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Implementing an equity series: How one school started having conversations about race
January 25, 2021
The following was written by Ryan Haven, Ed.D., principal at Edenvale Elementary School.
Recently, there has been renewed interest to engage school staffs in meaningful conversations about race. However, how does a leader practically get such discussions going? Edenvale School in South San Jose recently designed a scope and sequence for equity including conversations about race. The goal of this series is to develop teacher cultural proficiency by fostering mindsets, discourse and practices that will support the achievement of students of color and English learners.
“I think it is important for everyone to engage in conversations about race as we watch our country become increasingly divided,” said Sharon Leahy, the school’s literacy coach.
Edenvale is representative of the thousands of Title I schools with significant numbers of ELs, socio-economically disadvantaged students, and a large achievement gap. “We serve a population that has had a different experience than me, and I need to work to learn what those lived experiences are, so that I can better disrupt the systems put in place to keep people of color down,” Leahy said.
Research and student outcomes
Although personal and professional growth may be a side-effect of conversations about race, the main purpose is to improve educational, academic and life outcomes for students. Edenvale School accomplishes this by identifying specific culturally responsive practices and continuing the regular disaggregation of student data. In the past five years, the entire Edenvale staff has contributed to making marked progress in improving student outcomes and narrowing the English learner achievement gap.
A lack of teacher cultural proficiency or expertise in working with culturally diverse students, is one main reason for the achievement gap (Aguado, Ballesteros, & Malik, 2003). To develop cultural proficiency, effective professional learning must increase teachers’ knowledge around culturally responsive practices, but we must also influence teachers’ beliefs, specifically by providing greater self-awareness of their own racial identity and bias (Aronson & Laughter, 2016; August, 2009; Killoran et al, 2004; Darling-Hammond, 2015).
“If we want our students to become self-aware, to become empathetic citizens, to be self-advocates, we must be willing to take part in the conversations and to do the work ourselves first,” said teacher Bao-Tran Nguyen. “It begins with us.”
Building teacher buy-in
The entire staff came to this shared conviction that transforming Edenvale would require more changes, not only in their practices but also their mindsets around equity. This change occurred in the context of the training and important equity work that has been going on for more than two decades in Oak Grove SD. The ongoing consultancy and training that Edenvale received from Partners for School Innovation and from Sobrato Early Academic Language Program have prepared the staff for this work.
An organization needs a culture of trust between teachers and the principal, and between one another as they receive professional development around equity and race (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). Just a few years ago, some teachers at Edenvale indicated that they were not ready to confront their own racial and cultural bias.
“It’s hard to acknowledge your own flaws and the racial bias that you may have,” shared teacher Heather Brookmeyer. “As a white educator, it’s uncomfortable to think of the privileges I have solely because of my race.”
Nguyen expanded: “I think the biggest obstacle for most people in general is fear and discomfort. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.”
This was not going to be a top-down led effort. To prepare for the work and obtain staff buy-in, a group of Edenvale teachers participated in a two-year equity and leadership training program called the Transformation Network, which is led by Partners in School Innovation. PSI provided intensive professional development on specific leadership skills including coaching, facilitation and change management. Over a period of time, the Transformation Network team came to believe that to build their cultural proficiency, the teaching staff needed to collectively reflect on mindsets and practices around equity and make personal connections to their racial and cultural history.
Our Equity Scope and Series about race
Edenvale has continued its collaboration with Partners in School Innovation to plan and facilitate 10 monthly two-hour professional development sessions this 2020–21 school year.
These sessions will cover topics such as structural racism; systems of oppression; intersectionality; ELs: history, language, and relationships; and dominant white culture/privilege. The school also plans to integrate equity-related readings into discussions. For example, this fall, the staff will root some of this equity work around a book study of “So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo.

“If we want our students to become self-aware, to become empathetic citizens, to be self-advocates, we must be willing to take part in the conversations and to do the work ourselves first. It begins with us.”
Bao-Tran Nguyen, Teacher, Edenvale Elementary School

Teachers will participate in listening and speaking protocols including affinity groups, fishbowl activities, personal experience panels, racial autobiographies and role-play. “I really appreciated the vulnerability and bravery of our staff,” Leahy said. “Hearing from staff members who rarely speak up was really powerful.”
In terms of measurable outcomes, teachers will be able to demonstrate greater self-knowledge around their own cultural and racial bias, as well as report improved self-efficacy in instructing English learners. In terms of ways to measure outcomes, the school leadership will use teacher surveys, focal group interviews and one-on-one interviews to determine changes in teacher self-efficacy and bias.
In addition, the staff will regularly reflect upon feedback forms to adjust the program’s scope and sequence. Ultimately, the principal and leadership will evaluate the effectiveness of the program by examining changes in the number of students of color and English learners meeting grade level standards.
Now, even as the staff embarks on these conversations about race, the expectation is not to “arrive” anywhere by the end of this year. However, by engaging in this important work, Edenvale is on the right course to empower teachers to work more effectively with all students, including students of color and ELs.
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