districts across the nation has led us to rethink how we educate all students and the inherent inequities in our school structures. Equity conversations in education have centered around access to technology, quality curriculum, and how to provide a meaningful education to all students regardless of their race, gender, language, or ability in a face-to-face, hybrid or online environment.
As we continue the pursuit of equity across the country, no more salient example of the shift to inclusion and representation has occurred than the nomination and election of Kamala Harris. She is the first female, first Black, and first South Asian vice president-elect of the United States. The daughter of two Jamaican and Indian immigrants will become the highest-ranking woman in the nation. As she walked out to Mary J. Blige’s, Work That on the evening of November 7, 2020, to accept the nomination as Vice president-elect, lyrics that mirror our 2020 experiences were transmitted from that Delaware stage through our television speakers, “There’s so many-a girls/I hear you been running/From the beautiful queen/That you could be becoming/You can look at my palm/And see the storm coming/Read the book of my life/And see I’ve overcome it. To get to this stage, Harris has overcome and contributed so much. Collectively, to get to the end of 2020, we have all dealt with and overcome so much. Harris’s words to young girls across the nation were loud and clear, “Our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way” (Prakash, 2020).
Women at the Forefront of Educational Equity
Harris is one of the many women who should also be applauded for the steps she has taken to ensure equity and inclusion while in the roles she has taken throughout her career as a District Attorney, Attorney General, and a United States Senator. The foundation of equal access to opportunities is equity in education. Whether it be through their scholarship, direct work in districts, or collaboration with educational organizations, there are countless women of color who have dedicated their careers to educational equity.
• Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D.: Since the 1990s, Gloria Ladson-Billings has been a leading scholar, contributing to the research behind the development and implementation of culturally relevant pedagogy. Her work has led to millions of K-12 educators realizing their students’ needs while ensuring that they make content come alive by connecting it to their experiences and cultures.
• Janice Jackson, Ed.D.: In a school district that services over 350,000 students, 85% of whom are children of color with over 60,000 English Learners, Janice Jackson, Chicago Public Schools CEO, has been a champion for educational equity throughout her 20-year career in education. As CEO, she hired the district’s first Diversity Officer to focus on a high-quality public education for every child and prioritizing ongoing training for teachers to minimize achievement and opportunity gaps.
• Crystal Gonzalez: Throughout her career as an educator and program officer, Crystal Gonzalez, now founder and executive director of the English Learner Success Forum, has spent her career elevating the needs of English Learners. Through her collaboration with content developers and organizations, she ensures that K-12 instructional materials provide appropriate language supports for students. Her work has also led her to engage with professional learning providers to develop training frameworks for teachers that ensure ELs access to the grade-level curriculum, which has often been ignored until students reached higher proficiency levels.
Coupled with current events, the ongoing work of these women and others like them has caused school districts to revitalize professional development efforts to ensure that teachers and specialists meet the needs of the increasingly diverse populations of students they serve. Educators must serve as the ambassadors to continue the groundwork we began in 2020 to ensure that true equity and inclusion occur. Professional development focused on the essential elements of Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Practices, Implicit Bias, and Evaluation of Representation in Curricular Materials helps teachers implement these practices.
Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Practices
Ladson-Billings developed culturally relevant pedagogy in response to her research with educators who successfully taught African-American students. Teachers who implement culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) are known to (a) have positive perceptions of themselves, their work, and others (b) have positive interaction with all students, parents, and the community, (c) believe that knowledge is shared, recycled, and created and (d) be passionate about their work as an educator (Ladson-Billings, 1995; McDaniel, 2017). Ladson-Billings (1995) also identified outcomes for students who are recipients of culturally relevant pedagogy; they achieve academically and can identify, examine, and critique social inequities.
Simply adding books from various multicultural perspectives, celebrating holidays from non-dominant cultures, or using diverse images does not change the type of instruction students from marginalized groups receive. The introduction of the theoretical tenets of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy picks up where CRP left off (Alim & Paris, 2014; Ladson-Billings, 2014; Paris, 2012). Culturally relevant pedagogy laid the foundation for culturally sustaining pedagogy, whose goal is to maintain students’ and families’ heritage and community practices (Paris, 2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy challenges educators to implement instructional practices that are sustained and valued in the academic environment. Students do not have to lose or deny their languages, literacies, cultures, and histories in order to achieve in school (Paris, 2012). Paris and Salim (2014) argue that CSP embraces cultural pluralism and cultural equality, allowing students to sustain their current culture while also gaining access to the “dominant language, literacies, and other cultural practices.”
Implicit Bias Training
The Kirwan Institute defines implicit bias as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner (2015).” These biases can affect how educators interact with one another, their students, and the school community. Establishing ongoing opportunities for educators to participate in professional development that examines their own implicit bias while establishing protocols for identifying and correcting bias in the opportunities, experiences, and realities students encounter will be the first step to full equity and inclusion. If your district does not yet offer training, consider exploring Project Implicit (http://implicit.harvard.edu/). Project Implicit is a research project between researchers at Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington that offers several Implicit Association Tests (IATs) to uncover unconscious biases and provide steps to eliminate these biases.
Evaluation of Representation in Curricular Materials
Whether it be the textbooks utilized, lesson plans designed, or the novels embedded in the curriculum, educators across the country are receiving explicit training in how to locate resources that represent the culture, experiences, and realities of their students. In an increasingly diverse society, students must interact with various texts and resources representing different ideologies and cultures. The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools developed the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard (Bryan-Gooden, et al., 2019) to assist teachers, curriculum review teams, and districts in identifying the barriers, opportunities, and supports within curricular materials used to deliver content. In this Pass the Mic series, we have explored various barriers to systemic equality; racism (dismantling), the weaponization of English, and communication. In this final installment of the year, I am now passing the mic to each reader as I challenge you to make the conscious decision to be the voice, face, and champion of equity in your space. Take time to pause and reflect daily on how you can impact change as you plan and deliver your lessons, write curriculum, and engage with your students.
J. Bryan-Gooden, M. Hester, & L. Q. Peoples (2019). Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard. New York: Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, New York University.
Ladson‐Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into practice, 34(3), 159-165.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: Aka the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74-84.
McDaniel, K. M. (2017). Beyond compliance: Supporting the transition of English learners with special needs. In A. Ellis (Ed.), Transitioning children with disabilities (pp. 43-57). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
My Story: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California. (2019). Retrieved November 1, 2020, from https://www.harris.senate.gov/about
Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93-97.
Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2014). What are we seeking to sustain through culturally sustaining pedagogy? A loving critique forward. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85-100.
Prakash, N. (2020, November 08). Read the Full Transcript of Kamala Harris’s Victory Speech as Vice-President Elect. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a34608793/transcript-kamala-harris-victory-speech-delaware-2020/
Understanding Implicit Bias. (2015). Retrieved November 1, 2020, from http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/
Kia Myrick McDaniel, Ed.D., has dedicated her career to supporting and developing equitable educational opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse students. She is currently a district leader, adjunct professor, and consultant.