THE AAIE NEW SCHOOL PROJECT

chapter 5

Equity

 

We commit to identify, confront, and dismantle structures and systems of inequity, to examine our privilege, and take actions to increase justice and ensure belonging.

 


 

THE
PRINCIPLE

 

Overview

During an unprecedented global movement for racial and social justice, international schools, likewise, are being called upon to confront fundamental and painful questions around equity and privilege. To realize the Equity principle calls for profound courage and honesty to face questions about the systems under which our schools have been established and have flourished. While equity is a lynchpin for the realization of every other New School Principle, particularly among international schools, it is Equity that is a critical guiding principle for schools today and moving forward, though perhaps the principle that has historically been given and received the least attention. Indeed, without equity, the other New School principles will fall short of their intentions, vulnerable to repeating educational mistakes of the past. And, without realizing priorities of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, international school leaders and Boards will have relinquished their core responsibility to uphold their school mission and values. An equitable school works continuously to investigate, unpack, process, interrogate, and correct the various power dynamics that privilege some and marginalize others. Schools prioritizing equity must seek to learn and address how these power dynamics shape students’ and adults’ diverse experiences and access to relevant and valuable education. We can only achieve equitable education, and repair harm done by inequitable structures, if we relentlessly hold one another accountable for collectively transferring our learning and commitments into action. Equity must be a lens through which to view all components of New Schools. 

As the writers of this content, we occupy a range of positions, experiences, and backgrounds. The intersectionality of our diverse identities supported the creation of this content; however, we must also acknowledge that not all voices of those often marginalized are represented here. We consist of a small portion of those voices and we recognize that there is a lot of work to be done in undoing and ceasing not continuing to perpetuate the harm inflicted upon these communities and individuals. 

Emily Meadows - LGBTQ Consultant

 

Principle in Action

What does this principle look like in action? The following quotes represent examples for how this principle is manifested in a school.

STUDENTS

I’m an Indian girl, and I attend an international school in India, but I had never read a book by an Indian author in class - until this year. We used to always read books that they call “classics”, but these were mainly written by white men, and I didn’t really connect with them. This year, in language arts, we read a selection of pieces by Arundhati Roy, a famous Indian woman author. It made me feel more included in my class and my school to see identities like mine represented in our study material.” 

 

TEACHERS

I had been watching these exciting movements for diversity, equity, and inclusion in international schools from the sidelines because, even though I was interested, I wasn’t sure how to be part of it. This wasn’t something we worked on much in my teacher training and, honestly, I was afraid I would make a mistake or somehow do more harm than good if I tried to bring this to my practice. Our school has been bringing in DEI consultants to work with teachers, and it is making a huge difference. I’ve learned some valuable knowledge and skills, which make me far more confident bringing this lens to my teaching, and it also feels reassuring to know that the school is supportive of us moving ahead with this work.” 

 

LEADERSHIP

We’ve always relied on connections with a narrow scope of professional networks and organizations for hiring, and trusted in the process. Looking back, we realize that this led us to hiring a mostly homogenous group of white professionals, often from the same countries, and with a misrepresentation of men in leadership and almost no LGBTQ+ representation at any level. Last year, we spent time examining our own biases and ideas of ‘good fit’ in hiring, and worked to make our hiring practices more inclusive. We actively recruited more diverse candidates in a variety of ways, including updating our website to reflect this priority, clearly asking our recruiting agencies to send us more diverse candidates, inviting diverse voices into the hiring process, and opening up passport requirements, always with a reflection back on our initial assessment of hiring bias. This year, we were thrilled to welcome an incoming cohort of professionals that is significantly more diverse in a number of ways from our previous hires. We will continue these practices, as well as implement ongoing work to ensure that we provide an equitable and welcoming working space so that we are also able to retain our new hires.” 

 

COMMUNITY

As a parent, I was really surprised to learn that our school didn’t have an official non-discrimination statement! When I brought this up, they were actually a bit surprised as well; I think we all just assumed it existed. They took my feedback and not only wrote a non-discrimination statement for the school handbooks, but also created an inclusion policy for transgender students in order to build more equitable access to the benefits of our school.”

 

 


 

PURPOSE

 

No other Principle in the New School Project has been as challenged and as challenging as that of Equity. During our deliberations, the entire world was undergoing a profound reckoning around justice, equity, diversity and inclusion - and international schools have been called upon to address their role, to take accountability for upholding inequitable systems. Moving forward on any of the Principles calls for radical candor and unprecedented courage on the part of any leader to confront systemic structures of inequity in our schools. These structures show up in hiring, in leadership selection, in biased language, in curriculum that exalts one worldview, in parental expectations, and in many other conscious and unconscious barriers to full participation. It is no longer adequate to celebrate internationalism, as alumni, staff and students in international schools around the world have voiced in the wake of a movement for Black Lives and justice since the murder of George Floyd.  It has become clear that glossing over barriers to equity with a veneer of global citizenship hides the reality that many of our schools were established as, and are supported as, havens of privilege. This is not tolerable or sustainable.

