A reflection on “equity through empowerment”

Loribelle Lapaix  //  Nov 29, 2018

A reflection on “equity through empowerment”

In September, Scholastic hosted its annual National Advisory Council (NAC), a panel discussion where education experts share their expertise and thoughts on subjects that affect student achievement like family and community engagement, equity, literacy, and so much more. This year the esteemed panelists were:  Sydney Chaffee, the 2017 National Teacher of the Year; Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education; Dan Gohl, Chief Academic Officer for Broward County Public Schools; Fay E. Brown, Director of the Yale Child Study Center; Jordan Weymer, Principal of East Boston’s McKay K-8 School; Vito Borrello, Executive Director of the National Association of Family School and Community Engagement; and Brandon Dixon, a senior at Harvard University.

This year’s NAC theme was equity in education and many of the panelists discussed the importance of students’ social/emotional skills, academic standards, support for teachers, and what education for the “whole child” encompasses. Following the panel, Scholastic employees were invited to attend breakout sessions led by the individual panelists. I attended Jordan Weymer’s session “Ensuring Equity through Empowerment.”

Jordan, a white male who is a principal of a K-8 school with a student population comprised of mostly Latino/Latinx students, spoke passionately about the power in our words and how he has transformed the curriculum in his school so that his students feel empowered in their learning.

During the breakout session, Jordan shared personal conversations with his older students where he learned that many of them considered school a vessel of “domination,” a place where you fall in line or get left behind. He spoke to us about his mission in making his students feel liberated in their education by empowering them through choice and voice – teaching them how to advocate for themselves and their education. He walked us through a few of his school’s practices that I believe are truly beneficial in ANY learning environment. Allow me to briefly outline a few of them below:

  • Complex input – student input on texts they read and discuss in class, student input in mathematical concepts explored in math classes, and science topics determined by student questions
  • Complex output – student choice in project type and student input on how they would like to be evaluated/graded (Jordan spoke about the arbitrary reading log and how a simple practice of changing the way we evaluate students can empower them to be better, try harder and enjoy their work!)
  • Complex interaction – meaningful conversations with students (how well do you know your students and understand the outside factors affecting their education?)

Aside from these shifts in behavior, Jordan spoke about how simple an adjustment in how we label learning can affect students. For example, his school defines “English Language Learners” as “Emerging Bilingual.” The former descriptor (ELL) frequently carries a negative connotation whereas the latter (EB) complements the value of the skill. His school also offers “co-taught, full inclusion” classrooms meaning there are no remedial classrooms – every student is in a class with their grade-level peers.

At the end of the session, Jordan asked us to reflect on the ways we can encourage students or the kids in our lives through choice and voice. Book choice is a simple, powerful tool we can all use to encourage kids to exercise their independence and become lifelong learners.

You can follow Jordan and his school on Twitter at @jweymer and/or @dmckayK8. Read more about the Donald McKay K-8 School here.