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Viewpoints: August 2022

Each month, we connect with change-makers, thought leaders, practitioners, and artists to get their takes on three key questions. We’re excited to kick off this series with three of our Equity Commissioners: Karen Pittman, Anne Childers, and Dr. Dawn Brooks-DeCosta.

Viewpoints: August 2022
What was it like to pause, convene, and deeply reflect on why education equity efforts struggle to take hold and shift underserved students’ learning experiences?

Two words. Rewarding and affirming. In my line of work, it is difficult to not participate in a meeting in which education equity isn’t a topic. It is not uncommon for conveners to tithe a bit of time for participants to pause and share briefly or put reflections in the chat. It was refreshing, however, to have the opportunity to reflect deeply — to connect the personal to the professional — throughout the advisory process. And it was rewarding and affirming to see themes emerge and to have the opportunity to shape them into a powerful point of view.

A lot of conversation centered on honoring the humanity of students, educators, families, and school communities. How did this feel different from other dialogue, and what is the power of bringing this lens to education and instructional strategies?

Pairing the words equity and humanity was brilliant. Too often, equity discussions focus on disaggregated data or zoom in to discuss marginalized groups. NTC is clearly committed to centering both of these discussions. But pulling back from the sometimes divisive lens of differences to start with honoring humanity reminds all of us that the true purpose of education is not to sort but to sustain civil society.

How has participating in NTC’s Equity Commission shaped your thinking and work? What are you carrying forward that surfaced in this space?

Participating in NTC’s Equity Commission gave me the excuse to learn more about the organization under new leadership. The more I learned, the more excited I became.I wanted to both be of service as NTC operationalized its new Point of View and also to see how an organization focused on teachers brings this commitment to humanity forward in a way that truly respects and engages non-classroom personnel and pushes the definition of school communities. I think often of what Hal Smith, senior vice president for education, youth development and health at the National Urban League, said in an interview several years ago: “Schools don’t have communities. Communities have schools.”

Viewpoints: August 2022
What was it like to pause, convene, and deeply reflect on why education equity efforts struggle to take hold and shift underserved students’ learning experiences?

The space devoted to this reflection supported me in having an experience to truly be willing to look at a field I’ve worked in for more than 20 years and explore and share, from varying perspectives, about the efforts that fail to hold and shift. NTC’s Equity Commission felt like I was under brave leadership, in which the intentional design of the commissioners’ experience centered us in humanity through story and listening. A focus on grounding in humanity and stories set a tone that then invited voices from all commissioners (students, practitioners and leaders of organizations) to start in the same place — that was a different pause and reflect than I’d experienced before.

A lot of conversation centered on honoring the humanity of students, educators, families, and school communities. How did this feel different from other dialogue, and what is the power of bringing this lens to education and instructional strategies?

It has been rare to be part of equity work that slows down enough to tell and honor stories. This practice rooted the experience in a place of listening rather than answering. It is one thing to speak about humanity, and it is another to allot time to let others bring themselves forward, particularly among diverse stakeholders. There is a lot to learn from one another and, too often, we don’t give enough value to how understanding one another leads to providing education that matters and instructional strategies that meet individual needs. The power is in the simplicity of a focus on listening and honoring.

How has participating in NTC’s Equity Commission shaped your thinking and work? What are you carrying forward that surfaced in this space?

I’m carrying forward learning the power of taking time to share stories. What enabled this work to be so productive was a leadership focused on the experience of understanding others as a needed step in discussions around equity. This work helped me focus and develop a lens for asking questions centered in humanizing experiences and knowing that in order to do that, we have to spend time listening and spend time sharing. I now ask myself how our efforts to make lasting shifts are helping people working in education to see, to feel, and to seek to understand the lives of those who continually are underserved. Before we can solve the complexity of problems, we must give ourselves time to listen — actual time, developing and listening to stories.

Viewpoints: August 2022
What was it like to pause, convene, and deeply reflect on why education equity efforts struggle to take hold and shift underserved students’ learning experiences?

When we are deeply involved in the day-to-day work that goes on in our school communities, we can often forget to stop and reflect on our equity efforts and the ways we are succeeding and struggling. Time to pause and consider — celebrate our wins and take note of the areas in which we need to grow. Doing so allows us to think deeply and creatively about all we have in front of us and what we can do to ensure we are meeting the needs of all students. For me, it was enlightening because I had the time to talk things through and see some things in a new way, not from a deficit space, but from a space of unlimited possibilities.

A lot of conversation centered on honoring the humanity of students, educators, families, and school communities. How did this feel different from other dialogue, and what is the power of bringing this lens to education and instructional strategies?

With the daily challenges in front of us and what sometimes feels like no relief in sight, if we center ourselves on the purpose of our work and who we do this for and with, it allows us to connect more deeply to our purpose and calling — and also gives us a sense of belonging. Centering humanity is the perfect asset-based lens when thinking about issues of equity. Seeing the work from the perspective of one human being to another enables us to see the “why” and envision the whole picture. When you care for humanity, how can you possibly feel comfortable with any other human being — especially our children — lacking the access, knowledge, self-worth and self-esteem they can gain when they are able to fully engage and receive what a nurturing school environment should offer to each and every child?

How has participating in NTC’s Equity Commission shaped your thinking and work? What are you carrying forward that surfaced in this space?

It has been a true learning experience engaging with educators, scholars and experts in this work. Hearing about the struggles and triumphs of others, as well as their hopes and dreams moving forward, reinvigorates me in the work. It feels encouraging to know that I’m not alone in the work. What I carry forward is the charge to continue pressing on, now more than ever, as the threats to democracy and equity are sweeping across the nation. I feel a responsibility to continue to share the truth and to engage our children in culturally responsive learning that centers social justice so we may see positive change and a reduction of misinformation, ignorance, fear and racism that is paralyzing so many people in our world. I also carry forward that this work is not only difficult, it is joyful. It enhances the learning experience for our children, it deepens their relationships with one another and provides them a positive sense of self that is worth all of the struggle.