Deep, systemic inequity will not be blotted away with a training workshop, an equity statement, or even a dedicated leader. We acknowledge the complexity of the task. We believe that when schools prioritize equity they will, as a consequence, improve their practice in each of the other six principles. The equity principle is different from our “clinical” challenges and changes in education and, yet, it is vital to each. When we nurture equitable schools, we become stronger reflections of our diverse world. 

Equity is fundamental to our learners’ intersectional identities; its insurmountable impact and implications to both reduce harm uplift and sustain childrens’ most profound sense of being, identity, and self-worth. New Schools will acknowledge historical injustices while nurturing students’ diverse, expansive, and developing identities. Schools that place teaching and learning at the heart of what they do, must ensure that the school's purpose, processes, people, culture, and resources will undergird equity. Through equity-focused reflection, learning, and actions, committed to over the long run, New Schools will come closer to  the restoration and preservation of human rights and dignity that are bedrocks to human liberation. 
 

 


 

PROVOCATIONS

Provocations are intended to be tools to use within a school community to get people thinking creatively and in a generative way about the elements of each of the Principles. As reflective leaders in the change process, we must use fearless inquiry to step out of our comfort zone, examine our current practices, and design approaches for the future. The following questions are designed to prompt conversations within your school community. Your answers to these questions should challenge the status quo. If you are fearful of your answers, it is an indication that you are exploring this principle at a deep level.
What are our beliefs and values that ground this principle? 

  • What are the powers and privileges that we hold that will prohibit us from moving forward with this principle? 
  • In what ways does our system maintain outdated practices that cause harm to our students? 
  • Do the voices at the table represent the composition of the school community? Of the wider community? As we examine who is/is not “at the table” how might we rethink the way we invite voices  to settings in which diverse voices have not felt safe or welcomed?
  • In what ways is our leadership team committed to ongoing, humble learning about equity?
  • What can we name as significant changes to our system over the last ten years that have included equity at the forefront of decision-making, vision development, professional learning and personnel practices, and policy development?  How did we make the shifts, individually and as a collective? Who was sitting at the table? 
  • What are our blind spots that we must recognize, own, and unpack? 
  • What might be our perceived exceptionalities (self and organisation) obscure or limit our views of the realities of injustices? 
  • What habits, behaviors, and dispositions are required for this principle to be realized? 
  • What systems are in place for stakeholders to bring forward concerns around equity, and how do we provide protection against backlash? How do we hold ourselves accountable for equity? 

The link below provides a wealth of guidance and tools to support the principle of adaptive change. The articles, videos, and podcasts in the link below provide a foundation for deep exploration of this principle, and can be used in faculty meetings, board meetings, leadership retreats, etc.

Guidance and Tools for Equity

 


 

PLAYBOOK

For each of our NEW SCHOOL Principles, we provide a Pathway that attempts to tell the story of a school on a journey towards putting that principle into practice. These narratives are only approximations, because every school is different and change is not as linear as this represents. It is messy, imperfect, and iterative. To apply the metaphor of a ‘pathway’ as following a guide to take steps forward while also being open to direction and change when the path demands it. The spirit of this pathway is simply to provide ‘a portrait of possibility’. It offers a picture of what progress might look like, as it can be easier to imagine something if a possible model is provided. That said, Equity is the principle where we, as international schools, have the least credible record of doing well, and the most to learn. Indeed, equity is not a point A to point B solution, but a lens that should inform all that we do. The pathway of developing equity in schools is about developing this lens, a profound understanding of the concept of equity, so that it is infused in all of the ways that we prepare students to engage with the world both within and outside of our schools. Therefore, the playbook that we put forth here, is hypothetical, with extensive room to expand and improve. 

We offer four moments in time along this journey, for schools to reflect on their current reality and imagine what might be next:

  • Thinking about it...What might it look like when your school is “thinking about” the Equity Principle? (This can involve a range of applications, stakeholders and ideas, beyond a single point in time or a right answer.)
  • Working on it...What might it look like when your school is “working on” the Equity Principle?
  • Living it...What might it look like when your school is “living” this Principle? 
  • Transforming it...If you get this far along the continuum, what would a transformation of your school’s relationship with the Equity Principle look like in practice? How would you tell that story?

Equity Pathway

 


 

CONNECTING IT

Aligning with the EQUITY principle requires a commitment to ongoing work that is rooted in deep reflection and action, both as an individual and as a learning community. Reflection and action must both exist in parallel pathways in order to adopt this principle. ADAPTIVE CHANGE cannot occur without a commitment to the EQUITY principle  involving all members of the school COMMUNITY in inclusive ways. Supporting the WELL-BEING of everyone in the school requires a fierce commitment to equity, not to equal treatment, but to equitable treatment. As a community, we continually look for EVIDENCE to assess our commitment to EQUITY and we use that evidence to plan our path to continued growth and improvement. We understand that PROFOUND LEARNING is only possible when EQUITY is a central part of the skills and habits that are emphasized in the curriculum. Finally, by focusing on growth, we have all developed a greater CAPACITY for engaging in dialogue across differences to ensure that our school is an inclusive community.