The Launch of Our Equity Website
One of the lasting legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic will be its exposure of pre-existing societal inequities to a wider audience. While inequities have existed in society and schools since they were created, the pandemic has caused many of us to see them with greater clarity. The murder of George Floyd perhaps served as a catalyzing moment, but I suspect there were more forces at play. Whether it was the disproportional infection rates among the poor (and this intersection with people of colour), the overlay of the Calls to Action for Truth and Reconciliation, the significant number of blue-collar workers who lost their jobs (i.e., did not have the opportunity to work remotely), or the deepening of political polarization playing out before us, it is evident that the word “equity” has become a more prominent component of our educational lexicon over the last two years.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that these concerns have been in our educational discourse literally for decades, and that it is only more recently that it has reached a wider audience. You need only think about the many theorists and practitioners who have argued for justice over the years, and you would observe that they concluded that education was a powerful force in the inequities experienced by marginalized peoples. I will not attempt to name them here but suffice to say that we all now stand on their shoulders as we come to grips with the very important mission of making our schools more inclusive places for all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, identity or religion.
Our district is part of the Deeper Learning Dozen, a network of districts committed to strengthening student experiences that support the critical core competencies (communication, thinking, personal and social) across all the disciplines. One of the guiding principles of our work is that “(In)Equity is structural.” In essence, this is the idea that we have (largely inadvertently) built systems and processes within our schools that do not adequately contemplate the needs of learners on the margins. When you live and breathe these systems for as long as some of us have, you become blind to them. It is only through deep reflection and connection with those on the margins that we come to understand the weight of these systems sufficiently to put ourselves in a position to do something about them. The obvious example of inequity that comes to mind is the detrimental impact that our Canadian school systems have had on Indigenous students and families over the years.
Equity is the state that would be achieved if success was not predictable by any social, cultural or economic factor. Here at the Abbotsford School District, we designed our Equity Framework to serve as a “container” for our conversations and actions related to making our vision of a “world-class innovative and individualized experience for each child” come to life. How can we possibly hope to make our schools places of belonging, inclusion and healing unless we can first acknowledge that we have inherited systems that have not worked well for the increasingly diverse students before us? How do our own identities as educators contribute to these systems? How do our beliefs about students and the conversations we hold about them shape their success? Do students see their cultures positively represented in the ecology of their classrooms? Are the policies, structures and processes that we create to operate our schools considerate of the diversity of needs of our students and families? And just as important, are we celebrating the things we are learning and doing to honour the diversities of our school communities?
We have created a space on our website to publicly try to answer these very questions, a place to share our aspirations, challenges and successes. The space is dedicated to what we are building and what we are dismantling, what we are support and what we are opposing, causes we are advancing and those that we are arresting. We invite staff, students, and families to see what we are learning and open another door into our schools as places of healing and hope. We aim to make public the promising equity work underway in our district and, at the same time, acknowledge that we have a long way to go to creating the inclusive schools of our most optimistic dreams.