Coaching For Equity by Dabney Ferguson, Anita Nixon, and Lars Holmstrom

Coaching for Equity

What does coaching for equity mean to you? (Dabney)

Until recently, my understanding of how to achieve equitable results in schools was incomplete, limited to my own experiences with my students and both productive and casual conversations with other educators. When I started teaching, the phenomenon of 90-90-90 schools dominated conversations about equity. In November, a couple dozen Diversity Resource Teachers, Instructional Coaches, and Administrators attended a professional development session with Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. She clarified the end result of equitable practices and this remains the idea I calibrate against. She described an equitable school system as one in which a student’s success cannot be predicted based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, creed, sexual orientation, or gender identification. The National Equity Project defines Coaching for Equity as “the practice of listening, teaching, provoking, guiding, and supporting people to achieve mutually agreed upon objectives that interrupt historical patterns of inequity.” I struggled to visualize many coaching conversations that both moved a teacher towards actualizing a named goal AND interrupted “historical patterns of inequity”. Equity implicit and equity explicit coaching are the two paths this work can take, clarifying for me how this work fit within the framework of our coaching model. In an equity explicit coaching model, identifying and interrupting practices that create or maintain disparities in student outcomes is always a primary goal. An equity implicit coaching model, like ours, is meant to support teachers to improve learning outcomes for all students, equitable outcomes being an unspoken or secondary objective. All of these definitions provide me with a target and boundaries to refine my practice. In response to a challenge by Zaretta Hammond, I am beginning to recognize and respond to deficit thinking – perceptions that students’ lack of success in school is attributed to deficits in effort, income, culture or capacity to handle a heavy cognitive load. In order to respond with respect and humility, I set my intention to listen with empathy to honor the teachers’ feelings and requests before responding to reframe or refute the unproductive belief. Ultimately, I hold in mind that students are at the center of our work as educators and I have a moral responsibility to advocate for their well-being and growth.

Why do you feel drawn to this work? (Anita)

For me, it is a moral imperative and part of my civic duty to facilitate a process where student voice is celebrated. Students should be able to enter into an educational environment understanding that: 1. My learning experience in school can thrive here. 2. I am appreciated and valued, and 3. That we (teacher/student/classroom community) are partners in a shared learning experience. I entered into this profession to be an agent of change towards that end. As a product of Virginia public school systems that both failed and supported me with respect to educational equity, you start asking questions as an educator about how you can be a partner in helping equitable access be both a practice, and a language that all partners involved can understand. My intuitive understanding of what is involved in that work has been honed by professional development growth as defined in part by the resources cited above and below by my fellow coaching teammates.

In this instructional coaching role, we have the gift of being reflective partners with teachers continuously working towards excellence in teaching practices. Essentially that involves: mastery of content, relationship building, and connecting those elements with and for students towards achievement. How teachers provide access to that content resulting in mastery, should involve the work of equity at its core. Equity is a kinesthetic structural cornerstone to every relationship that we have. The work of equity requires solidity in its shared value, and requires being nimble in understanding when and where it is to be applied. It can be both a vehicle for learning as much as it can be a diagnostic tool at times to discern what measures may be needed to further impact learning.

To me, our recent achievement gap data gives rise to an opportunity, to have reflective conversations about what diagnostic tools need to be in play to address change. The coaching for equity team has identified some of those tools.

Are you seeing an impact with teachers? (Lars)

Yes. I say that very conscious of the fear that we have in coaching, “taking credit” for an impact on teacher practice and student achievement. As a larger issue, I think that we need to face that fear in order to grow our coaching practice. It’s well intentioned humility, and if I had to err on the side of one extreme or the other, I would choose to err on the side of not taking credit. However, lack of conviction about whether or not our specific coaching practices yield positive results is a real detriment to growth.

Last year, I went through ACPS’s Culturally Responsive Teacher certification program, but modified it for my role as an instructional coach. I called it “Coaching for Cultural Responsiveness.” The certification process required that I document the impact of the work that I did. Teachers seeking certification document that specific teaching moves yield more equitable results for students. As a coach, I documented that the coaching partnership teachers and I engaged in together made a significant impact on teachers’ culturally responsive teaching practices, and, when possible, that those practices translated into equitable outcomes for students.

I leaned on common readings of research, books, and articles; surveys to build awareness of the ways in which cultural modes impact teaching stance; reflection protocols; specific observation formats; and student data analyses to impact teacher practices in our coaching partnerships. I sought feedback from teachers about the extent to which teachers’ culturally responsive professional growth goals were achieved as a result of our collaboration, and the extent to which our collaboration in pursuit of specific goals that aimed at equitable outcomes for students achieved those ends.

Two coaching practices that feel like good opportunities for both coach and teacher growth are writing goals and identifying success criteria that are specifically designed to achieve those definitions of equity Dabney mentioned earlier, and engaging in shared professional reading about educational equity (along with follow up conversations). In order to disrupt inequity, teachers need to try something different. Engaging in shared professional learning stimulates ideas about what to do differently, and writing equity explicit goals helps keep our eyes on the target.


Literature on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Literature on Coaching for Equity

ACPS’s recently adopted Equity focus: Strategic Plan and Priorities