A Look at Student Equity with Yvette Jackson and Others

The focus of this newsletter was sparked by a fabulous lunch time conversation Bena and I had with Yvette Jackson. She has been writing, consulting with schools, and organizing actions on equity for decades. Her message:

The commitment the staff makes to create an intellectually stimulating, collaborative, emotionally secure community for students through authentic engagement… generating trusting relationships, encouraging teachers and students to fearlessly articulate their perceptions and needs to each other, enabling better understanding of and appreciation for each others’ cultural frames of reference, dissipating walls and building bridges between them on which their confidence and self-actualization thrive.” — Pedagogy of Confidence

Personalized Learning is all about making it personal. The commitment Yvette describes necessitates a classroom and school culture where every student has voice (one of the four attributes) and that voice shapes all aspects of school including curriculum, assessment, instructional design, evaluation of learning.

Although that sounds like an idea that we all aim for, making it happen in our classrooms today is complicated. It means a change in our instructional practices that focuses on the issue of equity so that we find a way to provide opportunities for all students to identify their unique gifts and talents. You can watch the interview with Yvette here and read the article that inspired the focus of the interview.

Right after taping the interview with Yvette, I came across an article in Hechinger Report on how personalized learning is a strategy to achieve equity. This reminded me of the powerful work being led by Superintendent Matthew Geary in Manchester, CT. A district-wide team took a candid and extensive look at existing classroom and district-level practices and then developed a vision to guide their work with personalized learning and Habits of Mind.

The final inspiration comes from Diana LeBaux’s blog post from 2017 where she urges leaders to stay focused on the promise of personalized learning in helping to close not just the achievement gap but the aspirational gap.

It would be all too easy for this movement to lose its equity edge and devolve into a way to more efficiently sustain existing inequities, to be a “frenemy” to the underprivileged students of promise, predominantly black and brown young people, who seek an authentic education.

We have to be willing to do the harder, more frightening thing: we need to let go. We must provide choices without options, to give them the chance to navigate ambiguity on an educational walkabout.  We must be willing to – with scaffolding, of course – let them create their own divergent assignments; to let go of right answers, and to have our own answers challenged. We must allow some noise back into the classroom, using this opportunity to teach students social-emotional skills like self-management and tenacity. We have to prepare students for this kind of freedom with critical thinking opportunities, a questioning of history, and processes by which to ensure equitable participation.

And we must be brave enough, after we have facilitated learning as rigorously as possible, to let students dismantle the very systems on which we stand, if they so choose.  This kind of personalized learning is much scarier than a playlist or a lab rotation, but it’s much less expensive than 1:1 laptops and more revolutionary.

Thank you for continuing to read and share! Keep your feedback coming!

Allison Zmuda
Educational Consultant and Founder of Learning Personalized

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