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Leaders Must Consider Equity In Order To Serve All Students

Excellent leaders can articulate who are the students in their schools, who is over/under-represented and identify which voices have been missing

Ontario's Leadership Framework identifies a series of Leadership effective practices to support schools and systems. However, it does not explicitly identify Equity as a leadership competency or practice, which is highly problematic given persistent gaps, historic and current, that continue to affect Indigenous, black, racialized and marginalized children. Public education is funded by taxpayers, which in effect means that as educators, we are employees of the public and are employed to address the needs of all children.

When we keep in mind the context of the structures we work come out of a colonial history and were created to get to particular types of outcomes, it helps us to understand why we need to adopt an anti-oppressive leadership stance.

Understanding how the structures privilege some and harm others and the types of leadership necessary to work toward mitigating this then becomes necessary learning to lead for all.

In fact, one can argue if this is not the stance of public institutions, the public would be well within their right to call for even further accountability since the default of those organizations would be to continue to privilege a few and while perpetuating harm to some. Leadership in public education must include Equity as an explicit Leadership competency that is foundational to the work of achievement and well-being.

Here are a few Equity Leadership Competencies.

It is critical to remember that Anti-Oppression work is about institutional and systemic change that works alongside the necessary learning that helps to shift mindsets. This work must be used to understand, interrupt, and transform systems in such a way that they no longer negatively hurt students. When this work remains wedded to the good-intentions of good people, it becomes lost when those people leave. Institutional/systemic change is necessary to represent all.

Gap finding and analysis

Good leaders seek out the gaps, look for the patterns — even the very uncomfortable ones that often tell us children of particular demographic groups are grossly over-represented in things like lower graduation rates, higher suspension/expulsion rates, being put into applied pathways, being identified with learning disabilities but under-represented in gifted identifications, etc.

Excellent leaders can articulate who are the students in their schools, who is over/under-represented, identify which voices have been missing from the school or system in creating solutions (usually people who reflect the demographics of those who are most hurt) and identifying necessary changes in learning for adults, as well as within policies/procedures to effect change.

Centre the most marginalized voices

The design of work for schools and classrooms begins with the voices most under-served and most harmed by the system (often labelled "at-risk.") They ensure that voices that reflect these students are constantly present along the way of identifying, addressing, disrupting and transforming, and those voices help to shape and guide solutions. When the design begins here, they will be able to serve all students in a better way because what is necessary for some is good for all.

Acknowledge what they don't know and are aware of their personal privilege/s

Describe how that may cause them to "miss" things and/or affect their decision making especially when thinking about solutions. When I was a principal, I put out publicly into the community that my personal goal for my school community was for everyone to "run to school every day." It was only when someone who attended an anti-oppression course I helped to facilitate asked me a very pointed question, "What if someone can't run?" that I caught this: my able-bodied privilege missed that not everyone can run. Was it my intention to exclude people with disabilities? No. Was it my impact? Yes. I apologized, thanked them, changed the language to "rush to school" and learned something.

Keep critical friends

Not those who will confirm their thinking but those who will push them to learn, to be ok in dissonance and think about things in ways they had not traditionally thought of. If we know certain groups (Indigenous, black, LGBT, immigrant, children with disabilities) have been disproportionally affected over time, how do we need to work differently to change outcomes? The onus is on the adults and the institutions to make changes needed to support students.

Hold truth on the table while keeping and building relationships

This work is not about blame, shame or guilt. A person is not a bad person because of historic systems or because we may hold particular types of privilege. No one asked for their privileges, they are unearned. It is about understanding that there have been consequences to the way education systems work that are harming children we claim to serve. Some of us benefit while others are harmed because they do not share those privileges. Once we are aware, we can do better for everyone.

I have male privilege, my male privilege doesn't make me a bad person. Understanding that I have it is critical to being able to better work to support women and trans identifying students, staff and communities that I serve.We need to have these difficult conversations while staying at the table together. Equity doesn't take away supports from children who need it; it ensures that all children receive the supports they need.

Understanding that Indigenous peoples/Nations do not fall under the "Equity" umbrella

Their land was colonized; Indigenous people are not trying to get to equity with colonizers/settlers. They want their right to self-governance and self-determination guaranteed to them by the UNDRIP. We have a duty to ensure equity work isn't leading to further erasure of Indigenous peoples, that Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are upheld and supports the learning we need to do as settlers to Turtle Island.

Equity is a leadership competency that can be learned. The Ontario Leadership Framework needs to address Equity, otherwise it continues to erase Indigenous, black, radicalized and marginalized students and staff. We must do better in public education, adopt an Anti-Oppressive stance and build understanding, expectations and accountability around Equity as a Leadership competency.

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