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School Leaders as Equity Leaders

Tools to help principals create resource equity in their school buildings

Leadership matters. And in schools, we're learning more and more that great leadership can have an inordinate impact on students. Of all the roles that principals play, organizing school-level resources to accelerate and sustain learning is certainly one of the most important. That role, more than ever, must be done in service of achieving education resource equity.

Education resource equity is when schools, systems, and communities work together to mobilize the right combination of resources that create high-quality learning experiences for all students. This is what is required to ensure that schools unlock every child’s power to live a life of their choosing, regardless of race or family income.

How can school leaders use their people, time, and money to produce equitable outcomes for children?

This toolkit is designed provide resources to help school leaders to understand the connection between leadership, equity, and resource allocation and take action to create resource equity in their buildings.  

What is Resource Equity?

Education Resource Strategies, in partnership with the Education Trust, developed a research-based framework of the 10 dimensions of education resource equity as part of our newly launched Alliance for Resource Equity. These 10 dimensions must be addressed to ensure all students receive the learning experiences they need to be successful No single dimension of education resource equity can unlock every student’s potential. But when dimensions are combined to meet students’ distinct needs, they are a strong foundation for unlocking better, more equitable experiences in school. You can explore those dimensions in full detail in The Education Combination and see the snapshot below.

This toolkit will primarily focus on five of the 10 dimensions that are most in the locus of control for school leaders: empowering rigorous content, teaching quality and diversity, instructional time and attention, positive and inviting school climate, and student supports and interventions.

The 10 Dimensions of Resource Equity


Prioritize the Five Dimensions of Resource Equity in your Locus of Control

To improve equity practices, school leaders need to pay attention, primarily, to five of the 10 Dimensions, shown below, that require an ongoing and concerted effort from school leaders to make them happen successfully.


Empowering, Rigorous Content

Schools that accelerate learning for all students are organized to implement empowering, rigorous curriculum and instructional strategies. In these schools, the curriculum is organized over a student’s career to prepare them for college and career, and it’s relevant to the challenges they will face in life. These schools also have assessment tools and routines to measure and compare progress of students so they can support students along the way if they are missing skills or concepts. The resource implications are many and are specific to the curriculum and instructional approach a school takes. For example, a school that organizes a project-based learning curriculum with capstone projects would organize time and hire teachers passionate about this approach. 

MOVE AWAY  from widely varied access to strong curriculum and high expectations.

MOVE TOWARDS → all students experiencing empowering, rigorous curriculum and instruction to reach high learning standards. That means critically assessing whether different students in different classrooms are held to the same high academic bar and provided with rich and empowering learning opportunities and providing time and instructional support to teachers to enable them to plan strong and engaging grade-level instruction. As a result of remote learning due to COVID-19, schools must be particularly mindful that all students receive effective instruction that keeps them engaged with high-quality, rigorous, grade-level curriculum and do not get off track due to remediation efforts like repeating courses or “skill and drill” experiences. 

What does this mean for school leaders?

Doing this well will require the right materials and organizing teams and time for teachers to plan how to scaffold instruction appropriately, keep students engaged in rigorous content, and utilize protocols and tools to properly assess students along the way.

Learn more:

Teaching Quality & Diversity

In recent years, states and districts have learned more about what teachers need to succeed, and the national conversation has shifted to focus on teacher growth and development and ensuring that systemic supports to enable great teaching are in place. These considerations are critical for understanding teaching quality because improving students’ access to strong teaching is achieved through a combination of supporting individual teachers’ growth and creating the conditions that enable strong teaching to take place, such as safe and supportive working conditions, meaningful professional learning and team collaboration, and evaluation processes focused on growth.

MOVE AWAY ← from rigid teacher roles and assignment structures that leave the students with the greatest instructional needs with the least access to strong teaching.

MOVE TOWARDS → a system where teacher diversity reflects the students in the building and the students with the greatest learning needs have access to strong teaching. New approaches to the teaching job, such as envisioning teaching as a team enterprise and providing a career path that offers a ladder of roles with increasing responsibilities and compensation, can help ensure students with grater needs have access to strong teaching either through direct assignment or through expanded reach. Roles, assignments, and compensation should match each individual’s unique skills and expertise to the school’s needed roles. Teams of teachers should learn and plan lessons together and adjust instruction to help each student reach their highest learning goals. This should not look like a study group or once-a-month PLC, but a true teaching and learning community that shares the load of prepping lessons, figuring out how to implement new practices, and adjusting instruction or grouping.

What does this mean for school leaders?

School leaders must be skilled human capital managers who support teachers and are thoughtful about their career paths and roles. They should ensure that teacher roles are  designed to provide students with the greatest learning needs with strong teaching. They should assemble strategic teams with balanced skill sets, experience levels, and expertise; manage scheduling; give teachers the time and space to collaborate; and provide strong professional development opportunities that strengthen the teacher pipeline. Even during more normal times, it can be challenging to find the resources to pay teacher leaders to lead this work. It requires choices and tradeoffs, but it’s necessary to maintain impactful teaming—now more than ever.

