Why explore educational equity and excellence?

Somewhere in the mission statement of most schools, there is often a reference to ALL students. In reality, we know however that our education systems are often falling short of success with large numbers of children. Reversing these trends requires a collective effort and a sense of critical urgency to explore what we mean by educational equity and excellence—and to examine reflective questions as members of a school community. Such as . . . 

  • If an integral component of our mission is to ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality, educational opportunities and the support or resources they need to succeed, then how do we create a safe, supportive, and courageous space to examine and think critically about this important topic? 
  • If we value the experiences and perspectives of all community members and if we are committed to fostering a school culture where everyone feels respected and never feels marginalized, then how do we foster systemic norms that nurture a safe and supportive learning environment for everyone?
  • How do we approach the challenge of meeting the needs of all our students and of centering the diverse voices and experiences of everyone in our school community—regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, gender identity, ability, home language, cultural background, or personal beliefs and interests?
  • If we believe that all students deserve an excellent education and the support they need to be successful, regardless of their racial or social identities, then how do we explore the complexities of our identities in a way that informs our work but avoids labels and generalizations, honors each person’s individuality, illuminates our differences as assets, and celebrates our collective diversity as community strength?
  • As educators and school community members, how do we courageously examine our own biases, explore the many nuances of our own identities, and reflect upon our own experiences in ways that will meaningfully inform our efforts?
  • If we see evidence of inequity in our student data, how do we examine our internal and systemic structures or practices to determine if they are contributing (even unintentionally) to any of these outcomes? And are there external and/or societal inequities, perhaps beyond the immediate reach of our school community, that are impacting outcomes but that we could still more effectively address? 
  • And perhaps most importantly, when we examine various issues, are we centering the voices of the students and community members who may have felt marginalized in the past, whose experiences may most inform our collective discussion, or who may be most impacted by the very decisions we make as a community?

All schools express a commitment to excellence and to providing the very best possible for all the children of their community. As such, our commitments to excellence and to equity are inextricably linked. It seems evident also that success in these goals can be especially challenging without intentional reflection and ongoing dialogue in our schools and communities. It requires a collective dedication to model critical thinking and discourse—and to make room in the center for everyone. Perhaps our missions and commitments are never truly secured for any one group or individual, unless they are proven to be afforded to all individuals. Our commitment to equal protection and opportunity for everyone is fundamental not only to bedrock principles of education but also to the foundational vision of our democracy. It is perhaps in our school communities where such collective commitment becomes most easily visible and perennially evident—by manifesting in the actions we take together for supporting all our children’s futures.

To succeed in our school mission statements, every community must continually renew its commitment to equity and excellence. Together, in this workshop, we will begin exploring these complex and critically important issues.