5 Critical Components of Establishing a Foundation for Equity-Focused Teaching
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The importance of Computer Science education continues to be on the rise across the globe, especially in the current state of our world as clever researchers, scholars, and even students combine forces to transcend the ever-changing precedent of technology today. As innovations break through the mold to compete with the pace of our changing society and its growing virtual needs, it is more critical than ever that we strive for equity-focused teaching that centers on cultural inclusion and universal opportunities for everyone.
By supporting our upcoming generation of brilliant scientists and pioneers of all fields across all backgrounds, we can aim to achieve a mutually beneficial, just, and prospering impact on our society while working toward common objectives.
The goal of equity-focused teaching is to address the vast disparity in terms of access, opportunity, and advancement of course material for those in minority groups. Without this focus, there continues to be an impermissible gap in areas that would help minoritized learners achieve the same positions in the same high-earning fields as their peers, along with fields of their chosen interests that fall outside of the STEM track.
Striving for this equity involves deliberate, honest work to recognize injustices, identify sources of disparity, eliminate obstacles, and create inclusivity and accessibility regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, sexual identity, and socioeconomic status, among others.
To challenge the status quo and redistribute empowered learning across the board for our students, we can start by building a foundation with five critical components of equity-focused teaching.
1) Establish a Justice-Oriented Base
With the many goals we have as teachers to serve our students in the best way possible, it is important to narrow in on your main purpose and begin from a fair, comprehensive starting point. A justice-oriented approach maintains yet also reaches outside of preparation for computer science fields and expands the potential path ahead for our upcoming generations.
Equity in Problem-Solving
By working on complex problem-solving strategies and computational thinking that can apply to a variety of logical, relevant scenarios, scholars gain the critical thinking skills needed to pursue whatever their career choices, interests, and other targets may be, as well as widening the use of CS in and of itself. By ensuring that pupils start from a fair and equitable drawing board, we are setting them up to succeed far beyond the bounds of tangible accessibility and test scores with equity-focused teaching.
For too long, young voices with incredible ideas have been dismissed or unheard entirely. With an absolute scope of not only the student, but their families and communities as well as associated biases, we can push past long-held limitations for career paths so that opportunities include the sciences, but also branch out into any chosen field with an acquired, comprehensive skill set.
Outside of career objectives alone, demonstrating CS in relation to relevant, real-life workability and encouraging self-expression takes our role as educators beyond CS prep and into their world, reaching their daily lives in a real-time, modern way. This encourages a crucial sense of independence and widening of potential, rather than merely focusing on meeting incomplete or outdated standards.
With intentional focus on just, inclusive opportunities, students learn the rewarding work of exploring, growing, and succeeding in ways that are unique to their needs as an individual and an important member of their community through practical application of the knowledge they’re gaining.
2) Identify Biases within Yourself and Society as a Whole
Regardless of how much we care about all of our students and their well-being, it is crucial to remain open to witnessing and challenging our biases. These likely exist for us in some ways that we can’t yet see or understand, but growing in awareness of our assumptions, discomforts, and misunderstandings makes us better educators, and better equips us to be an effective member of society where disparities need to be brought into the light and demolished.
By doing inner work and addressing our own education first, we follow the guidelines set by a justice-oriented approach, and can reach our pupils on a level critical to their success. Researching historical and present-day inequalities, receiving feedback, and adjusting our processes are just some of the ways to begin. When we are willing to look at our personal beliefs and compare them to what our students think, feel, and experience, we can better understand the impact we have in the classroom in order to make learning more appropriate and accessible to all.
While we expand our knowledge and criteria for our educational approach, it is important to keep in mind that our biases may branch outside of concepts we don’t yet grasp and lead us into limiting beliefs, leading us to misapply the information we have so far. We should be wary of projecting our own ideas of what minoritized students need and value, and instead continue to redirect our focus to our main purpose: getting to know them and understanding imbalances and strengths right from the root of their personal experiences. Doing this allows us to maintain a higher standard for everyone so they can succeed past any predisposition to their capabilities, reaching above and beyond our current expectations and perspectives.
