COVID-19 Focuses the Magnifying Glass on Equity

Posted By: Dr. Bess Scott AASPA Blog ,

On March 19, a friend sent me this prayer posted by the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.

It resonated deeply in my soul and intensified the social justice “why” of my life’s work. You see, I am a 36-year public school educator, a servant leader, a Doane associate professor focused on helping other educators create people’s lives!  Because that is what every educator does, we facilitate the development of knowledge, understanding, skills, and dispositions in our students so that they have success in school and success in life! Please notice that I did not write, might or may have success, I wrote have success! Thus, arises the equity quagmire that the current pandemic has magnified.  

You will tell me that a myriad of reasons exist why that cannot happen, not every student can have success in school and success in life. I deeply believe that all students can and will if each educator examines their personal beliefs and mindset about the potential of each student; develops a high-expectations curriculum and pedagogy to meet each student’s needs; and develops each student’s own belief system, self-efficacy, and effective effort dispositions to own their learning journey. You might even tell me that our students already have equitable access to all of that but just don’t take advantage. I am going to suggest to you that access does not equate to equity.  

We must individually and collectively examine which of our students are not having success in school and success in life. I believe that what we find will not be much different than looking under the Prayer for a Pandemic’s magnifying glass. We know that many students of poverty or students of color have less educational opportunities during the shut-down because of the digital divide. Everyone has access to the internet and computers if they have the resources. Not everyone has the resources, thus access is not equity. We know that people of poverty and people of color are disproportionately serving in “essential” jobs, disproportionately contracting COVID-19, disproportionately receiving inadequate medical intervention, and  disproportionately dying. Equitable access has not changed their life trajectory.  

So, how might we transition from the belief that access is equity to a trajectory changing belief that equity means having success at what used to be only accessible?  

The first step to change equity from access to success is self-examination of bias, both explicit and implicit; commitment to personal growth, and courageous actions to cause each student’s success. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work always begins from the inside-out! In 1980, my first year teaching French in the public schools, there was a sign the previous teacher left above the classroom entrance that stated, “The door is open, but you must choose to enter!”  I was appalled. To me it screamed, if you don’t learn, it’s your fault not mine. I immediately destroyed it. Yes, students need to be engaged, work hard, and do their work. But reflecting back, I knew then that it was my responsibility to inspire, motivate, and give students the skills to have success in French, a subject many believed was for the elite. On my journey, I have had as many personal failures as I have had successes as I continue to grow and strive to create and change students’ lives. Equity work is a life-long, challenging, continuous journey.

The second step is to examine a program’s outcomes. Fast forward to my current role as an associate professor in the Doane Educational Leadership Program. Our mission is to develop servant leaders, who are scholarly practitioners, who lead for the good of students and colleagues, regardless of their position. In the last four years, we have put our program outcomes under the magnifying class, examining if the outcomes prepare students to be servant leaders. Inherent in the concept of servant leadership is that you care more about the needs and success of others than you do your own. Servant leaders are driven to help others create lives abundant in success, fulfillment, happiness, and joy. Our examination prompted us to more explicitly address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our outcomes to express clarity that servant leaders focus on the success of each and every student as well as staff member. Based on national and state standards for educational leaders, we expect our students to “understand, model, and promote the values of democracy, equity, diversity, and social justice.” Our strategic, instructional, organizational, and community-political leadership outcomes contain 22 essential elements about how to lead with the values of democracy, diversity, equity, and social justice.

The inside-out work of each individual and making Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion explicit in program outcomes are just the beginning of a multi-step commitment to equity meaning more than access. Curriculum alignment with the outcomes, assessments, pedagogical decisions, instructional plans, learning-by-doing opportunities, rubric development, and the embedding of reflection are some of the other vital steps to complete. Systematically and systemically addressing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our Educational Leadership Program creates leaders who have more knowledge, understanding, skills, and dispositions to lead schools that understand, identify, then alter self and institutional bias; seek, honor, and embrace diversity; create equitable learning environments; implement responsive professional learning; ensure equity in the highest quality teaching and supports; and develop then sustain a supportive school community for all cultures, exceptionalities, genders, languages, races, religions, sexual orientations, or socio-economic status.

Please feel free to contact me to continue this conversation.   
bess.scott@doane.edu