The Intersection of Student Equity and Teacher Leadership

By Phil Kitchel posted 08-05-2022 06:00 AM


By Jeremy D. Visone

The author’s article (coauthored with Courtney K. Mason and Keri MacLean), “Teacher Leadership for Equity: Leveraging a Taxonomy for Improved School Experiences,” appears in the July 2022 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of August.

Imagine you are a student with the following daily school experience. Because your bus picks you up at 5:30 a.m. and your stop is two blocks from your house, you wake up much earlier than most of your classmates. You have a 40-minute bus ride from the urban center where you live to your school in a suburban community. If your bus driver avoids significant rush-hour traffic on the busy highway (never a given and often not the case!), you get to school just as the day is beginning to transition from arrival to academics. As a result of your arrival time, you miss the window during which breakfast was being served; so even though you qualify for free breakfast based on your family’s income, you cannot access it.

Moreover, you arrive at school not only hungry but also reeling from some negative experiences during your bus ride. You were not directly involved, but some other students were arguing, and the bus driver first raised her voice to address the situation and later had to pull the bus over to speak to the arguing students and explain what consequences would occur should the disruptions continue. This stressful situation leaves you unfocused for the math lesson that began shortly before you walk into your Grade 3 classroom.

Later in the day, an announcement about your bus is made over the loudspeaker. Namely, the principal explains that your bus will be arriving late, and you and your fellow bus passengers must remain in your classrooms at dismissal until the bus arrives. The way your bus is named is important. Unlike the other buses serving your school’s students, it is not identified with a number. It is identified by the name of the city in which you live, which is not the community in which you go to school. In this way, you are “othered.” You are made to feel different from your classmates. This is embarrassing for you as your classmates all line up and leave the classroom while you are left behind. You also know that you have at least a 40-minute bus ride home, while most of your classmates will be home in 10 minutes. Additionally, an afterschool club is meeting today, and you wish you could attend. However, because you live outside the community where your school is located, you cannot participate, as you do not have a means to get home. Your parents work second shift and share a car. Transportation is simply not available.

This scenario represents a common set of experiences for many students participating in an interdistrict transfer program, typically designed to desegregate schools and provide students in urban centers with better access to successful schools. Through no fault of their own, through no intentional acts by the adults involved, yet due to the structures and systems around them, students in these programs are often not as connected to their schools as they should be. This is tremendously unfortunate, as we know how important a sense of connection to schools, communities, classmates, and teachers is for students. So, what is to be done to avoid these inequities?

Enter teacher leadership. Teachers are on the front line of structures and systems in schools, and they can notice challenges and inequities that their administrators do not. If teachers are empowered to lead, provided professional learning opportunities that help shape an equity-focused critical lens, and supported in their leadership, these types of inequities can be recognized and addressed through creative, student-centered problem-solving. In the article “Teacher Leadership for Equity: Leveraging a Taxonomy for Improved School Experiences,” you can learn about a teacher leader, Mrs. Courtney Mason, who recognized inequities many of her school’s students were facing and used her teacher leadership platform and forum to address the challenges she identified.

Jeremy D. Visone is a faculty member in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy & Instructional Technology at Central Connecticut State University.