By: Matt Rhoads, Ed.D
Dr. Matt Rhoads is a Tech and Instructional Leader and Innovator with hands in Adult Ed, K-12, and Higher Education. He is the author of several books and is the host of Navigating Education – The Podcast.
Much of my thoughts regarding equity and access has been about evaluating the systems within classrooms and schools to promote equity and access for students. My goal is to determine whether our systems promote equity and access and how we can tweak or change our systems to promote it further. To me, this is part of our equity work that’s important and can be very actionable and impactful. Thus, I will describe several examples of this and more throughout this post so you can do the same in your own educational context.
Systems are mechanisms in which how various processes work in sequential steps and cycles. Systems thinking refers to how we think about them to make them more effective or efficient to meet our needs and goals. What does this look like in the classroom and schools? For example, when we take attendance there’s a process you conduct every day. Whether it’s taking it on your student information system at the beginning of class or jotting it down on a paper roster, it’s something you do very often in the same manner. When we think about that particular system of taking attendance, we are evaluating the system and its steps to see if it’s meeting our goals effectively and efficiently. Major researchers and leaders such as Fullan, Quinn, and Senge, discuss this often in their research and literature. They are my go-to’s for learning more bout systems thinking in education.
Now, let’s bring equity into the systems thinking. Before combining them, my working definition of equity relates to equal opportunity to access the services and supports being provided at a given time. Now, let’s combine them. To ensure we have a lasting impact on improving equity, we must evaluate the systems within our classrooms and schools and then make adjustments or systematic changes to those systems in order for there to be improvements to support further equity and access for our students.
Let’s jump into several examples of what this looks like in practice. I am not going to discuss how we do a breakdown analysis, but a few examples of the systems I am alluding to so you can think about the systems in your context.
Examples of Equity Systems in Practice
- Devices and Services – An example of such a change has been the advent of providing students with devices to use at school and to take home. Systems such as implementing chromebook charts, check out policies, repairs, purchasing new devices, etc., all much be created within various facets of a school. Evaluating these systems with an equity lens has us determine in each of these areas I mentioned if everyone has an opportunity to access the chromebook and utilize these services without barriers such as wait time, going days without a device, not being able to log into apps, and being able to connect to the internet. To ensure these barriers can be broken down, we have to the aforementioned systems and the communication and collaboration amongst members to make this happen.
- Classroom Instruction – Another example is when we are thinking of equity and access in terms of instructional scenarios and sequences within the classroom. Using a tool that allows to overtly and covertly engage, such as an interactive slide or whiteboard, allows for students to respond and then share with either pairs or the entire class creating opportunities for everyone to participate during that sequence and receive feedback. Instructional sequences are all based on systems thinking as we always think about how particular strategies go during and after they are conducted. Equity in this instructional sequence relates to creating opportunities for everyone to participate in one or more ways to work on a particular skill(s). For all aspects of our instruction and lessons, we must think of the systems in which they are sequenced with equity at the forefront.
- Students Accessing Instruction and Curriculum from Anywhere – The last example is providing opportunities for students to access instruction and curriculum. A system that allows that to happen is to combine the ability for students to access devices and connectivity during and after school as well as access points to engage in curriculum and instruction. This takes place when a student has access to that instruction and curriculum through a learning management system, a single sign-on to multiple applications, and organized processes of engaging with organized content to help students learn. Each of these involves complex systems. First, the devices and connectivity are all systems based, which involves distribution, maintenance, and continuous service. Second, the notion of having content from the day, week, and months on a learning management system require systems where teachers have to build and maintain content, review student content, and provide opportunities for communication and feedback.
This post shares how we can think about our systems with an equity lens. Sometimes I believe when discussing equity, it is often very generalized and doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Thus, I advocate for discussing systems and processes and thinking of equity in each step of these systems and processes that take place among individuals, departments, and organizations. I did not get into data and data-driven decision-making which also comes into play when thinking of systems and equity or finance and funding, but that’s another set of important elements that need to be touched on too to further move the needle.