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10 Steps to Become an Equity Detective

In my work with system and school leaders around the country, creating more equitable experiences and outcomes for students has taken center stage—and even more so as we look to recover from the pandemic. Identifying and exposing inequities in outcomes and experiences is a first step toward taking action that leads to long term change.

But it’s not enough to identify the inequities; ultimately, it’s a moment for action. In other words, I’ve been learning with these leaders how to become an “equity detective”: a leader who actively looks for and takes action to address structural and systemic inequities in schools and school systems.

I hope these 10 principles inspire you. Please let us know what else you’d add and what you learn.

     
 
  1. Get proximate. The best equity detectives are a part of, or deeply engaged with, the system that they're looking at.
  2. Refuse complicity. Lives are at stake. An equity detective doesn’t just seek to identify inequities—they seek to do something about what they discover.
  3. Look inward. Equity detectives must be willing to acknowledge that they themselves may be unknowingly contributing to, or benefitting from, inequities.
  4. Use data strategically. Equity detectives can use data to carefully evaluate inequities and communicate that to stakeholders in an objective, non-judgmental way. 
  5. Challenge the status quo with compassion. Equity detectives acknowledge that many systemic and structural inequities can't be tied to personal intent, but rather are historical vestiges that have been around so long that it "just is" the way things are done. But Amanda Gorman reminded us that what "just is" is not always justice.
  6. Avoid the blame game. Equity detectives look for inequities without an accusatory mode towards others. They must be prepared to listen to those who are the beneficiaries of inequities and explain why change must happen without placing blame on individuals.
  7. Have conversations that lead to action. Equity detectives appreciate and value conversations about race and identity, and they also understand that these conversations must move to a level of action and practices that may be elusive.
  8. Find community-driven solutions. When equity detectives take action, they don’t do it alone. The best leaders enlist those closest to the problem to help design, rapid-test, and scale solutions, all with an eye towards continuous improvement and impact.
  9. Empower others in this work. A true equity detective empowers others to look for inequities, too, by trusting and supporting them.
  10. Get into “good trouble.” In the words of the late Congressman John Lewis, equity detectives must gather the courage to get into good trouble if necessary. There is no more worthy cause than the pursuit of equity and justice. 
 
     

 

 

Dr. Irvin Scott is a member of the Board of Directors at ERS and a Senior Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Dr. Scott joined the faculty of Harvard Graduate School of Education during the summer of 2016. At Harvard, Irvin’s concentration is Educational Leadership. Irvin is excited about his work teaching at HGSE in the School Leadership Program and Doctor of Education Leadership Program.

 
     

 

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