“Learning equity” refers to the principles and practices guiding student support that address possible cultural and systematic barriers. Learning equity aims to level the playing field for students by providing individualized assistance to help them achieve their goals.
Learning equity begins with a school culture composed of diverse faculty bodies with learning-ready facilities, high expectations for their students and access to student services that can help them succeed. Below are the five primary dimensions of equity-centered leadership Education Resource Strategies (ERS) recommends for cultivating a supportive environment:
- Diverse and Quality Teaching Staff
School leaders are managers of human capital. They manage the landscape of their schools’ faculty bodies. As such, they should ensure that their faculty body is as diverse as their student body and matches their students’ needs.
According to ERS, this also means envisioning this faculty body as a “team enterprise” of teacher-leaders who ensure that students who need the most help are provided access to resources, and that faculty are provided career paths that offer a “ladder of roles” with increasing opportunities to grow. In addition, ERS suggests crafting teaching and learning communities to collaborate on everything from lesson planning to figuring out new practices and technologies.
- Learning-Ready Facilities
Every student deserves access to safe, well-maintained facilities and functioning, up-to-date equipment.
A report from the Planning for PK – 12 School Infrastructure National Initiative argues well-planned and designed schools are crucial to student safety, community well-being and learning equity.
For instance, students with special needs often need equipment to help remove barriers to learning. If this equipment is unavailable, poorly maintained or outdated, it cannot properly do its job. Therefore, students from all backgrounds need effective and safe equipment that provides them the same access to learning as their peers.
- Empowering, Rigorous Content and High Expectations
Learning equity means providing all students access to rigorous instruction to meet high learning standards. In part, this means that quality teachers should be a priority when hiring. However, school leaders are also responsible for ensuring that quality teachers offer quality instruction with high expectations and rigorous content.
Administrators need to critically assess whether students in every classroom are being held to the same high standards and provided with the necessary tools to reach those standards. This distinction also means providing professional development opportunities, organizing time and appropriate resources for setting and achieving those high standards.
- Student Support Services
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, equitable schools prioritize student connection and wellness by providing an integrated support system to address nonacademic needs. Partnerships and staffing should embed social-emotional learning, counseling services and health and family assistance in school systems.
Counselors, social workers and psychologists are not the only ones who can provide these services. School leaders can create support networks by training all school staff in trauma-informed practices and investing in personnel and partnerships to meet students’ emotional, health and career needs.
- Supportive School Culture
All the above dimensions contribute to a positive school culture, which is vital for learning equity. Meaningful relationships between administrators, teachers and students ensure fair and equitable learning and disciplinary practices.
School leaders devote resources to relationship building embedded within the school’s core structure. This investment looks different for every school, but it might include anything from carving out time for meeting with community members and individual students, investing in advisory structures or organizing students into smaller cohorts.
Striving for learning equity is a multidimensional task that requires a network of teaching excellence. This network can lay the foundation for closing learning gaps while creating a supportive culture in which students feel safe exploring and achieving their personal and academic goals.
Pursuing an advanced degree in educational leadership can equip professionals with the teaching tools they need to provide a safe environment for every student. Plus, by working together, school leaders, faculty and staff can make sure every student is held to similar high academic standards and provided the necessary tools to reach those standards in school and beyond.