Exercising Instructional Discretion for Equity

Teachers should reflect on how their decisions and discretion impact students' views of themselves and others
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Exercising Instructional Discretion for Equity
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About This Strategy

We are constantly consuming images, messages, and cultural practices that are rooted in the norms of white supremacy culture. This strategy guides teachers in reflecting on and changing instructional practices that may invisibly reinforce inequitable opportunities for students. Teachers can engage in individual reflections, or coaches can provide feedback, on visible practices that are typically overlooked to support teachers in intentionally choosing equitable instructional practices.

Implementation Steps

  1. Review the slide deck below for background information about instructional discretion and equity.

  2. Make a list of the groups represented in your classroom. Use the included note catcher to answer these questions:

    • Does your classroom include students of color, girls, linguistically diverse students, students with special needs, LGBT+ students, or students who belong to other historically and currently marginalized groups?  

    • For each group, brainstorm the "mainstream" views of these students.  What are the stereotypes (positive and negative) in our culture for students who identify with these groups?

  3. Start with one classroom routine or procedure.  Think about all the decisions you make during that snapshot of class.  Use the included note catcher to think through these questions:

    • How do I communicate with students during this portion of class?  

    • How am I impacting how students see themselves and students who identify differently from themselves?

    • Do my decisions invisibly reinforce stereotypes, or do they provide students with a counter narrative?

  4. Choose a lesson for action-research. Film the lesson if you can.  

  5. After you teach this lesson, ask students to complete a survey about how they felt about themselves and other students during your lesson.  You can use the google doc in the resources, or you can create your own.

  6. Before you review the student survey results, reflect on the lesson yourself.  Use the note catcher with questions that parallel those from the student survey.

  7. Compare your reflections with the student survey results.  Use the reflection process in the included note catcher to think about:

    • Where are my reflections aligned to student survey results?  What actions did I take in those aligned moments? (If you recorded your lesson, it would be helpful to review your footage.)

    • Where are my reflections not aligned to student survey results?  What actions did I take in those unaligned moments? (If you recorded your lesson, it would be helpful to review your footage.)

    • What are some other possible decisions I might have made in both my aligned and unaligned moments?

  8. After reflecting on your survey results, write 1-2 action steps for your next lesson.  Record them in your note catcher and consider giving the student survey again after this lesson to see if you are getting the results you want.

Professional Development about Instructional Discretion for Equity

Instructional leaders may want to provide staff with professional development about instructional discretion for equity.  Consider adapting the slide deck to include data from your school or information about the opportunity gap in your district.  Coaches can reflect with teachers using the note catcher in 1:1 meetings and provide feedback from lesson observations.  Teachers can also work with one another in Professional Learning Communities to provide feedback and reflect together.

Questions to Consider

  • How will you determine the groups with which students identify ?  We all have visible and invisible identities.  Consider providing students with a survey at the beginning of the year asking them what they want you to know about them that you can't see.  That way, you won't be making assumptions about students' identities.
  • How will you determine if your actions from this reflection are making your learning environment more equitable?  Consider giving student surveys about lessons regularly.  You should hope to see students' answers aligning more and more closely with your reflections.
  • Are your students self-aware? Do they have the vocabulary to express how they are feeling?  If not, they may struggle with the survey.  Consider teaching students about social-emotional awareness and self-regulation strategies using the lessons included in the resource section below.

Teacher Tips

  • If you or the teachers you are working with do not have an understanding of unconscious bias, start with a discussion about that before engaging in this activity.  You might consider using Jay Smooth's TED Talk or the article included in the resource section below about recognizing invisible racism as a starting point for your discussion.
  • Once you have some knowledge around unconscious bias, this is a great process for any time of the year. It could be a great way to kick the year off with a focus on creating equitable learning environments, or it could be a great exercise to think about classroom culture if you notice students are struggling in your class.
  • This is a great opportunity to partner with a teacher or coach you trust.  Share videos of your classes with colleagues and get their ideas.  
  • If you have access to devices in your classroom, consider making the student survey into a google form so that you can quickly collect data from your student survey.

Consulted Resources

In developing this strategy, the resources linked below were consulted.