“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a phrase coined by Peter Drucker and made more famous by Ford president, Mark Fields.
Likely all of us in education resonate with that phrase and concept to varying degrees, and I assume everyone is unanimous in thinking that absent a strong culture it is more difficult to move forward with key strategies and initiatives, regardless of how compelling or sound in practice they are. Many of the recommendations outlined in independent studies surrounding equal access to education are embodied in the process of policy making. Policy gets tied up in legislation and politics at the national, state, and local level and is disseminated for implementation in the form of mandates which are meted out procedurally in school districts and ultimately implemented at the school building level. This type of change is slow, cumbersome, frustrating and can take years. In order to create conditions which foster educational equity in your schools, focus on creating a culture which supports equity education.
Educational Equity is by nature a very broad and nebulous phrase. Ultimately, schools are ethically responsible to teach to the global world we live in and explore and educate fairly the human condition. This is interpreted and shaped differently across schools in our nation. For some schools barriers to equal access to education are experienced by different races and ethnic groups. In other schools poverty or income may be the barrier to equity in the classroom. State and federal funding systems also create inequity in opportunities for students. Regardless of the inequity, or in cases where there appears to be no inequity, schools can examine their own policies, practices and procedures which reflect their school culture and level the playing field for all students. Here are four strategies which can shape and reflect a culture of equity:
- Create discipline policies and procedures that are flexible. Structure them on the premise that if students do not meet behavior expectations they are lacking understanding and skills. Teach skills replacement and skills development. Use restorative practices, engage in PBIS practices, and teach social / emotional competencies to students. Often students who experience educational inequity are consequenced and disciplined more frequently than other students.
- Homework should not be “one size fits all.” Avoid homework practices that encourage the same amount of work and rigor for all students; differentiate homework. Examine and discuss homework best practices and research with your staff. Frame your homework procedures around those. Consider environmental and student characteristics when developing procedures. Become the support system for students without support systems outside of school.
- Support students through problem solving processes that are student-centered. Students who struggle behaviorally, socially and emotionally may not receive the same unbiased lens that students who exhibit only academic challenges do. Create processes and protocols in your behavior MTSS that address and support students behaviorally and removes any negative emotions and connotation from the process.
- Finally, adopt an “Every-Ed Philosophy.” It does not matter if you are a regular education student, special education student, at-risk education student, EL student, etc. Every student gets what they need, and everyone in the school is responsible for getting them what they need to succeed. When I consider equity education, it reminds me of a saying I first saw in a kindergarten teacher’s room:
“Fair does not mean equal, fair means every student gets what they need.”
By examining procedures in your schools to ensure that they align with a culture that supports all students, you establish a culture that can support and grow equity education.
Brendan Bogart, principal
Alexandria Public Schools