Because this work is so individualized for each student and their environment, how the presented material is approached will vary in different contexts. This is where addressing concerns, questions, and problem-solving with fellow teachers and other members of varying communities is going to vastly improve our equity-focused knowledge base. As our pupils continue to learn, we must also continue to learn as mentors, taking advantage of opportunities to see models of our own strategies in action across different course concepts, grade levels, and communities.
This is a practice that may and should include moments of discomfort, keeping our own professional development in check and proving that we are truly utilizing new ideas. With the ability to act out challenging scenarios, we not only continue to confront our own preconceived limits and biases, but we start the process of drawing on solid experiences as we create lessons for our students with equity-focused teaching in mind.
As we have the capacity to converse and converge in different locations virtually, sharing techniques, exploring room for differences across many contexts, and holding each other accountable in a way that encourages justice-oriented learning for educators will better serve our young scholars. Growing alongside our students allows us to stay on the right track with them in a continued state of study while they evolve and become further interested in their chosen paths, whether that includes a STEM career or otherwise. By addressing our perspectives and personal belief systems first, we can be better prepared to take our teachings into the classroom in a way that cultivates a more prosperous education for everyone.
3) Broaden Accessibility For Students and Their Families
More doors are opening in the field of computer science as the advancement of technology and the evolving needs of our society relies more heavily on virtual concepts. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to give this access not only to our students, but to their families as well. Involving parents, guardians, and other relatives in the pursuit of inclusive opportunities allows them to continue on successful paths while empowering their loved ones to support them outside of the classroom.
It Takes a Village
In addition to this support, family members can be given the tools and basic understanding of CS and other concepts they need to be personally challenged and triumphant in their own endeavors, furthering the example we set for our young population: these prospects are not only available, but encouraged for all. This helps define what individual roles we can play in the process through calculated steps, recognizing opportunities, and taking advantage of collaborative efforts to build a community of learners.
For those that aren’t able to acquire access to technological equipment and other practical materials, as well as the means by which to utilize these resources, advocating for distribution and sufficient training can change the game for success. This may include partnerships with other businesses, transportation, resources, and other means of progress.
The creativity and collaboration that coding teaches helps prepare students to evolve alongside the growing tech industry. By giving them access to coding programs in a K-12 setting, they begin their path with the understanding right from the beginning that they too can grow, succeed, and eventually be leaders in these fields themselves.
Be Flexible, Be Creative
Empowering students with the tools for CS literacy and understanding begins with flexible, inventive methods and varied learning techniques that encompass a variety of styles and strengths. Across different visuals, platforms, programs, and mathematical and computational applications, they can feel prepared at every sequential step. More inclusive variety translates to greater opportunities, allowing educators to maintain those high standards as the material advances, and as students advance even beyond that course material.
By establishing a respectful, realistic connection with our scholars from the beginning, we can build a sense of trustworthiness that leads to openness, furthering our ability to effectively change the game. On an emotional level, this involves reaching them in a way that is accepting and encouraging of varied differences and backgrounds. Tangibly speaking, utilizing whatever tools you do have, whether plugged or unplugged, to prepare students for future opportunities in the tech industry is a step in the right direction for their future undertakings.
While the students themselves remain the top priority, hopefully this connection can be extended to parents and guardians in accordance with that open communication. In cases where it may be especially challenging to hear from the families and communities that are the most underrepresented, this may be best achieved with innovative techniques to reach guardians and change generations of historical bias. When critical trust extends beyond that of the student and into the whole family unit, the potential for sustainable change as a comprehensive, supportive unit grows even more.
With all of this in mind, we are able to support learners as a whole in a way that is mutually beneficial to their classes, careers, and fields. The benefit to society can only exponentially improve as we continue to empower our underserved populations in a way that allows them to reach their potential and dive into their communities. With a continued, stable focus on preparing our young learners, we can set them up not just on materials, exams, or even careers, but on the varied possibilities of their paths ahead in all areas of their lives.
4) Bring Comprehensive Culture Into the Classroom
It would be impossible to discuss, let alone implement, teaching processes unique to our students’ individual experiences without finding ways to bring varied cultures into the classroom. When we can not only discover the challenges of our upcoming generations, but implement their own voices and ideas in the critical process of problem solving, we can reach into their lives and their communities to resolve gaps in need of improvement.
