Education Opinion

5 Ways to Do Equity Work Daily

By Elena Aguilar — July 17, 2019 5 min read
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I’m often asked about how coaches and leaders can build their equity-muscles on a regular, ongoing basis. My colleague LesLee Bickford wrote the following blog post about this topic.

5 Ways to do Equity Work Daily - by LesLee Bickford

I’ve spent the last 15 years in roles focused on supporting the learning and development of other adults. Over this time, I’ve noticed (and heard from many Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness practitioners whom I respect and love) a trend: When it comes to owning our learning, DEI is an area where too many of us (especially those of us who identify as white), though well-intentioned, are falling short and relying on the experts in our lives/schools/organizations to do the heavy lifting for us.

For example, we might sign up for and attend learning experiences others arrange but then do nothing between these experiences to continue our growth. Or we might bring all our questions to our “DEI person” and look for them to be our personal tutor because “it’s their job.” Or maybe we send an affirming private message to someone who spoke out about an inequitable or oppressive situation but did not speak up ourselves.

There are lots of reasons this could be happening. Perhaps we’re scared of saying the wrong thing and are letting our fear hold us back from being brave. Maybe we don’t know where to start and haven’t prioritized figuring it out. It might just feel so big that it’s easier to just sit back and let someone who knows more show us the way—we might even tell ourselves this is demonstrating respect and being humble. Or maybe we’re unsure why. We might wholeheartedly believe that we want to do the “right” thing and grow here, but there is a hesitation rooted in unconscious biases that keep us from taking that step.

In any case, what this means is that unless we’re being actively directed to grow, we’re allowing complacency to characterize our development with respect to cultural competence and humility. We’re standing still on Beverly Daniel Tatum’s moving walkway unless someone is actively pulling us along.

I’m challenging all of us to move past our own reasons and make a commitment to do the daily work that the pursuit of equity requires. This means our development must be characterized by curiosity, openness to discomfort and feedback, and constant reflection and growth. To achieve this, we need to establish daily routines, habits, and trusted resources to nurture that growth. Here are 5 ways you can start today:

  1. Attend a training. I know, I know. I just said your development shouldn’t just happen in trainings—and it shouldn’t—but there are lots of great opportunities to learn from experts that aren’t just the ones sponsored by your employer. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is full of resources for developing your own cultural competence, for planning professional development with colleagues, and for leading lessons with students. Other trainings I highly recommend are The National SEED Project, the YWCA, Embracing Equity, Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, Interaction Institute for Social Change, National Equity Project, and anything laura brewer offers. And there are many, many more local opportunities in every community.
  2. Pump up your social-media feeds. We all know that social media can be a place filled with hate and divisiveness. But it can also be an incredible place of learning and growth. Organizations and individuals with expertise in racism, equity, and identity development share an abundance of knowledge that costs absolutely nothing. Adding them to the feeds you already check every day can help keep your consciousness oriented to equity and justice. It’s impossible to create a definitive list of accounts because there are so many, and they are all unique, but a few accounts that tweet regularly about identity and culture (among other things) are Tarana Burke, Kimberle Crenshaw, Michael Skolnik, Carol Anderson, David Treuer, Gene Demby, Paul Gorski, Eve Ewing, Shereen Marisol Meraji, Adrienne Keene, Nikole Hannah Jones, Debbie Reese, Adam Serwer, Roxane Gay, and Clint Smith. If Instagram is more your thing, check out Embracing Equity, Race/Related NYT, Black Girls Teach, splcenter, britthawthorne eji_org, Ericka Hart, Angry Asian Man, Layla Saad, whitegirllearning, and so many others. As you begin adding content to your feed, you’ll discover additional people and accounts that help you grow every day.
  3. Diversify your podcast subscriptions. There are a number of podcasts that focus on identity in various ways. Adding them to your podcast rotation is an easy way to push your learning. Some of these podcasts include Code Switch, Still Processing, Making Gay History, Uncivil, Pod Save The People, Latinos Who Lunch, and All My Relations.
  4. Google. Searching for things on the internet has never been easier, and Google is entirely free to use (well, minus the cost of your privacy, but that’s for another blog). Use it! If you’re interested in a topic, search for posts, articles, and books about it. Search for local organizations, facilitators, and gatherings related to equity and justice. While there is certainly no shortage of national issues around justice and equity, some of the most important issues lurk in more localized spaces—school board meetings, zoning commissions, neighborhood associations, and the like. Local organizations are out there and are easier to find than you may think. Follow the “ask three before me” rule with your DEI expert—they’ll love you for it!
  5. Calendarize it. If you’re someone who may be prone to set an intention like “learn more about race and power” but never make much progress toward it because you can never find the time, then save the time in advance. Literally add blocks of time to your calendar to do this work. You could have a weekly block where you reflect on and add to a list of three steps you took that week to grow in this area and/or disrupted inequities. Or you could create a book club to ensure you engage with texts you have been meaning to read—this is great accountability and supports the growth of others! Regardless of how you do it, embrace the mindset that this isn’t an “extra,” it isn’t self-indulgent; it is critically important for your work and for our world. Put the time on your calendar, and hold it.

We exist amid countless interwoven structures that perpetuate and reinforce white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and myriad other forms of oppression. It’s on all of us to take action in our daily lives to disrupt and resist these systems. And there’s no way to do that unless we’re constantly growing. Building that growth into our daily and weekly routines is an important step we can take toward equity and justice.

The opinions expressed in The Art of Coaching Teachers are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.