We all know there are systemic inequities in education and that is why centres like Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion were created – to combat these inequities. But how can educators work towards equity from within their classrooms? Colin Seale, the founder and CEO of thinkLaw, explores the possibilities in his recent book Tangible Equity: A Guide for Leveraging Student Identity, Culture, and Power to Unlock Excellence In and Beyond the Classroom.
Seale is dedicated to teaching critical thinking to every student. He became interested in equity in education because of his own experiences as a Black boy growing up in a low-SES suburb in the US and later being recognised as a gifted student, a privilege that his peers in his neighbourhood did not have access to.
The main purpose of this book is to “move beyond the [equity] buzzwords” and to make equity tangible for each student in the classroom. In his book, comprised of four parts, Seale offers some practical tools for the teachers to make equity tangible.
1. The why of equity
The definition of equity Seale puts forward is as follows:
Equity is about reducing the predictive power of demographics and zip codes to determine the success of young people inside and outside of the classroom to zero.Seale 2022, p. 6.
Although this might sound an idealistic or “utopian” definition , he invites the reader to focus on equity as a process rather than a product.
In the first section of the book Seale convincingly provides the historical context of why we are in an inequitable space now, contending that “hundreds of years of intentional actions, laws and policies have gotten us to this unacceptably inequitable place” (p. 45). He advocates to teach our students the rules of the game, i.e., how to navigate the currently unjust system as well as teaching them to slay the game. This part of the book resonates with me as a person who is categorised in equity cohorts because English is my third language.
2. The how of equity
In the second part of the book, Seale cautions that equity practitioners need to be wary of not perpetuating systemic inequities themselves, emphasising that good intentions do not necessarily translate into good actions. Tangible Equity invites practitioners to acknowledge their human sides; ergo, their biases. To combat bias, he suggests following the RACK Framework:
- and Keep reflecting, acknowledging and changing
Understandably, the hardest part of RACK is the change part: “the system seems so stacked against this effort” (p. 70). For effective action, Seale suggests six Ps: Power, Priorities, Probe, Privilege, People, and Problems, accompanied by these helpful prompts:
- What are two-three areas you have decision-making authority over?
- What is one area you can focus on as a priority for fighting racial inequalities?
- What information, data, and/or resources do you need?
- How, specifically, can you leverage your privilege to make this change happen?
- What do you need to make this happen?
- What roadblocks, pushback, and challenges can you anticipate and plan to overcome?”
3. Philosophical shifts necessary for the teachers
Part three of the book discusses the philosophical shifts that teachers need to make for tangible equity to occur in the classroom. This is because teachers’ mindsets influence the type of learning they facilitate in the classroom.
- Create developmental relationships with students
- See your learners as thinkers
- Teach to the top 10% of the classroom
- Think all your students are gifted
- Use low floor high ceiling strategy
Teachers need to create developmental relationships with their students by “expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, and expanding possibilities” (p.108). This is illustrated with the ‘learning relationship triangle’ in which learners are seen as thinkers.
In this model, teachers need to connect the thinkers to the content, assist them in connecting with community in the classroom and link their learning to the outside world. Seale also recommends teaching to the top 10% of the classroom instead of differentiating. He calls it a “concrete equity strategy”.
Use the Top 10% rule because tangible equity cannot ever be realized at the classroom level if students are not regularly given the tools to lead, innovate, and break the things that must be broken.Seale 2022, p. 118.
The next mindset shift has to do with teachers’ perceptions of the students. Seale invites teachers to teach their students as if all are identified as ‘gifted’. The last philosophical shift is the low floor high ceiling strategy. Seale refers to it as “productive struggle sweet spot”. This strategy helps students to create two different paths in their learning to successfully engage in a challenging level and be able to extend their learning beyond their capabilities. It is similar to Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development.
4. Practical changes in the classroom
Part four discusses tangible equity at the classroom level.
Tangible Equity asks educators to take their existing content and rework it so allows for more and deeper opportunities for students to lead, innovate, and break things in such a way that accelerates the learning outcomes.Seale 2022, p. 135.
In this last section, Seale recommends some useful practical tips for the classroom teachers such as shifting the power to the students, making personal connections, and building lively discussions. More practical tips can be found in Chapter 13 of the book.
Fighting against systemic inequities
Seale acknowledges systemic inequities and that’s why he is advocating that teachers need to help students navigate their way in the inequitable system and be aware of all these inequities so that they can become gamechangers. He is advocating for a bottom-up approach.
Feature image by Mikolaj on Unsplash.