equity in education
Oct 10 2023

A Practical Guide to Equity in Education

Positive Action Staff
Explore our hands-on guide to fostering equity in education, featuring engaging activities, strategies, and practical tips for inclusive learning.

Think of your classroom as a garden. A wonderful, diverse garden filled with a variety of plants, each with different needs based on factors such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. 

 access to these essential elements can cause some plants to wither while others flourish. 

Similarly, in education, students come from diverse backgrounds, possess different abilities, and face unique circumstances. 

Equity in education ensures that each student receives the necessary resources, support, and opportunities to reach their full potential. 

Now, you might be wondering, “How is equity possible when all too often, our education systems reinforce those same inequalities they were designed to overcome?”

It’s possible because you exist. 

You’re the pioneer who’ll set an example for your students and the rest of the school, making a positive impact where it matters most. And we’re here to show you how.

We’ll discuss:

  • The meaning of equity in education, along with examples of how to ensure it thrives in your classroom
  • A step-by-step guide to addressing inappropriate remarks made by students with compassion
  • How Positive Action uses real-life scenarios to teach students essential life skills 

The truth is, actively creating opportunities for equity in education helps break down barriers so every boy and girl can succeed.

Now, let’s dig deeper into what educational equity is and what educators can do to improve it in their classrooms.

What I love most about Positive Action is the way it pertains to the real issues students face in today's world!”—Lori Kessinge, 5th Grade Teacher, Critzer Elementary School, Virginia

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1 - Understand the Meaning of Equity in Education

word “equity” on notepad

The beauty of the world we live in lies in the accumulation of unique experiences, beliefs, values, and cultural traditions from people who come from different backgrounds.

This diversity of perspectives enriches society by offering a wide range of views and ideas that encourage dialogue, foster creativity, and allows for a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures and ways of life.

Equity in education refers to the principle of fairness and justice in providing equal opportunities and resources to all students, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or circumstances, to ensure they reach their full potential. 

It recognizes that students have diverse needs and face different barriers to learning, and seeks to address those disparities to create a level playing field.

Related Reading: Multicultural Education: A Simple Guide

For instance, when you’re putting together a language test, take into consideration that not all your students may be in a position to understand its context, such as ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

In an effort to help them understand instructions in an unfamiliar language, ensure you use clear and concise wording when delivering instructions. Keep it simple and avoid jargon, idioms, or complex sentence structures. 

It’s best practice to break down instructions into smaller, manageable steps, and provide visual aids, gestures, or demonstrations to aid in comprehension. 

As a result, you level the playing field and allow each student an equal chance of excelling in the language test and thriving in the classroom.

Here are a few examples of other ways you can offer targeted support for equity in the classroom:

2 - Create an Equitable Classroom Environment

teachers and students in diverse class

If you get 1% better each day for one year, you'll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you're done.”—James Clear, bestselling author of Atomic Habits

If we take a page from Mr. Clear’s book, we understand that seemingly small changes in the classroom gradually accrue and end up impacting you and your students massively.

Learn more about the art of continuous improvement in the short video below:

what happens if you get 1% better every day?—James Clear

Equity in education isn’t an overnight phenomenon but an ongoing process that is integrated into your classroom expectations and procedures.

Here are some simple-to-implement strategies to achieve equity in your classroom:

Welcome Students by Name

First things first, you’ll want to begin each school year or semester with a "Name Introduction" activity, where students share the story or meaning behind their names.

If possible, encourage them to share the cultural significance or meaning behind their names, to give the other students an idea of where they’re from and what they believe.

After that, make a conscious effort to learn and pronounce your students' names correctly, as it demonstrates respect for their individual identities and cultural backgrounds.

Quick Fact: A 2012 study by Kohli and Solórzano found that the mispronunciation of students' names can lead to feelings of anxiety, invisibility, and marginalization.

Seek Multiple Perspectives

Positive Action High School 4 Kit

Engage your students in discussions and activities that motivate them to share their thoughts and opinions by explicitly validating their contributions and seeking alternative viewpoints.

For example, in our High School 4 Kit, students are prompted to seek alternative perspectives by being presented with scenarios featuring challenges and successes within a fictional family. 

As students role-play different family members, they have the opportunity to understand and consider various perspectives, enhancing their empathy and ability to think critically.

The table below highlights some school scenarios with varied perspectives that you can use for class role-play exercises.

Scenarios Stakeholders Possible Perspectives
A conflict in the classroom Student involved in conflict Feeling misunderstood, need for reconciliation
  Observing student Confusion, fear, desire to help
Inclusion of new school policy Students Uncertainty, questioning, acceptance or rejection
  School staff Enforcing new rules, understanding student response
Peer pressure scenario Student facing pressure Stress, need to fit in
  Peer exerting pressure Desire for conformity, asserting dominance
Sports competition Player Excitement, competition, pressure to win
  Spectator Excitement, support, disappointment or joy based on outcome

Warning: Avoid assuming shared experiences among all students. Their personal and cultural backgrounds can greatly influence how they perceive and interact with the world.

Relate Students’ Real-Life Experiences to Your Lesson

Children absorb more than we give them credit for. 

They may not fully understand their experiences, but they internalize them, whether good or bad, and may possibly manifest them in other areas of their lives.

Encourage students to reflect on their personal experiences and engage in meaningful discussions related to the content you’re teaching them.

For instance, when teaching about bullying prevention, ask your students to share examples of bullying they’ve witnessed or experienced in their families or around their neighborhood. 

Discuss strategies to address and prevent bullying based on their real-life encounters to foster a sense of ownership and relevance.

The table below highlights different bullying scenarios, their severity, and potential response strategies.

