Principles to Promote Equity

Every child has the fundamental right to learn and to succeed. What educator doesn’t want to see all students have an equal opportunity for success? While we all understand the importance of educational equity—especially in linguistically, culturally, and racially diverse societies—defining what it means may sometimes be a little fuzzy. Then there is the question of application: How would we go about achieving equity in our classrooms? Let’s take a closer look at what we mean by equity and some principles we can use in planning for equity in our classrooms.

What Do We Mean by Equity?

A frequent assumption is that equity and equality are the same, and that to be equitable means to treat everyone the same.

Both equality and equity are key concepts of social justice, but they don’t mean the same thing. Consider this: The following images are of an iris and a cactus. These are both plants. Ask yourself: What does each plant need to grow and thrive? How are these needs different? What happens if we treat each plant the same?


Images from www.publicdomainpictures.net

Clearly, the plants thrive in different environments and if treated exactly the same, one or both may deteriorate. To help them flourish, we need to provide the essentials of light, water, soil, and air in quantities and ways that are appropriate to the needs of each plant.

In an educational context, there are many factors that could hold a student back from achieving their potential. These factors could include:

  • Race
  • Culture
  • Language
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Ethnicity
  • Immigration status
  • Individual experiences
  • Socioeconomic status

As teachers, we need to be aware of these factors and how they could be barriers to success in a particular context, unless an equitable environment was created. If all children were given the same resources and opportunities, some would have an advantage over others. Equity means making sure that every student has the resources and support they need to learn, thrive, and succeed.

How Can We Enact Equity?

Enacting equity is an ongoing journey that needs commitment and collaboration. Here are four principles to follow when planning to make our teaching spaces more equitable.

Offer Options and Choice

Though structure is important and necessary for effective classroom management, being flexible by providing students with options and choice throughout a lesson can make a huge difference. Students are more likely to be enthusiastic about learning if they feel like they have some control over the execution of the lesson. Some ways in which you could provide students with options and choice include the following:

  • Personalising content and materials. Provide options in terms of reading materials, vocabulary lists, or writing topics, and allow students to choose.
  • Offering a range of ways to participate. Not all students are willing or able to speak up in class discussions. Written responses, small group discussions, artistic responses, and other nonverbal means of measuring understanding must be valued.
  • Providing options in presenting student work. Giving students a choice in how they show their learning can boost confidence as it allows them to learn in their own way and show their individual skills and interests.

Model Empathy

Establishing an equitable environment in the classroom requires being a role model and showing students the power of empathy in relationships. Some strategies to build empathy include the following:

  • Do something as a class each day to build class cohesion. Setting up ways to work together can promote kindness and understanding.
  • Engage in thoughtful discussions about feelings in the classroom. You could use videos and stories as start-off points for these discussions, but often the best examples come from right within the classroom.
  • Show love and compassion to all students. Students observe the way you interact with others. Through modelling patience and respectful conversations with everyone, you help to build a community of caring students.

Create Appropriate Challenges

Every student should have access to rigorous learning experiences that meet them where they are and challenge them to grow and excel. Teachers should create classroom environments that hold all students to high expectations and provide each with academically appropriate yet challenging learning experiences. Some strategies for establishing such rigor include the following:

  • Set a high bar for achievement for all students. This encourages them to engage with your class and avoids any stereotypes of what they’re capable of accomplishing.
  • Connect students with resources that will support their autonomy and discovery. Learners who speak a different home language could be provided bilingual resources to aid their understanding. Similarly, visually impaired students could use text-to-speech technology.
  • Allow students to take ownership of their own learning. Rather than rushing to save students who seem to be heading toward frustration, take the time to pause and give students options to forge ahead. For students to persevere, they must learn to navigate struggle.

Accommodate Differences

To promote equity in your classroom, it is important to understand your students and how they learn best. Getting to know your learners well and connecting with them on an individual level are essential to building trust, identifying their strengths, and understanding their needs. To address and accommodate the differences among your learners, you could try the following:

  • Use a range of instructional materials to teach and reinforce learning. Having new concepts introduced and reinforced through multimodal resources would ensure that differences in learning styles are accounted for.
  • Use individual, paired, and group activities. When students learn together, they become aware of how they learn best, develop cooperative learning strategies, and learn respect for each other.
  • Activate cultural schema. Culture helps us make sense of the world. By inviting learners to relate what they are learning to what they already know helps to show them that their differences are valued.

Ensuring that all students are enabled to reach their full potential is a complex and continuous task. But through creativity, dedication, and persistence, we can work toward empowering all learners to meet and surpass expectations.

Consider the four principles above and ask yourself: What can I do today to start making my classroom more equitable? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

About Naashia Mohamed

Naashia Mohamed
Naashia Mohamed is a Senior Lecturer of TESOL at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her work in teacher education focuses on addressing the needs of language learners in schools and considers how school policies and practices can reduce the educational gaps faced by immigrant children and youth. Naashia has published in journals such as TESOL Quarterly, Current Issues in Language Planning, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, and ELT Journal. Her research addresses issues of identity, power, and equity in language education policy and practice.
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3 Responses to
Principles to Promote Equity

  1. Maryann Polesinelli says:

    When we discuss diversity, we need to be mindful that in addition to being culturally, linguistically, racially, and ethnically diverse, our students may be ability diverse having a dis/ability (I prefer the word impairment since disability, for me, implies the many barriers that stand in the way of individuals with disability – barriers that society has erected) for which they may need an accommodation in order to access the general education curriculum. This applies to our emergent bilingual students with significant cognitive, physical, and emotional impairments as well. There are other “diversities” among our students (e.g., gender diversity) that need to be understood and accepted. As educators, we need to understand that disability/impairment, just like hair or eye color, skin color, culture, language, or ethnicity, is just another part of human diversity. And, human diversity of any kind should be celebrated not shunned, not forgotten, not placed where no one can find it. The laws that were made to ensure that students receive a fair, appropriate, public education apply to all students. The laws that were made to protect all people, apply to all human beings, regardless of culture, language, ethnicity, race, or dis/ability, and cannot be parceled out based on someone’s own mindset or ideology.

  2. Ayanna says:

    Thank you, Naashia, for naming what will be required if we will “do the work.” So often, the idea of separating language from the factors you listed is encouraged. These factors, and more, are the realities of our students and ourselves. Yes, so glad to read this blog.

  3. Ross says:

    I think the 4 ways given were valid and applicable before the explosion of social justice warriors and critical race theory.
    The 4 ways make sense in any classroom but I disagree with anything if it’s got a politically driven agenda such as critical (race) theories. That stuff should stay out the classroom as it causes more division than unity

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