Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Becoming, always becoming, a MORE Equitable Educator: Reflections on my learning

Image of a woman with a handbag on a purple background.
 Text reads: MIT Teaching Systems lab Becoming a more equitable educator.


In my role as a community teaching assistant for the MIT Teaching Systems Lab course Becoming a More Equitable Educator, I have learned a lot, interacted with a great variety of educators, and written more than I could have ever imagined.

However, my learning, both from being a student in this course and from participating as a teaching assistant, has been wide ranging and also very action oriented. This is the place for me to talk about what I've done with some of that learning.


image of a two people chatting on a computer and table. 
Text reads: Using community assets. Who are the experts in my community? 
What assets do I have?
During the course, educators are asked to develop a map of community assets. I did not realize that this asset map would serve as a foundation for a great deal of the work that I would do for this past year. I found allies and tapped into an amazing community of educators who had a lot to share about their own work in becoming more equitable.

I felt empowered- because of a new job and a strong sense of wanting to do something- to bring some educators together and create some trainings and resources to address equity in my teaching community. 

Here are some of those trainings and discussions:

Staying true to yourself (with Elicia Cárdenas)

This is equity related, just not directly. It is about making principled choices in teaching, albeit in a very specific context of comprehension based communicative language teaching. The more I explore this topic, the more I am sure that this is about equity.

A conversation on equity and engagement: what does it look like in 2020
with Bob Patrick, Meredith White, John Bracey, Dahiana Castro, and Elicia Cárdenas


image: stack of books. Text reads: examining our status quo. 
What are commonly accepted practices that no longer fit with my goals of becoming more equitable? 

There are a lot of commonly accepted practices in world language classes, especially around assessment, that I felt like I needed to really dig into and ask if they were practices that were in line with my goals of becoming more equitable. It turns out that I had a lot to say about engagement, grading accuracy, participation, and more. I *still* have more to say, so when I write more, I will add it.

Addresses equity in our choice of pedagogy 

Things to Avoid: Grading Accuracy, Participation, and Engagement/Effort


image of a woman with a large heart. Text reads: Understanding the role of self care. 
How does taking care of myself help me be more equitable?

This idea has been slowly coalescing and is still in its infancy. It started with a truly transformative experience at the People of Color Conference in a session about the trauma of equity work. I realized that I was carrying around a great deal of trauma from my experiences in working as part of an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team. Like- A LOT. While that workshop was specifically focused on healing from trauma, it made me start to wonder:

How can taking care of myself and putting myself first help me be a more equitable educator? Here's what I came up with:

I can be my best self, more often.

If I am well rested and not stressed, I am less likely to react, and more likely to either notice a situation that is going off the rails before it happens or respond in a way that is kind and patient. Hangry me just snaps, gets annoyed, and kicks kids out or shamed them (we have all done it, and I am not proud of it). 

When I show up with my best self, I am much more likely to have an equity mindset. I am more likely to look at any student in any given moment with an asset based and context centered mindset.  

I can focus on what is important, more often. 

If I am taking care of myself and not spending every extra minute doing things that I hate (e.g. grading for the sake of grading, marking errors, etc.), I might also be taking more time to plan better lessons, to create time in my lessons to check in with students, creating or finding better resources, or (gasp) even connecting with other teachers to support my practice. 

This has played out for me in some really significant ways: by being more intentional about how I spend my contract hours, by setting clear boundaries with myself and with others (and still keeping my job!), and being intentional about how I spend my time at school, I found that I had a lot more energy to plan better lessons and find amazing resources, with which to plan better lessons. Prioritizing a manageable work-week was a game changer. Also, it made me sleep better, spend more time doing the things I love, which led to less stress and me being my best self.

I have more energy and resiliency.

I have more energy and resiliency to have hard conversations, to take risks as an educator, and to practice being aware (instead of avoidant).  

I started to explore this idea in a handful of earlier blog posts (What Matters Most and Simplify) but the difference between what I wrote then and what I am thinking now is that self care is not just a nice thing to do, it is vital to be able to engage in the day-to-day work of becoming a more equitable educator. 

Image: people dancing with joy. Text reads: I can be my best self, more often. I
 can focus on what is important, more often. I have more energy and resiliency.


What a funny thing to write! There is no end. It's not like I have magically reached "equitable". It is a life-long process. I am constantly learning and un-learning. I am exploring the intersection of anti-blackness, fatphobia, and the role of white supremacy in eating disorders and the thin ideal. I am examining my own intersectional identities as a white skinned chicana, as my family digs out evidence of our very near indigenous roots, and looking at my role as a descendent of colonizers and of those who were colonized.  I am grappling with social media activism (and its harm) and growing my own capacity to be a leader. These are not easy things. 

So, no conclusion, sorry! 

(The course from MIT Teaching Systems Lab ends on August 26, 2021.)

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