As protests against police brutality make headlines nationwide, the issue of systemic racism takes center stage yet again. However, this time, there is a sense that the country has reached a tipping point. Professional educators will require a unified and sustained effort to eliminate racial inequality in the American educational system.
Making the revolution on the streets into teachable moments and systemic changes in schools may seem daunting. Still, there are steps that educators can take to create a culture of racial equity.
Explicitly State the Need for Racial Equity
Educators must acknowledge that a problem exists before they can change a school’s racial dynamic. Sam O’Bryant, senior director of equity and partnerships for SchoolSeed Foundation, suggests that any such movement requires a “public declaration expressing the need for equity.” O’Bryant also believes that these public declarations must meet specific criteria:
- Declarations of the need for equity should come from a chief executive.
- The statements should be given at live events with audiences and press coverage, not employing mass email.
- A specific plan of action must accompany these declarations.
Once educators have publicly stated the need for racial equity and shared a plan of action, they can move on to the work that lies ahead.
Partnerships Are Essential
O’Bryant recommends that school districts that want to foster racial equity consider forming an equity advisory committee by seeking out strategic community partners through local businesses, philanthropic organizations and nonprofits. Identifying and subsequently partnering with organizations in the community already working toward racial equity would further advance this initiative.
In Portland, Oregon, the public school system forged partnerships with culturally specific organizations more reflective of their diverse student populations. Such collaborations seek to increase engagement with the schools, especially for families and students of color. The work eventually led to the district’s five-year racial equity plan, which sought to “boost high school graduation rates, curb its exclusionary discipline, and improve access to high-level courses.”
Champion Social and Emotional Learning
Now more than ever, students of color need support from educators and administrators. When students of a specific demographic already face disproportionate challenges, educators must examine their school practices and policies —and make necessary changes — to ensure they are supporting these students’ academic progress.
Researchers at the Learning Policy Institute strongly recommend the following actions:
- Place a greater value, including both time and finances, on social and emotional learning.
- Offer staff training sessions in restorative justice.
- Avoid punitive approaches or methods of discipline.
- Invest in counseling and holistic student support services.
- Reconsider the police presence on your campus.
Maintain Your Momentum
Tragic events in the news often spark widespread discussions on social injustice or systemic racism. Those discussions often peter out when the events that prompted them are no longer in the headlines. The inability to maintain any true momentum is why O’Bryant says it is so vital for schools seeking racial equity to “sustain the work.” The best way for administrators and educators to work on improving their school’s culture is to make discussions and programming about racial inequality a part of the daily dialog.
Incorporating multicultural education as a fixture of the curriculum can lead to a better understanding between students and teachers and break down the walls standing in the way of real racial equity. Many institutions are already implementing important changes with the inclusion of courses aimed at analyzing cultural influence in the classroom.
While there is still much work to do, educators should take heart that there are proven strategies for fostering racial equity in their schools. Change will not happen overnight. Through effort and engagement, administrators and educators have the power to drive their districts to a safer, more equitable future for students of color.