The Equity Transformation Cycle: Listening to Students to Empower Them and Improve Teaching Practices

Understanding the student experience is key to designing culturally relevant instruction. Our students know best what works for them. By seeking student feedback, we empower them and build stronger relationships. In this post, I want to describe how the Equity Transformation Cycle described in Street Data has helped me think more deeply about my students. It has helped me feel more creativity and curiosity about teaching. 

Note that these ideas are based on learning from, and alongside, colleagues. I appreciate their ideas and benefit as a teacher from their practices. In particular, I want to send my appreciation to Aila Stengl who was a though partner with the ideas below from Being the Change. 🙂

I begin by looking to the margins and asking myself questions such as:

  • Who are my students whose needs I am not meeting fully yet? I suggest starting with one student as a focal student.
  • What do I need to learn from them to improve my practices?

Then, as with any reflective practice, I examine my personal biases with a mindset of curiosity:

  • What beliefs do I hold about this student, their funds of knowledge, and what they are capable of?
  • How do I interact with this student? What do my body language, tone of voice, words, expectations, and beliefs convey?
  • Are there any shifts I need to make in order that they feel safe to give me feedback?

I spend time investigating what I already know from the student; this is not what I know about the student which is often based on assumptions I’m making. (Being the Change offers great resources for this process, some of which are summarized here.) What have they shared with me already? What do they wear? bring to school? have on their backpack? What do they do, inside of school and outside of school, that they have shared or that I have directly observed? I reflect on what more I would like to know, what resources and support I can offer them, and what are ways I can connect with them more deeply around their interests.

“Full of our own bias, we can anticipate that students will behave one way,
or we can watch how they express themselves in telling their story to us”

Sara Ahmed

Next, I listen to gain more information. I consider their identity and personality to determine a culturally appropriate way to have a conversation and capture their ideas (w
alk and talk, lunch together, play together at recess, 1:1 conference, etc.). During the conversation, I practice deep listening; my job is to understand. I can ask them questions such as:

  • What is going well in our classroom? What can be improved and how?
  • What would make lessons more interesting?
  • If you were the teacher, what would you do differently that I might try?
  • Do you feel that students have opportunities to interact with each other and show their strengths? Is everyone valued? What can I do better in these areas?

By analyzing the data I’ve collected, I can find patterns, ideas, themes and other questions that emerge. This is an excellent time to collaborate with my team, a coach, or a thought partner. They may help me interpret the data and surface things I may have missed.

Next, I reimagine or innovate. The idea is to get outside of the box of what I’ve done in the past. I can brainstorm, journal, collaborate with colleagues, and/or ask the student. The main question to innovate around is:

Given what the student said (or the data I collected), what might I do differently?

After brainstorming, it is helpful to narrow to what we think might be the most impactful change. The beauty of the process is, I can always revisit some of the other ideas in the future as well.

With an idea in mind, it is time to commit to action. And, most importantly, to consider how I will know if the change is successful. What data will I need in order to know for sure, instead of assuming the impact of the change? What will I do to stay on track, even when it is challenging to do something new and outside my comfort zone? How will I let the student know I am trying this? What feedback might I collect from them and others?

Finally, I reflect on what I tried. What does the data tell me? What did I learn? How do students feel about the change? What have they said about the change? How can I go deeper into the data? Do I need to select another focus student to gain more insight? It is likely I will need to continue the cycle of inquiry by revising the strategy, adding on, or trying another idea.

Our students are our greatest source of information and inspiration. I hope I can continue to center their experiences and ideas to reimagine teaching!

Teachers and leaders must love the ways our children talk, learn, smile, look, sound, the ways they are loud, and the ways they are silent….
Our students need to know that they are loved….
Love is always knowing that we belong.”
Dr. Gholdy Muhammad