Nourishing Equitable Classrooms

What are we doing to support “these” students to meet their potential? This is a question Brian Johnson, TPS Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), asked himself in 2012, prompting him to begin his journey in pursuing equitable classrooms for students of color. Brian first launched the program at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Massachusetts and introduced it at The Philadelphia School in the 2015-2016 school year.

While the program’s roots began with teachers focusing on individual students not meeting their academic potential, it has adapted to now being centered on the teachers themselves—providing our educators with tools, resources, and constructive feedback to help them meet the needs of all of their students while being mindful that each student’s experience and background is different.

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Equitable Classrooms (EC) is a year-long program in which participating teachers engage in inquiry-based professional development that focuses on race as well as other social identities in their classrooms. Twelve TPS teachers are participating in the program. Each teacher identifies their own inquiry to explore throughout the year. Two outside consultants, Drs. Charlotte Jacobs and Ali Michael, are each assigned six EC teachers whom they observe monthly. EC teachers receive feedback from their consultant, as well as from an assigned peer, who provides another perspective on how they are progressing towards their goals.

Junior Unit teacher Julia Carleton has participated in EC for the last two years. This year, her inquiry is, How can I differentiate instruction to meet all students where they are and push them each to grow?

“I feel lucky to work at a school where we get to know each student well. I want to use my knowledge of each student and my relationship with them to design learning experiences that are individualized,” Julia shared. “My goal is to hold high expectations for each student, while recognizing that different students need to be pushed in different ways.”

Research has shown that learning environments that are not diverse, equitable, and inclusive can play a factor in inhibiting academic or social emotional performance. EC aims to improve both teacher and student performance. Teachers are addressing DEI growth areas to enable them to better deliver equitable and inclusive instruction and support, while students focus on building the necessary skills and knowledge to improve their academic or social-emotional performance as well as self-advocacy.

“Equitable Classrooms pushes teachers to do the same type of learning we expect of our students: learning that is reflective, critical, and self-driven,” Julia said.

The participating teachers, consultants, and program developer Brian Johnson meet each year to discuss how to continue to adapt this program so it is most effective. “We have the making of a dynamic program,” Brian shared. “I think Equitable Classrooms can make a difference in a teacher’s practice and, in turn, be the difference maker for our students.”