Cultural Practices Equity
With different educational strategies in mind, such as pair programming and tiered activities, students can experience the rewarding work of collaboration for a common goal. The more we can utilize real-world examples in a classroom setting, the deeper this engagement and fulfillment runs for those who want to propel forward on a STEM path.
Engaging with the community can provide extensive insight into the cultural practices behind it. This can involve dedicated time with professionals and more advanced scholars in the field, relating course material with current events and justice-oriented needs and advances, and finding other means of getting involved in an appropriate and meaningful way.
The amount of empowerment this kind of work can bring to the student population from the beginning has the ability to affect real change, from their households, to their neighborhoods, and beyond to the greater good. This shows young generations the power they have to disrupt imbalances, and to rebuild their communities in ways that provide an outlet for their unique perspective and the societal changes only they can see.
Tact and Compassion
As we apply the work of understanding and incorporating underserved cultures in our lesson plans, it is important that we approach from a tactful and compassionate place. Be prepared to secure a foundation of equity-focused teaching not just through research and collaboration with administrators in your district, but through genuine conversations with families and communities. Answering questions, fielding hesitant responses, providing information, receiving feedback, and potentially even relinquishing the objective to a more appropriate representative are all a part of gaining mutual understanding for common goal attainment.
Every method that has been brought into the classroom was once an unprecedented idea put forth by an educator, cultural representative, parent, or even student. The more we remain open to the proposition and institution of completely contemporary ideas, the more we can continue to evolve with the changing times to address and resolve the needs of our youth.
5) Institute an Asset-Based Approach to Learning and Problem Solving
Across the board, it has become more critical than ever for educators to utilize an asset-, or strength-based, approach to learning. To truly meet the standards of an equity-focused lens, we need to firmly identify and steer away from deficit-based mindset and methodology. This detrimental perspective relies heavily on a sense of perceived lack, especially in terms of class and socioeconomic status, and is in desperate need of restructuring.
Instead, maintaining high expectations that our students can reach and even transcend encourages young minds to go beyond what they thought possible and achieve new heights above preconceived capabilities. The more aware we become of their unique strengths, the more fluent we can be in the connection between course material and their everyday lives.
Along with this way of thinking is the need to utilize interesting, creative methods that allow our students to do what they do best: have fun. When we can work to cultivate an environment that showcases compelling concepts, we can discover as a student-teacher unit what their strengths are now and could be going forward.
Equity-Focused Teaching in STEM
Encouragement of autonomy comes into play here when we realize the depth of individual capacity for comprehension, exploration, and expression, and allow it to truly carry students forward along paths that work best for their unique minds and achievement potential. The more we prepare them in CS and other STEM efforts in a way that appeals to them and leaves room for creativity, the more we instill a sense of exploration that will stick with them across all platforms. This far exceeds what we can hope and expect from standardized curriculum and testing alone.
When we can intrigue young learners with course material rather than with forced minimum criteria, we can know that they will grow in a focused and engaged way. We can achieve this with varying methods, including the incorporation of contests, games, socializing, and other interactive activities.
The more we discover strategies that are innovative, exciting, and relevant to their world and their strengths, the more our students can feel motivated and rewarded with real-life problem-solving. From the beginning, they see that their work can make a positive, influential difference. As this unfolds in other areas of education, we can use that example and utilize this strategy to engage students in coding and other STEM offerings that will jump-start their paths to success.
The work of establishing a foundation for equity-focused teaching begins with core concepts centering around justice, biases, accessibility, community, and strengths. These elements can achieve a lot together, but they are also just the beginning framework for initial change and redirecting the course of disparity in our society.
As educators, we should always be asking ourselves not only how we can utilize these ideas, but how we can take them to the next level. Teaching with an equity focus requires us to examine existing and upcoming lessons, heed reactions from scholars and families, adapt to cultural shifts and needs, and to always operate from an open and intentional place. We are in the business of learning, and the more we find ways to continue evolving alongside our students, the more our efforts can empower them to explore their edge, and feel the absolute power of climbing even higher than we can imagine.
Interested in equity-focused teaching? Need more resources? Check out this downloadable resource document with current researchers and loads of amazing resources centered on equity and computer science.