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Applying the Equity Lens

Leading for equity and engaging in equity work requires us to move away from the historical ways we educate our students towards a model which understands and prioritizes student needs, particularly those most affected by inequity.

What is perhaps most challenging and most necessary is that leading and engaging for equity requires all of us to recognize the ways in which we need to shift our own perspectives and practices to support more equitable outcomes for students. Doing this requires self-reflection and a recognition of how existing systems and beliefs maintain opportunity disparities. We must give ourselves the space and time to reflect, listen, learn, innovate, and develop so that we can do the same for our students. Leading for equity also requires us to grapple with complicated and complex challenges, and to be persistent and flexible in developing promising practices to address these challenges.

Understanding the Equity Lens

An essential component of collective leadership for equity is the equity lens. We must apply an equity lens that enables us to see and understand the existing structures and conditions that create inequities, as well as the changes that are necessary to create more equitable learning environments. This is a shift from a historical education lens that upholds structural racism to an equity lens that creates fair access and opportunities for all. Doing so requires using a shared lens when re-imagining what our district could look like and accomplish. An equity lens has four dimensions:

  1. (Use) Liberatory Thinking;
  2. (Catalyze) Inclusive Partnerships;
  3. (Direct) Resource Equity; and
  4. (Design) Fair Policies and Systems.

We can think of these dimensions as similar to what happens when an artist mixes colors on a pallet to create just the right shade. Individually, the colors are simple and straightforward, but when they are mixed together, the resulting shade has depth and nuance that the individual colors do not possess on their own.

We would never have seen the nuances and the depth if the colors had not been mixed together. Similarly, the dimensions of the equity lens work together to allow us to “see” the system differently. We cannot see the nuances if we are only using one dimension of the equity lens. All the dimensions must be engaged in order for equity work to succeed. If we developed and implemented a promising practice after only engaging the liberatory thinking dimension, the practice would likely not be as successful as it would had we engaged all of the dimensions of the equity lens simultaneously. In this way, the equity lens provides a descriptive, conceptual understanding of what equity work requires so individuals and groups can think and act in service of our students, especially those most impacted by inequities. Using an equity lens is critical for this work. When we use an equity lens, we create the conditions within ourselves and among our colleagues that lay the foundation for more equitable learning environments.

Applying the Equity Lens

Without an equity lens, we will maintain the opportunity gaps we are working to mitigate. We must apply the equity lens to every equity challenge we seek to solve. The interaction between the four dimensions of the equity lens is what creates disruption in the status quo and opens the door for change. When using the four dimensions of the equity lens, we begin by understanding and re-imagining our own assumptions and beliefs (Liberatory Thinking). Second, we consider how we can create inclusive partnerships that recognize differences as assets and prioritize the voices of those most affected by a proposed change (Inclusive Partnerships). Third, we prioritize and allocate people, time, and money to align with level of opportunity (Resource Equity) in order to create opportunities that meet the diverse needs of all students. Finally, we design policies and systems that promote equitable opportunities to reach equal outcomes for all student and stakeholder groups, with an emphasis on those who are most affected by structural inequality and inequity (Fair Policies and Systems).

The equity lens is applicable to any context—classroom, school, or district. To create the real, transformational change that will support all students, we must use an equity lens to engage with our colleagues on complicated and complex problems of equity. Everyone is accountable for having an equity lens and is expected to continuously improve their lens; this is how we transform our district to advance equity for students.

An equity challenge is a clear concise statement that articulates who is most negatively impacted in a given situation or system and what inequitable outcomes or experience need to be disrupted or interrupted (e.g. African American males do not have equitable access to advanced placement courses.).

Applying the equity lens allows us to deeply clarify the equity challenge we are solving. Applying the equity lens helps us to clearly understand what our true universal goal is and how different people are situated to that goal. Applying the equity lens helps us to determine what high-impact change ideas we need to implement to ensure that all students meet or obtain the universal goal. Applying the equity lens helps to determine practices to implement high- impact change ideas.

See school-based examples below. Note: The district is committed to solving other equity challenges at the institutional level.


Centering Student Need, Agency, and Voice in Lesson Planning

Developed by Abigail Wilberding, Teacher, Walter Payton College Prep High School.

Unlocked Mind Icon(Use) Liberatory Thinking

Self reflection & shared power in planning pedagogy and building curriculum.

Tripod/Gates Survey: Engaging students in anonymously reviewing pedagogy to identify teacher cultural competencies as well as biases and room for educator growth.

Curriculum reflection/audit: Facilitate students review of curriculum at the end of a unit to determine if it is equitable and representative for them.

Shaking Hands Icon(Catalyze) Inclusive Partnerships

Value students as partners in education and honor student knowledge as an asset.

Empowering Student Solutions: Transparently adjusting lessons with students based on student feedback.

Assessing Student Expertise: Create access points within lessons for students to contribute knowledge.

Growing Equity Icon(Direct) Resource Equity

Identify inequities in lessons and advocate for solutions

Teacher as Resource: Reflect on gaps in educator’s knowledge and partner with organizations that can supplement with added curriculum.

Student Access: Identify resource inequities for students and advocate for additional resources.

Scales Icon(Design) Fair Policies & Systems

Collaborate with students on integration of policies.

Shared Policies: Build classroom policies with students both annually and daily.

Redesign Policies: Give students access to institutional power by supporting reflection on policy impacts and inequities.

This downloadable PDF includes the Equity Framework and interactive worksheets.

Download framework