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Teaching Equitably

5 steps for building more equitable classrooms.

Public schools don’t serve all children equitably, and that realization has given rise to a movement to deconstruct privilege in our educational system. How can educators remove barriers for historically marginalized students?

In her course, “Equity by Design, Equity in All Classrooms” Franca Fiorentino, ELT instructor and member of the Bellmore Merrick United Secondary Teachers helps teachers recognize privilege and change outcomes for minoritized students. Here, she shares tips for educators on how to support the growth and learning of all students, no matter their background or identity:


1 - Look inward.

The first step in building an equitable classroom is to examine your own biases, said Fiorentino. No one is immune to bias, and your biases influence many parts of your life, including your interactions at school. Ask yourself: What is familiar to you? What is unfamiliar to you? How does that change your thinking?

2 - Look around you.

Perform an equity audit of your school. What are the demographics of your students? Do they match the demographics of the faculty? Are differences acknowledged and celebrated? Do all the members of your school community feel safe, seen, and heard? These questions help you explore what the school experience might be like for marginalized students in your district.

3 - Don’t use a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

Students can’t meet expectations equally when teachers use a ‘one size fits all’ approach. To address this, consider adopting the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework in your lesson planning, said Fiorentino. UDL helps teachers identify multiple options for engagement, representation and expression, that will still meet all curriculum goals. “If kids can’t do it the way you want, maybe they can do it differently, and still end up at the same point,” explained Fiorentino.

4 - Encourage open communication.

Consider implementing restorative practices in your classroom to build trust and foster cooperation, said Fiorentino. Establishing these practices in your classroom can be as simple as making “affective statements,” which communicate people’s feelings to the class, or asking “affective questions,” which help students consider how their actions affect others. Restorative practices can also be more extensive, like hosting a regular discussion group.

5 - Remember, it’s about the students.

Sometimes teachers are so focused on the content they’re teaching that they forget the students that are right in front of them. “It’s not just about covering all the material; it’s about giving students what they need,” said Fiorentino.

ELT coursework is offered year-round and can be used for undergraduate, graduate and in-service credit as well as to fulfill Continuing Teacher and Leader Education requirements. For more information, go to elt.nysut.org.