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Author: David Bristol

Here is a reposting of one of Elena Aguilar blogs we find very helpful.  Many of our clients have attended her training sessions on our recommendation. We hope this is useful in your work.

In a series of blogs, Aguilar explored five components to an equity-centered coaching approach: 1) What you see in schools and 2) Where you look when you’re in classrooms (See this blog) 3) Who you listen to and how you listen; 4) How you cultivate your self-awareness, (See this blog) and 5) What you say and do about what you see and hear. (The first blog on this topic was Why We Must All Be Coaches for Equity). This post explores the last component: what an equity-driven coach says and does.

Warning: Do Not Pass Go Without Trust   I’m going to suggest you say and do some things, but remind you that you may not be very effective without a solid foundation of trust. All of these suggestions are predicated on the assumption that you have solid (not extensive, not decade-long) trust with your coachee. (There’s more on building trust in my book).

Go: Gather and Share Stories     A coach for equity gathers and shares stories, the stories of those who have less access to audience, those whose stories are sometimes undervalued, whose stories are washed away in data reports and soul-less numbers.

We create venues for others to tell their stories so that we’re not editor or interpreter. We set up a circle of chairs in the center of the staff room and invite parents to speak to teachers, to tell their stories. We ask:

  • What was your experience as a child like in school? When did you feel you belonged?
  • Tell us a story of a time when you felt dehumanized or unseen, when you felt that who you are wasn’t valued.
  • What do you want for your child? How can we best serve him or her?

We turn to each other, to teachers who may share our backgrounds and to those who don’t, and we say:

  • I would like to listen to your stories, if you would like to share them. Tell me about your experience as a child in school.
  • Tell me about your experience now, as a teacher in our school.
  • Tell me about when you felt you belonged, and when you didn’t.
  • Tell me about how your identity and background influence who you are in the classroom.

Pushing Stories into Action  We push the stories and also sometimes that data sets into the center of the table. We insist that our school’s leadership team explores why 75 percent of our black and brown boys are suspended, whereas only 15 percent of our white students are.

We insist that our English Learners have opportunities to speak while they’re in school because how can they learn if they’re not speaking? To a teacher, we say:

  • Our English Learners need opportunities to speak. How can we integrate speaking structures into your lesson plans?
  • Could you try…Or how about…
  • Can I model this strategy for you? Would you like to observe someone else using this strategy? Can we start this tomorrow?

We ask: How can we create meaningful opportunities for our families to participate in our school?

We ask: How can we attract a teaching and leadership force that more closely reflects the backgrounds and experiences of our students? How can our hiring practices reflect our values?

We insist that children have picture books that contain images of children that look like them–and that those books depict children-who-look-like-them and are in situations of empowerment, possibility, creativity and expansion. In other words: I don’t want my black son to only see and read about black people being enslaved, or attacked by dogs, or lynched, or protesting injustice, or starving, or escaping war or famine. I want him to read about black boys who are adventurers, builders, peace makers, nerds, artists, and so on.

Hoodies and Names  We question the criminality of wearing a hoodie. To a colleague or the teacher we coach, we say: “I understand you want to send Juan to the office because he’s wearing his hoodie. Could we explore that? Can we consider the unintended consequences? Would you be willing to reflect on your values and beliefs?”

We demand that teachers correctly pronounce the names of students–and that their names are not mocked. To a colleague or the teacher we coach, we say:

  • “Let’s practice saying that student’s name until you’ve got it down. Her name is a key identity marker. I’m going to challenge you to say it correctly.”


  • “Hey, hold on a second. You’ve mentioned that you expect your students to respect you, but in conversation with me, you’re making fun of their names.”

Confronting Deficit Discourse  We question and interrupt deficit discourse, which in a conversation with a coachee could sound like this:

“A few times you’ve said things like, ‘those parents just don’t care.’ I want to take some time to explore that, okay?”

And then you ask any of the following:

  • Tell me how you’ve come to that conclusion.
  • Can you name the belief you’re holding about parents? If you hold that belief, what’s possible–for you as a teacher? For the kids?
  • Is there any other way to understand the things you’ve heard parents say and the interactions with them– other than to conclude that they don’t care about their kids?
  • Would you be willing to sit with a parent and listen to what he/she says? What do you think they’re feeling?
  • What are you gaining by holding on to that belief about parents? What does that allow you to do?
  • If you were to get curious about what’s going on with parents, what would you ask?

