Advancing Educational Equity

This article is a personal reflection of the 2021 Holmes Policy Institute by attendee Rangel Zarate.

Rangel ZarateThis year’s AACTE Holmes Policy Institute was rich with memorable discussions about culturally-relevant care, digital technology in the classroom, and equity issues in schools.

The year 2021 has led to an unexpected metamorphosis in education and has forced many instructors and educational leaders to rethink the way they approach student learning and their own teaching practices. In our conference panel discussion, “Advancing Educational Equity Post-COVID” AACTE staffer and associate professors at Columbia University’s Teachers College Deltra Price-Dennis and Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz invited us to reflect on our own thoughts surrounding this new culture of change in educational institutions.

As a community college educator, I am very interested in developing a curriculum for students that caters to their needs not only as academics but as human beings who feel the weight of the world during a global pandemic. This weight is profound and we as instructors have the social responsibility to instruct our students using culturally-relevant care. This reform in educational praxis begins with listening to our students’ stories, validating their experiences and addressing the importance of mindfulness and mental health—especially for our BIPOC and AAPI students who look to us for guidance during these turbulent times. I left this panel discussion particularly   moved because I saw firsthand that my philosophy about culturally-relevant care was also a movement that other Holmes Scholars and educators are advocating for and are intentional about utilizing this philosophy in their own praxis. 

During the session, I had the pleasure of connecting with David D. Bynes, scholar and practitioner in The Center for Inclusion, Diversity Education, and Advocacy (IDEAs) at Florida Atlantic University, who highlighted the importance of equity literacy combined with Sealey-Ruiz’s work on racial literacy to build an argument moving toward equity. We as educational leaders should be cognizant of the barriers that affect student success. One of these barriers discussed was the digital divide. We learned about the Rs to consider in our praxis: Reconsider technology as a stand-alone course, Rethink that digital natives understand digital pedagogy and Replace digital tools driving instruction. Instruction online can be difficult for many students and it is important to never assume students understand techno-literacy so it is critical to keep equity at the forefront of our teaching. 

To close our second day of the Holmes Policy Institute, I had the opportunity of having a conversation about educational equity with Legislative Director Josh Delaney. Delaney’s impressive work includes a professional transition from schoolteacher to holding an executive position working on the Biden and Harris transition team by leading school reopening efforts and upon Senator Rafael Warnock’s Senate election, spearheaded his legislative policy team. 

I asked, “How can educational equity ever be fully achieved in schools?”

Delaney responded, “We need to think about the sphere of influence of the students that we work with; there is so much opportunity to promote and drive toward a greater sense of equity and that matters for every life that is within that sphere of influence.” This reminded me of the story he told us about how hard it was to leave education. But Delaney shared that he wanted to understand more thoughtfully the issues affecting student success and contribute his experiences and talents in a broader way where he could influence more students. This was an eye-opening and introspective dialogue. 

I enjoyed being a part of this discourse on educational change and inviting other educational leaders for critical inquiry into our teaching practices and this new cultural shift along the way. I am so thankful to have been present in the moment with these conversations and to share my experiences in our educational work with speakers and fellow scholars at the AACTE Holmes Policy Institute. 

Rangel Zarate is a Holmes Scholar and doctoral student at California State University-San Bernardino.

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