Kenwood High Staff Delves Into Equity Training to Bring Equitable Instruction to their Students

The Equity Compass guiding educators in conversations about equity.

The Equity Compass guiding educators in conversations about equity.

Linda Neewary

Kenwood’s faculty, despite the challenging times of this unprecedent year, has added consistent equity trainings to their calendar this school year. Kenwood principal Brian Powell explained the equity work takes place in two parts. There is one group which consists of the equity team leaders who plan out the sessions to provide to the staff at faculty meetings and then there are monthly sessions where those leaders meet with the rest of the staff. Powell shares, “The purpose of the equity team is for all of us educators to learn more on how to best make our instructional practices as equitable as possible.”

Equity is understanding where people are coming from and giving them what is needed to get to the same place as any other person. Don’t get it confused with equality; equality is giving everyone the equal amount of resources. With equity, sometimes depending on the person, they might need more resources than someone else to reach the same end goal.

Ms. Beaty, the administrator leader on the equity work Kenwood is doing shares the hope of the equity team as, “giving equal access to students, faulty, and community members; so that the playing field is level for all, it’s not about giving exactly the same to everyone but it’s giving everyone what they need to make things equitable.” Kenwood’s Equity team uses the mindset of giving what’s needed to students to try and make students goals more accessible to them.

At the start of the faculty’s equity work, the members took the Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Test. The questions were random and the test helps a person notice that they may have some biasness even if they don’t realize it. “It allowed us as educators, including administration, a chance to take a step back and reflect on our practices when planning and engaging with students and families,” shares Mr. Powell.
“Implicit bias can create uneasiness,” adds Powell. The goal of this ongoing equity work is to recognize what implicit bias faculty may have and for all of them to become aware of how it impacts their instructional practices so they can work towards becoming more equitable educators.

Some teachers were shocked and disappointed in their Harvard implicit bias results. Equity team leader Ms. Joan Cooper shares, “I meet other people where they are, and we try to work toward bringing students to the next step and for it to tell me that I had a bias was kind of jarring.” After taking this quiz many teachers were confused about how they got the results they got and puzzled on how they are bias. But everyone has some kind of bias. Doesn’t matter the race, sex, social class; we all have biasness. According to Science News for Students, “People often are not aware of their biases. That’s called an unconscious or implicit bias. And such implicit biases influence our decisions whether or not we mean for them to do so.”

Kenwood’s goal with their equity training is to help teachers become more aware of their own implicit bias and how it may impact their teaching. As they become more aware they can work on making instructional changes that will be more equitable for their students.

There are a variety of topics talked about during the meetings. Staff watch videos, read articles, learn how to be better listeners, and have discussions which can sometimes get emotional as they are tough conversations to have. “We have conversations on equity about race. We have conversations about sexuality, preferences and concerns. We have conversations about the differences between male and female when it comes to jobs and money. We talk about students who need certain special needs met,” Ms. Beaty explained. The equity team touches many sensitive topics, but they are necessary to talk about because we meet different people everyday whether it’s in school or out of school. Understanding bias and equity is needed to have an understanding of one another. Mr. Powell reminds his staff of his favorite quote, “We must listen to understand. Not listen to defend.”

Equity work starts with listening to understand where one another comes from in order to get them the help and resources they need to get to where they need and want in life. Mr. Powell adds, “An important question we want to continue to ask ourselves is ‘how do students see themselves in our curriculum and instructional practices’.”

A concept that the Equity Team builds their work around is the structure of the BCPS Equity compass. The compass is like our hearts. Ms. Cooper adds, “It’s like what do you feel? What do you believe that influences how you act? And where are you coming from? What have you really been through?” These are the questions we have to consider about ourselves when dealing with people different from ourselves. “People put on a mask. A lot of time when you’re a public person like a teacher you put on a certain persona and it may not be who you actually are. Our work as the equity team is about getting beyond that,” Mrs. Cooper continues.

When dealing with personal and/or sensitive topics, there might be certain emotions and disagreements. The emotional work of equity training is hearing each other and our opinions on things, considering it may be different based on who we are and how we were raised. “We all come with a background from how we were raised, to what school we attended, our friends and family all build us up to who we become as an adult, so there’s definitely times where there uncomfortable moments” Ms. Beaty shares.

The equity team plans on taking what is learned and discussed in the group trainings into their classroom with their instructional practices and student relationships. For Mrs. Beaty she is trying to “be more of a listener to all my students. Sometimes as an administrator, you’re often looked at as the person who just deals with the kids that are always in the hallway or the kids that may be in trouble.”

This made Mrs. Beaty realize that “I need to be mindful of the student who may not necessarily seek me out for help, or seem like they may need help. I need to be more available to all my students, not just the ones who seem to maybe have some concerns but also those who seem to be quiet, and be more of an advocate for them as well.”

“The goal of the equity team is to continue to grow as a staff and making sure they are meeting all our students where they are, making sure they’re able to reach all students because all student and all humans have a different starting point,” reminded Ms. Cooper.

It’s hard, emotionally important work that the Kenwood staff is engaging in to make their classrooms and our school a better, more equitable place for its students. Mr Powell reflects, “Equity is a big part of making sure all of our students are successful.” The faculty will continue to engage in these monthly trainings throughout the school year.