Instigate Curiosity  Above all, a coach for equity raises questions. We unsettle thinking, push, probe and nudge. We seek to open, deconstruct, and explore. The questions we raise far outnumber the statements we make.

  • When a teacher tells us she’s struggling with a particular student, we ask:
  • What do you know about this student?
  • What do you appreciate about him? What do you like about her?
  • What would you like to learn about him? What questions do you have about her?
  • When does she shine? What do you notice about how she engages with peers?
  • What do you notice about what motivates her?
  • What might be possible for her?

Unwavering Focus  We look at who is not succeeding in a class, whose needs are not being met, who doesn’t have voice, and with empathy for the teacher, we insist that he or she learns and does whatever is needed to meet those children’s needs. We stand with teachers while they learn, knowing that they can learn, refining our coaching so that they can be successful–without taking our eyes off the children.

Simultaneously: We Never Stop Learning  We learn coaching strategies to explore beliefs, to stand next to someone while they explore their biases, to guide them in their learning.

We explore our own biases and learn about how systemic oppression and racism impact our school, students and communities.

We model the way of the learner, offering to walk alongside others as they learn.

We seek out those who are not like us, listen to their stories if they are offered. We don’t ask them to be our teachers, but with humility we show up as learners.

We ask ourselves questions–hard questions, raw questions.

We manage our discomfort, confusion, grief, sadness, despair. We give these feelings a platform, recognizing that we won’t drown in them, acknowledging that they deserve a space.

We find reserves of courage and we use them. Then we fill them up again, because we need reserves that are well- stocked, because there is a lot to do to make our schools places where each and every student is seen for who they are, where their individual needs are met on a daily basis, and where they can explore who they are as dynamic, complex human beings.

Recently we reviewed Bonnie Davis’s newest book, Cultural Literacy for the Common Core. What follows is an interview of Bonnie discussing her new book with Dr. Robert Jarvis, Outreach Director of the Delaware Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity.   


https://youtu.be/-wyNefN0IKk  Note – Video is unavailable KW

Three of the Center’s consultants have recently published or are in the process of bringing to press books reflecting their newest thinking on their work.

Bonnie Davis, has recently published her fourth book on cultural literacy, Cultural Literacy for the Common Core             (Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2014). It is a needed addition to the instructional literature bringing a balanced  perspective to improving student learning and in contrast with the emphasis on quantification and teacher accountability  so common with most reform prescriptions. Dr. Davis’s first book, How to Teach Students who Don’t Look Like You:  Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies, received high praise, as a much needed contribution to the field. Her newest  book continues her emphasis on the human side of instruction. Mary Kim Schreck says in the book’s foreword, “…Bonnie  knows that its not until teachers themselves reconnect wit their passions, their history, their willingness to be learners  themselves that they can bring out the best in their students with high-quality, rigorous learning…”

With such emphasis currently on generic standards for generic students, Bonnie brings a much-needed balanced  perspective to the task of improving student learning. Her six-step framework as a tool to use when implementing  standards-based instruction has at it cores the human side of instruction. Relationships with students and colleagues, a  deeper understanding of oneself, reflection and self-awareness and making meaningful connections with students and  what the new standards demand are the heart of her message. In a word, it is “balance’ she seeks in our current efforts to  improve student learning.


Her framework includes:

1. Build Teacher-Student Relationships by Honoring Visibility and Voice

2. Work and Plan Together Through Collaborative Conversations

3. Use High-Yield, Research-Based Strategies

4. Teach Standards-Based Lessons

5. Use Feedback to Self-Assess Learning

6. Engage in a Cultural Literacy Journey

Major chapters focus on each of these steps and are filled with concrete implementation examples. Worried that some of your students feel left out and unwanted? See Bonnie’s examples on “increasing visibility,” “welcoming behavior,” or “check-in procedures.” Is collaboration in your school preached more than practiced? Look at Bonnie’s chapter 2 where she describes “fierce conversations,” “the power of words,” and using “walkthroughs” to step out of the isolation of one’s own classroom.

Her chapter on high-yield, research-based strategies posits that the search for the right strategy needs to be joined with a shift in our thinking from teaching to learning. What strategies enhance learning is the operative question and she has identified many in chapter 3 including “SMART Goals”, cooperative learning, introducing “academic language” and many “metacognitive strategies”. Very helpful are concrete examples of how these have been used by teachers.

Chapter 4 on standards-based lessons is particularly rich with real classroom examples from the elementary, middle and high school levels. Bonnie notes that her reader will not find here a mapping of lessons to Common Core ELA standards. She refers readers to several other sources that assist in such an alignment. Some may see this as the book’s weakness; however not doing so conforms to her effort throughout the book to bring “balance” to the current reform effort.