Bullying Scenario Brief Description Impact On Victim Possible Preventive Measures Intervention Strategy
Verbal bullying in school A student repeatedly teases and insults another student about their physical appearance The victim may experience lowered self-esteem, depression, or social withdrawal School-wide campaigns against bullying, class discussions about respect and acceptance Mediation session between the bully and the victim, with guidance counselor's involvement
Social bullying at neighborhood park A group of children exclude another child from their games, spreading rumors about them The victim may feel isolated, experience social anxiety, or develop trust issues Parents/elders creating inclusive play environments, active discouragement of rumor-spreading Direct conversation with the children involved about the harmful effects of exclusion and rumor-spreading
Cyberbullying via social media A student creates a fake profile to post mean comments about a classmate The victim may feel embarrassed, scared, or even suicidal. Cyberbullying can affect mental health Education about online etiquette, parental monitoring of social media usage Report and block the fake profile, involve school authorities or even law enforcement if necessary
Physical bullying in gym class A student consistently targets a classmate during sports, causing unnecessary physical harm The victim may experience physical injuries, fear of sports, or generalized anxiety Close supervision during physical activities, encouraging sportsmanship and fair play Consultation with the bully's parents, temporary or permanent expulsion from the gym class
Indirect bullying through friendship manipulation A student manipulates a friend's relationships to isolate them from their friend group The victim may experience betrayal, social isolation, and loneliness Teach students about healthy friendships, promote positive social interactions Mediation between the students involved, counseling for the victim, and social skills training for the bully

3 - Address Inappropriate Remarks

students bullying a classmatePhoto by RDNE Stock project on Pexels

Every student comes into the classroom with their own set of biases and assumptions stemming from personal experiences, societal influences, or cultural backgrounds.

And sometimes this results in them expressing themselves in inappropriate ways that are informed by stereotypes and misinformation, which is simply unacceptable.

To curb such instances, it’s crucial to create a learning environment that strikes a balance between freedom of speech and respect.

Foster classroom equity by helping your students understand that open conversation is encouraged, but at the same time, insensitive remarks are addressed to ensure that students can express their authentic selves without fear or discomfort.

When a student uses language that defies classroom guidelines, follow these steps:

Step 1 - Stop the Lesson at Once to Focus on the Problem

When an inappropriate remark is made, it’s important to address it promptly to prevent it from going unchallenged and causing further harm.

Pause the lesson or discussion immediately and redirect attention to the remark and demonstrate its significance. Raise your hand or use a non-verbal cue to gently interrupt the discussion. 

When you’re sure you have your students' attention, use a serious tone and grave features to convey the importance of addressing the issue and create an atmosphere where all students recognize the gravity of the situation.

Step 2 - Draw Attention to the Remark Without Shaming the Student

two children in a kitchen preparing a dishPhoto by Yan Krukau on Pexels

We all make mistakes. 

And the last thing you want is to stop a shaming culture by instigating a new one. 

Start by calmly and respectfully addressing the student's remark by saying:

"I want to bring our attention to a comment that was just made. It's important to understand why this statement is harmful because it perpetuates stereotypes and can make others feel excluded or marginalized."

Next, connect the remark to the broader concept of equity, explaining how it goes against the values of fairness, respect, and inclusion.

Emphasize the importance of creating a classroom environment that promotes equity and celebrates diversity by adding:

"In our classroom, we strive to create an environment where everyone feels respected and valued.

“This comment doesn't align with our goal of promoting equity, which means treating everyone fairly and recognizing the unique perspectives and experiences each person brings."

Step 3 - Initiate a Respectful Class Discussion

Create a safe space for students to engage in a respectful dialog about the remark and the underlying biases or background knowledge that may have influenced it.

Encourage students to reflect on their own experiences and beliefs, facilitating a deeper understanding of the issue.

Spark the conversation by stating:

"Now, let's have a respectful conversation about this topic. I would like to hear your thoughts on the remark and the biases or background knowledge that may have influenced it. Please raise your hand if you have something to contribute."

It’s crucial that you encourage active listening, empathy, and constructive exchanges among your students.

As students raise their hands and contribute to the discussion with their thoughts, experiences, and insights, guide the conversation by asking questions like:

"Can anyone share how this remark might perpetuate stereotypes? What do you think is a more equitable and inclusive approach to discussing this topic?"

Through dialog, students learn to challenge their own biases and reflect on the cultural, social, and historical factors that shape their perspectives.

Additionally, engaging in a class discussion allows students to consider different viewpoints, fostering empathy and the ability to see issues from diverse perspectives.

Positive Action gives children strategies to change negative attitudes to positive ones. The children are actually taught how to help themselves, and others, to be positive when negative thoughts/actions are present. I am able to see what an impact the program can have on children, even as young as kindergarten.”—Suzee Fujihara, Teacher at Lihikai Elementary (Lihikai, Hawaii)

Engrave Equity Into Your Classroom Mission Using Positive Action

teacher and students in class

Equity in education ensures that children of every race and gender are set up to succeed.

The capacity to facilitate equity in education is highly contingent on the ability of educators to create an ideal classroom environment.

By understanding and identifying situations that will benefit from an equity shift, you’ll be one step closer to achieving a harmonious and inclusive learning environment where every student has all they need to succeed.

Positive Action’s evidence-based curriculum and program can be adapted to facilitate equity in education. 

As a matter of fact, we have a wide array of tools and resources suitable for a variety of uses, such as:

For an in-depth walkthrough of our curriculum, and how it can meet your specific goals as an institution, schedule a 30-minute overview webinar by emailing us at info@positiveaction.net today.

Positive Action is a good curriculum, and we tied it in with our PBIS. It really helped in making this a safe school where academics and behavior work together so that everybody can learn.”—From a Principal in Robeson County, North Carolina

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