What Must Teachers Posses to Support Their Equitable and Inclusive Teaching?

What must learners of mathematics possess so that they can learn mathematics on their own? For example, once a student graduates from my college, what does she need to continue learning mathematics on her own? Besides having some body mathematical content knowledge, this student would probably need to have some mathematical habits of mind, some productive dispositions about learning mathematics, a sense of self-efficacy, a growth mindset about learning mathematics, perseverance, etc.

So, now let’s ask an analogous question: say we are trying to help teachers (of all levels, primary, secondary, tertiary) learn how to teach in more equitable and inclusive ways. What must they possess to do that? They might need to know some instructional strategies for equitable and inclusive teaching, but clearly they need more than that.

Why is it, then, that most professional development is focused on helping teachers acquire instructional strategies, but not much more than that? It would be as silly as if we only focused on helping students acquire content knowledge in our fields and none of the other things that they might need to continue their own learning.

To all of you who think deeply about equity and justice in education and are looking for ways to help teachers teach in more equitable and inclusive ways, here’s an important question: What must teachers possess to continue making their classrooms more equitable and inclusive long after they have left our workshops or training sessions?

Clearly they need some of the “whats” and “hows” of equitable and inclusive teaching–they need to learn some equitable instructional strategies. Pick your favorite ones: using “equity sticks” to call on students more equitably, finding ways to remove gendered language and examples from your course content, active learning strategies (like inquiry-based learning, POGIL, etc.), justice-oriented curricular materials, etc. Those things are important, but what else?

With input from Sumun Pendakur and Peg Cagle, I’ve compiled this list of things that teachers need to continue making their classrooms more equitable and inclusive. Will you help me edit/add to this list?

  1. A Sense of Purpose: What’s the force that compels me to do more and grow? It could come from a personal moral and ethical stance, spiritual practice, determination to make the world better for future generations, or affinity with your institution’s mission, etc.
  2. Productive Dispositions about Teaching and Equity:
    • (a) A belief that time and effort I spend on improving teaching and learning can result in fruitful changes in my classes that benefit students
    • (b) Similar belief that time and effort spent learning about equity and inclusivity can benefit my classes and students
  3. Humility: Knowing that there is something that I can learn from everyone and that I will never really “arrive” at the perfection in my teaching but that I still strive toward that ideal
  4. Growth Mindset about Equity: Believing that my capacity to be more equitable and inclusive in everything that I do can improve with effort, rather than insisting that people are just “good” or “bad” or “racist” or “woke” (I wrote about this in a previous post.)
  5. Perseverance: Having the courage to continue trying to teach in better, or more equitable and inclusive ways even if I don’t attain success the first few times
  6. Equity-Oriented Habits of Mind:
    • (a) Having an asset-oriented, as opposed to deficit-oriented, way of thinking about students. Knowing that I and my institution have the responsibility to help students succeed and that there are things within my control that can make a difference
    • (b) Asking not just about the “whats” and “hows” of teaching, but also the “whens” and the “whys”; having an understanding that classrooms and people are too complex to boil things things down to “best practices” and instead being able to think of the classroom as an ecology of people, environments, and their relationships with each other.
    • (c) Having a habit of self-reflection about one’s teaching practice.
  7. Community: Participation in a community with other professionals who are struggling through similar problems of practice helps me continue to grow. But it’s not just having folks around, but also knowing how to engage in effective professional conversations. Julianne Vega recommends the book Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations by Charlotte Danielson.
  8. Joy and Humor: This kind of work is too difficult to sustain without self-care. The ability to find joy in your work and to take work seriously, but not take yourself too seriously, helps us pick ourselves up when we make mistakes and continue learning. I also highly recommend the “Killjoy Survival Kit” in Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed.

There is a great deal of overlap here between things one might need to improve as a teacher in general and things one might need to teach in more equitable and inclusive ways. Items #4 and #6a above seem to me to be specific to teaching in more equitable and inclusive ways.

What else is missing from this list? And the big question, of course, is: how do we cultivate these things in ourselves and help others cultivate them too?

1 thought on “What Must Teachers Posses to Support Their Equitable and Inclusive Teaching?”

  1. Having just watched Brene Brown and Dr. Jo Flynn speak I think courage is a major need. The courage to take risks, feel uncomfortable, fail, regroup, and try again. Fear, in my experience is the biggest factor to not having courageous conversations about equity – fear of losing control, fear of losing trust and/or authority, fear of saying the wrong thing or being misinterpreted. You did speak or courage as part of perseverance but I feel it deserved it’s own bullet. The other things we need to teach is listening ability – listening in order to understand what the other person is saying and feeling rather than listening while waiting for your turn to speak or seeing how closely the other person’s views align with our own. Great list. I will be using it in class in a few weeks. Thank you.

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