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Social Justice in Education

As more open and frank conversations continue, it is apparent that the work is far from done. Past social justice revolutions called for equality — as in being equal to those in privileged positions. However, activism conversations today call for equity, which ThoughtCo describes as “the provision of varying levels of support — based on specific needs — to achieve greater fairness of treatment and outcomes.”

This concept is particularly poignant in educational environments, as we acknowledge that treating all students as “equals” may not be the goal. Instead, we should strive to recognize everyone’s differences, strengths and struggles and guide students to become the best possible version of themselves. In addition, school leaders must inform themselves about issues concerning race, gender identity, social class, and disabilities to dismantle their personal biases.

Social justice in English as a Second Language (ESL) education applies these same goals for equity for all students with approaches geared toward more inclusive language acquisition. Teachers can cater to each ESL student’s needs in a number of ways like creating a responsive classroom, making curriculum relevant, using various teaching modalities, staying educated on cultural norms, distinguishing academic language and the social language of English, and supporting students’ first languages. All of these approaches help teachers foster equitable ESL education.

It’s not enough, however, to engage with these topics passively. For example, Brenda Álvarez from the National Education Association (NEA) Today said, “Social justice is about distributing resources fairly and treating all students equitably so that they feel safe and secure — physically and psychologically.” To go a step further, education leaders and administrators must apply social justice concepts to their everyday lives, even when there is a risk of backlash.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Southeastern) reflects this goal with its online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum and Instruction – English as a Second Language program.

Equitable Education in Action: Implement What Works

Graduates of Southeastern’s online program can pursue a number of educational roles such as curriculum supervisor, ESL instructor or teacher, two-way immersion teacher and federal or state government consultant. No matter their role, here are five ways that education leaders can help foster diverse, equitable and inclusive learning environments:

  1. Support student activism: Teachers and administrators can join the social justice fight by actively supporting student unions, organizations and clubs that call for change. As voices of authority, education leaders can show support by encouraging students to create their own activism. Support will also help students feel seen and their voices heard.
  2. Offer opportunities outside of class time: Spanish teacher Elizabeth Villanueva from Sacramento encourages education professionals to engage students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds. Villanueva created a class for her Latino students to prevent gang affiliation, according to neaToday.
  3. “By the time the second cohort had enrolled, the group changed its name to New Age Latinas — NAL, for short — and focused on leadership skills, college readiness, community service, personal growth, and networking with other Latina college students and professionals,” she said.
  4. Broaden the concept of learning: Achievement tests may be the traditional way to assess a student’s learning outcomes, but they also traditionally neglect to evaluate other essential practical and soft skills. According to Ashley Jochim from The 74, “Low-income students and students of color are more likely to attend schools defined as low-performing under conventional achievement tests.” With that in mind, teaching and assessing students through means other than testing can be a first step toward equity in the classroom.
  5. Representation matters: This popular slogan rings true for a reason: When students see celebrities, athletes, role models, teachers and leaders who come from a similar background as theirs, they gain confidence in themselves and what they can achieve. Therefore, hiring diverse personnel and staff is vital to break the cycle of institutional bias.
  6. Continue the conversation: There is always room for improvement within structural systems. Per NEA Today, teacher Angie Powers said that “education and equity are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other. When inequity plagues the educational system, [the system] fails to serve the needs of each child. It is our most important work to battle inequity in each classroom across the nation, [and within] our educational institutions as a whole. Our children are worth this fight.”

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

With the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – ESL program offered online by Southeastern, educators will be better able to contribute to equity efforts in classrooms and other environments and institutions. In courses like Leading in Culturally Responsive Learning Environments, teachers develop skills and knowledge of practices and resources to act as equitable learning advocates.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – ESL program.

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