Chapter 5 focuses on feedback and refers to the work of Jane Pollock (Feedback: The Hinge that Joins Teaching & Learning). Specific ways of providing students and teachers feedback on their work are provided.

The last step in her framework, “Engaging in a Cultural Literacy Journey” is perhaps the most challenging and probably the most needed as the demographics of our classrooms radically change. She is calling for the end of “color blindness” and challenges teachers to “look inside their inner selves,” “uncover personal biases”, and share racial identity and culture. This is the book for teachers and administrators faced with the challenge of meeting the high standards of the Common Core andmaintaining the all-important human face demanded of high quality instruction and student learning.

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Robert Dillon, has also come out with a new book, Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow’s Schools Today   (Roman & Litchfield Publishers, 2014). In an era of high stakes accountability, testing, and standardization in education, Bob  attempts to bring the student back into the center of the learning. This book is ideal for school leaders and teacher leaders that  are searching for a new way to inject fresh energy and ideas into their learning spaces. By placing student engagement and the joy of learning into the center of the conversation, he is able to showcase how providing students with choice, voice, and authentic audience can allow deeper learning to occur. Here is just some of what is being said about Bob’s new book:

“Through the art of storytelling Dr. Robert Dillon has crafted an inspirational call to action for the types of transformative changes schools desperately need. He provides clear action steps that any educator, regardless of position, can initiate and sustain meaningful change that will create a culture of teaching and learning primed for student achievement and success. The fact that he ties in stories of other practicing educators adds to this resource that, in my opinion, is desperately needed. Dr. Dillon’s work fits in nicely with that of Yong Zhao making it a compelling read for all in the education space. Eric Sheninger, principal at New Milford High School (NJ)

“Providing an effective exit strategy from the Industrial Age model of assembly line education can seem a daunting, if not impossible job. In Engage, Empower, Energize, Dr. Dillon provides both a narrative of why this change is critical to each of us as educational leaders, as well as pragmatic, straightforward, implementation strategies. By embracing his ten hallmarks of a transformed learning experience—expeditions, effective technologies, story-telling, systems thinking, making, and more—any school can transform learning from test-focused and teacher-centric, to one where students own a learning process that will prepare them for the real challenges they will face in their futures beyond school. “ Grant Lichtman, Senior Fellow, The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence, author of “The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School”

“The 21st century educator leads and models teaching and learning through connected, reflective, transparent, and collaborative methods. School leaders must recognize the changes in the educational landscape and support teachers in utilizing the continuous advances in technology. Dr. Dillon’s book challenges us to recognize that we must be ready and willing to transform learning spaces in today’s classrooms if we truly intend to impact learning far beyond the walls of the school community.” Jimmy Casas, principal, Bettendorf (IA) High School

Throughout the book, readers have the opportunity to journey with a principal as he regains his footing as a leader and begins to move away from the inertia to just manage his school. In parallel, readers will be presented with ten proven strategies for bringing the quality of learning to their learning spaces that students, teachers, parents, and a community can truly celebrate. Dr. Dillon weaves this story into a vision of what is possible for schools when courage, leadership, and desire to maximize the potential of all students are paramount.

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Louise Cadwell is in the midst of coming out with a second edition of her well received book In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia. Louise writes:

Nine years ago, I had the good fortune to work with Lella Gandini, Lynn Hill and Charles Schwall on an exciting project that became a book…In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia. Early in 2014, we received ane-mail from Teachers College Press asking if we would work on a second edition. TCP had sent the book out for review and the response was extremely positive and very clear about why there is a need for a second edition and what would make the book stronger: more contributions from the Italian educators; clearer interpretations of the meaning of “the grammar of materials,” and other related topics; and updated chapters from pioneers in North America who have now been at work for several decades.

The four of us have worked most of the summer on that new edition and we are so excited about it. I am not sure we realized when we started just how much more all of us understand about this work almost ten years later. We have also observed that many of us in this field have come to believe even more strongly in the essential role of “aesthetics and poetics” in today’s world. There has never been a more critical time to revisit the concept and content of this book and to bring it into the present. We invite you to stay tuned for the publication date of the second edition which has more that 40 percent new content and takes the principles and practices of the work of the studio to a new level. We are certain that you will want to read it! We hope that it might be out in time for the celebrations, conferences and the Wonder of Learning exhibit that will open in New York in 2015. We will let you know.