Equity is a priority for almost all school leaders – but focusing on what that means in the day-to-day can prove difficult.
After all, unfairness in both opportunity and outcome has deep-seeded structural roots that regularly stymies progress of those on the margins. Identifying and solving the issues that result in statistics like Māori having the lowest NCEA level 2 rates in the country is often deemed something for the too-hard basket. What can school leaders do from their sphere of influence to change that?
Yet the reality is, it is at that school leadership level that change can be incredibly effective, influencing teaching staff and school culture to create the conditions for change. And in Ishimaru and Galloway’s Radical Recentering paper, we find some key ways to turn equity from an end goal into leadership practice.
10 steps for equitable leadership: An overview
Radical Recentering is a paper that sets out standards for school leadership that put equity at the core of the role. This isn’t limited to race, and incorporates class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and more marginalised identities.
Essentially, they want to outline concrete practice that centres the marginalised and provides blueprint for school leadership that affords all the same opportunities. Those ten practices are as follows:
1. Engaging in self-reflection and growth for equity
In this action, leaders proactively interrogate their values, biases and privileges. They practice ongoing inquiry into the place they hold in the world, as well as the place of each and every member of their community.
Key questions: Who is included by my school, and who is excluded? Who has the greatest need for a school leader’s service?
2. Developing organisational leadership for equity
In this step, leaders distribute the first step among their team. As a group, you foster an ongoing dialogue about equitable teaching practice in your own context and giving every student the highest quality of learning.
3. Constructing and enacting an equity vision
Here, leaders engage the entire school community, especially those traditionally without authority or power in education decision-making, to create an equity vision. This is similar to the work we do in the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme, but with a laser focus on a vision that recognises the structural underpinnings of inequity in schools.
4. Supervising for improvement of equitable teaching and learning
Teachers remains the most direct channel of influence on learners in a school environment, and this step recommends leaders support those team members to adopt equitable practice. That means culturally response or sustaining practice and critical thinking with regards to issues like race, class and gender identity. Leaders create a culture of feedback, as both leader and teacher hold each other accountable.
5. Fostering an equitable school culture
Build sincere relationships throughout the community, enhancing the sense of belonging for all students, especially those typically on the margins. Leaders will actively confront and challenge ideas that students are “less than” based on any aspect of their identity, and enacts school policy that aids restoration of power and healthy learning conditions.
6. Collaborating with families and communities
This step puts meaningful relationships at the centre of equity – speaking with and listening to everyone in the community, especially those whose voices may not usually be put at the centre. This includes understanding everyone’s beliefs and promoting the school as the centre of a community that supports everyone.
7. Influencing the sociopolitical context
Here, influencing means working within and outside the community – for example with other schools, coalitions or organisations – to spread the focus on socially aware practice. Effectively, ensuring that the work you do in the school begins to reflect elsewhere, utilising your position as the fulcrum of the community to change structural inequity piece by piece.
8. Allocating resources
This may be time, finances, material or labour hours, but focusing these resources on those who are historically marginalised, bringing everyone to the same level.
9. Hiring and placing personnel
This means ensuring your staff have the understanding and experience to empathise with and promote the perspectives of those ‘othered’ groups.
This is where school leaders embody all of the above practices in the way they comport themselves. From the largest speech to the smallest interaction, placing the voiceless at the fore.
There is considerable overlap between some of these initiatives, and the exact form they would take in your own school may be wildly different from another, depending on your unique context. But the principle is clear – school leaders are in a unique position of influence, and can take practical steps to ensure the wellbeing and strong education of all.
Many will already be doing this – but by reiterating the importance of placing equity at the centre of everything we do, we shine a light on the often unnoticed ways people get left behind.
At the bottom of it all is one simple way of looking at things: who is in the room when decisions are made in your school? And how can your school better include those who are left out?