Addressing issues of equity in schools is a daunting challenge. How do you define equity? How do you create a sustainable plan? Where do you even begin?
Consolidated High School District 230 (D230) in Orland Park, IL has taken this challenge head on. Through BetterLesson’s partnership with D230, we have been able to create a system of professional learning and support to address equity in ways that are meaningful, nuanced, and responsive. D230’s important and timely work highlights how process is just as important as outcome.
BetterLesson began working with D230 in 2018. Over the course of our partnership, we’ve focused on a number of topics, beginning with blended learning strategies. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted our attention to hybrid and distance learning.
During the 2020-2021 school year, D230 was eager to expand its professional learning experiences related to a key district initiative: equity.
Equity is an umbrella term that has, unfortunately, become somewhat of a buzzword in education circles. D230 wanted to dig deeper into issues of equity, moving beyond a superficial approach and toward one that was narrowed and adaptive to the district’s needs.
The first and fundamental challenge D230 had to tackle was understanding where to begin its expanded professional learning efforts. This question was compounded by a number of external and simultaneously occurring factors: in addition to the pandemic’s ongoing disruption to daily life, the district was undergoing transitions in leadership.
Despite these conditions, D230’s Director of Special Programs, Charles Ovando, shared that, “We didn’t feel like equity is something that you just put on pause.”
Still, the underlying question remained: Where do we begin?
Listening to educators in the building, the answer was simple: focus on enhancing teacher practice. Teachers were clear that they wanted to learn more strategies to teach toward equity. Because this was something in the district’s control amidst so many external challenges and transitions, Ovando knew this was the perfect place to start.
Keep reading for an overview of D230’s multi-year and on-going process to address issues of equity!
Year 1: 2020-2021
The first year of D230 and BetterLesson’s shared focus on professional learning about equity, the U.S. was in turmoil: the 2020 Presidential election was wrought with divisiveness and political violence, the killing of George Floyd gave rise to nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, and the pandemic continued to exacerbate existing inequities.
D230 was adept at recognizing that schools do not exist in a bubble; students were bringing the impacts of this injustice and violence into the classroom. Even though teachers wanted to facilitate conversations about these conditions, they knew they needed support.
Given that every school in the district is unique, with different demographics of students and teachers, local contexts, and school cultures, Ovando believed that a pre-packaged workshop wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, as he explained, “We had a lot of puzzle pieces, we had a vision and some ideas, and together we [D230 and BetterLesson] constructed a plan that was really specific to us, and it brought the best that we could both offer. I think that was powerful.” The first, and perhaps most important, success in D230’s equity work is here in the process of creating a professional development plan that was highly collaborative and responsive.
So what did that plan look like?
In year one, we facilitated two virtual workshops for D230 teachers based on a cohort model. These workshops were created out of a process of listening and responding to D230’s specific needs. One of these workshops was specifically geared towards supporting teachers in facilitating challenging classroom conversations about social issues. We also provided four coaching sessions, which offered teachers individualized support to put learnings from the workshops into practice and to reflect on their impact.
At the end of year one, the feedback from D230 teachers was overwhelmingly positive. As one of the teachers shared, “This has by far been one of the best experiences in my teaching career in what has been otherwise such a challenging year.”
In addition to more coaching sessions, teachers also wanted more opportunities to collaborate as a cohort, which informed our professional learning plan for year two.
Year 2: 2021-2022
Reflecting on year one, Ovando and D230’s teachers understood that the coaching sessions were invaluable to equity work. “Teachers are working with someone in a non-evaluative setting,” he explained. “There’s low pressure in that sense. They’re learning strategies. They are picking the strategies they feel ready and comfortable to address, and then they’re getting feedback from someone, and it’s sustained over time.” This work requires taking risks and being vulnerable, and coaching was able to create space for teachers to feel supported in that process.
In response to this feedback, we adapted our professional development plan to lean into those successes. During year two, BetterLesson facilitated three virtual workshops with eight coaching sessions. Additionally, D230 wanted to build its own internal capacity to support the district’s equity initiative. As a result, the school also established check-ins, where participating teachers could come together to share successes and challenges. Through this process, BetterLesson provided a workshop to support D230 teacher leaders in presenting to their own peers on their learnings and results from engaging in equity work.
Year 3: 2022-2023
Currently, D230 is continuing its ever-evolving equity work. BetterLesson provided an in-person workshop on culturally-responsive teaching to launch the school year, and we are maintaining our coaching support. From Ovando’s vantage point, who continues to hear from teachers and instructional coaches that these collaborative learning supports are making a difference in their teaching, this ongoing work is a success.
However, there is another vantage point that D230 understands is equally important: student voice. To that end, this year, D230 is collecting evidence of impact from students to deepen their evaluation of its equity initiatives.
Ovando and leaders at D230, in collaboration with BetterLesson, are thinking through some exciting and powerful questions to move their equity work forward with intention, purpose, and impact:
What would it look like to expand these professional learning opportunities across the district?
How could D230 embed learning about equity into the onboarding of new teachers?
How can D230 continue to make equity central to its school culture?
Working alongside D230 on such important issues inspired us. Their dedication to support students as learners and as full humans is inspirational, and we can’t wait to see where their equity work goes moving forward!
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