Learn More:

Instructional Time & Attention

Schools still look pretty much the same way they have since we all went to school, with fixed class sizes and equal time blocks for most subjects. There’s usually no variation for student need, lesson type or subject. Individual attention sometimes takes place through tutoring but isn’t set up as part of expected ongoing practice where there are processes and routines designed to ensure that each student is supported as needed in small groups, the regular classroom or one-on-one.

MOVE AWAY from standardized class sizes in “one-teacher classrooms” and rigid time allocations that don’t allow for variation based on student need, lesson type, or subject.

MOVE TOWARDS → groups of teachers and students that vary across subjects, activities, and students to provide increased high-quality instructional time and attention for students who need it. Create flexible schedules that allow time to vary with the needs of students and allow for individual attention or tutoring. It should be a standard, expected practice that each student’s progress is reviewed, and each gets the support needed through schedules that prioritize additional time in relevant subjects for some students, in small groups within classrooms, or through individual support.

What does this mean for school leaders?

School leaders must fully understand what’s necessary to implement this work: what are the options available, protocols for teams, schedules needed for students and teachers, the cost associated to launch and maintain, and the necessary budget tradeoffs.

Learn More:

Positive & Inviting School Climate

Sometimes educators don’t think about school climate as an issue of resources, but creating relationships with students takes time, energy and thoughtful structures. This is especially true at the secondary school level, where expecting teachers with student loads well over 100 to create authentic student relationships is often unrealistic. 

MOVE AWAY ← from a reactive approach to school culture that may be executed inequitably or doesn’t integrate social-emotional learning and strong relationships into the core of the school.

MOVE TOWARDS → devoting resources to relationship building and other SEL investments that are embedded within and reinforce the school’s core instructional work. This means structuring time during the school day for community meetings and for teachers to meet with students about their whole lives (not just academics), investing in advisory structures, organizing students in smaller cohorts, and considering looping strategies. It also means creating discipline policies that incorporate student and family voice and providing professional learning for staff to ensure the policies are implemented fairly and without bias

What does this mean for school leaders?

School leaders must understand the options available to them to create meaningful relationships between teachers and students and ensure fair and equitable discipline practices. They must translate what each option would require in terms of organizing people, time, and money to make them happen, and integrate them with other school strategies and priorities.

Learn more:

Student Supports & Intervention

Excellent, equitable schools are those that create schedules that prioritize time for student connection and wellness and use resources to create student support teams that in turn organize targeted support for students.

MOVE AWAY ← from the belief that social-emotional learning, post-secondary counseling, and health and family supports can only be met outside of the school building or day.

MOVE TOWARDS → providing each student—including students with higher needs and students of color— with an effective integrated system of supports (which includes an accurate and unbiased identification process) to address their individualized, nonacademic needs, so all students can reach high standards and thrive. Many support services and interventions can be provided in the building with partners or staffing choices. These services don’t only exist within the realm of counselors, social workers, and psychologists; for example, all staff can and should be trained in trauma-informed practices. Invest in personnel and partners to ensure not only SEL for students, but also health (exercise, nutrition, vision screenings, free glasses) and family supports, and postsecondary counseling.

What does this mean for school leaders?

School leaders must find resources to devote to the time, attention, and professional development needed to embed SEL, health, family supports, and postsecondary counseling into the school day, and when connecting students and families with outside partners, recognize that making those connections will take time and resources as well, but should be prioritized.

Learn more:

First step: Diagnose your opportunities

Start on your work as a School Equity Leader by using these resources to take stock of your assets and opportunites:

Getting concrete about Resource Equity in your school

All these resource shifts and decisions will result in a set of concrete outputs through which school leaders can enact resource equity:

For an overview of how all these outputs can come together to create an equitable, excellent school, read Designing Schools that Work.

What does an ‘Equity Leader’ look like?

School Equity Leaders cultivate a specific set of mindsets or attitudes and skills that enable them and their team to accelerate and sustain learning for every student at high levels.

Becoming an equity leader should start early: How principal preparation programs can provide equity learning opportunities

 Before principals ever enter their offices, their preparation programs have an important role to play in helping principals to develop the skills needed to create resource equity by doing three things:

1. Make connections between resource use and equity.

Draw clear lines between resource use and academic strategy when designing overall curriculum (especially if content is currently delivered in separate courses).

2. Translate best practices to resource shifts.

School leaders need to be taught explicitly that resource equity work requires new ways of allocating resources and that it requires trade-offs. When school leaders approach research-based instructional practices (such as teacher collaboration time), they must understand how those practices “show up” in staffing, schedules, and budgets. Real-world simulations of resource challenges and potential shifts (e.g. case studies, ERS Budget Hold’em game) can help.

3. Cultivate equity leader mindsets and skills.

Facilitate job-embedded learning (internships, residencies, etc.) with a focus on roles that allow future leaders to take partial ownership over resource decisions (master scheduling, staffing, etc.). Additionally, continue to provide mentorship and access to faculty through leaders’ first years on the job as ad hoc resource equity questions come up


We are grateful to the Wallace Foundation for funding this toolkit.

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