Student Instruction COVID-19 Resources

Equity Lens Reflection and Exploration Tool for Learning

As educational leaders, we want our youth to know that taking care of their whole person—including their hearts and their hopes, is our first priority. With the challenges of distance learning, we must find new and innovative ways to engage students' hearts in addition to their minds. We know this change is having a huge impact on all lives; how we think creatively about addressing the hearts and minds of our students and their social needs is essential in their continued learning. We see this as an opportunity for transformation.

As we look at the whole child, we know that learning may not occur unless the child is given their basic needs to survive. We recognize that during this time, families may have lost income, need more food, older siblings may need to care for younger siblings, mental health support may not be available, and much more. Seniors in high school are nervous about graduating without a commencement and other senior-year milestones, middle school students are missing their social interaction with their peers, and the sounds of elementary students playing in the park have been relegated to our memories.

More than ever, the focus needs to be in strengthening our relationships with families and students. Educators must be more intentional in connecting with our Indigenous, black and brown students. As we continue working to provide an equitable education, we must first ensure each student has equitable access to learning and instruction. This is an opportunity to reflect on our achievement, engagement, and learning gaps that exist in our educational system in the state of Minnesota. We must consider how equitable the distance learning is for our Indigenous, black and brown students. This is the time to rethink our educational system and honor the epistemology of Indigenous, black and brown people. It is our collective hope that at the conclusion of this pandemic, our institutions and colleagues will continue to collaborate through an equity frame across the state.

After several equity leaders from across the state gathered to discuss equity considerations for Minnesota’s new distance learning reality, we identified some truths that need to be emphasized for our educational leaders to consider:

  • Authentic equity begins at the onset of issues—not at the end, or as an afterthought.
  • It is essential that time is given to decision making so that meaningful change can occur.
  • Collaboration with multiple perspectives and lenses will ensure more equitable access and decisions are made.

State education leaders and districts need to continue to engage essential staff such as family liaisons, equity and inclusion specialists, cultural family advocates and other achievement and integration staff. Continuing to connect with our Indigenous families and families of color will ensure Minnesota is the best state in the country for children to grow up in—those of all races, ethnicities, religions, economic statuses, gender identities, sexual orientations, (dis)abilities, and ZIP codes.

Essential Questions

  1. What is learning?

Learning is the evidence of teaching; must include dedication to critical thinking, analysis and self-actualization--encourages students to make choices in content and assessment methods based on their experiences, values, needs and strengths.

Example: Students being able to ask questions and teach others how to ask questions.

  1. What is teaching?

Teaching is helping students to guide the development of their own inherent capacity and power and apply knowledge and skills.

Example: The C.L.E.A.R. Model is a systemic framework that measures five essential building blocks of culturally responsive pedagogy.

  1. What is e-learning?

E-learning refers specifically to temporary, short-term plans to continue instruction via online platforms, such as during an emergency weather situation.

Example: Use of tools such as Zoom, Google classroom and Pear Deck (this is not an exhaustive list).

  1. What is distance learning?

Distance Learning is not e-learning. It can include online formats and forums for collecting and assigning work, tasks, and assignments, but it is not limited to virtual formats and forums. Rather, it requires:

  1. Access to educational materials.
  2. Daily interaction with the student’s licensed teachers see the Distance Learning section of our School Closure Guidance document.

Examples: It may take place via hard copy resources, online platforms, telephone, the schools Learning Management System (LMS), shared online documents and collaborative applications, video conferencing, etc. It may include the use of bus drivers to deliver materials to families.

  1. What is homeschooling?

Home schools are considered a type of nonpublic school under Minnesota law. Because compulsory instruction and school attendance is mandatory, a home school must be registered with the state. All home schools must be compliant with Minnesota Statutes, sections 120A.22 and 120A. 24; or, the parent has qualified for legitimate legal exemption to compulsory instruction in accordance with Minnesota Statutes, section 120A.22, subdivision 12.

  1. What do we mean by connecting with students and families?

Ensuring families and students feel valued and heard, multidirectional (educator-to-student, student-to-student, families-to-educator, educator-to-educator), authentic, flexible, focus on well-being (safety and hope). The means of connection must be co-created and conducted through relationships.

Examples: Regularly (at least weekly) engaging with families and students via phone, video, social media, or email, to help address barriers and needs. For additional guidance and examples, please see Engaging with Families during COVID-19 Distance Learning.

  1. How do we understand student engagement in all learning environments, including distance learning?

We must be mindful of the amount of work we assign and how much is needed to determine engagement and learning. Making sure we are asking our educators to keep in mind the importance of going slow to go fast, panic-gogy, need for brain breaks, shared/limited resources, and the awareness of how fear and isolation impacts the brain processes necessary for learning.

Examples: Chunking information into bite-sized pieces (i.e., length of time, amount or type of content) for students, aligned with their developmental level and learning setting.

  1. How can we align the intentions and impact of our grading practices?

The purpose of grading is to clearly, accurately, consistently, and fairly communicate learning progress and achievement to students, families and postsecondary institutions. This may include, but is not limited to, performance-based and self-assessment or reflection. Grading should be used to ensure students are aware of their progress and to nurture their curiosity and intrinsic motivation.

Considerations: If performance-based is the way your school or district grades, how will you provide an opportunity for each and every student to meet or exceed their identified learning targets? What plans do you have to re-teach concepts that students are not learning?

Book: Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie (8 Mindframes)

  1. What is culturally responsive instruction?

Gloria Ladson-Billings defines culturally responsive instruction as “a pedagogy [method] that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”. This is not connected to a certain program or presenter.

Considerations: Continued professional development, adult mindsets

Article: Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Online Classroom

Authors and Theorists to Consider: Yvette Jackson, Chris Emdin, Zaretta Hammond, Beverly Daniel Tatum

  1. What is a culturally responsive district, organization and leadership? What does it look like as a district as we collaborate with MDE?

Khalifa (2018, p. 13) says, culturally responsive school leadership is characterized by:

  1. Being critically self-reflective.
  2. Developing and sustaining culturally responsive teachers and curricula.
  3. Promoting inclusive, anti-oppressive school contexts.
  4. Engaging students Indigenous or local neighborhood community contexts.

Here are some, but not all, areas where the above listed characterizations need to be applied: staff development and engagement, programming, policies and practices, strategic plans (including Achievement and Integration plans).

Considerations: Utilize your district’s equity staff and Achievement and Integration Plan staff in proactive planning, implementation and decision-making. Engage your educational teams to check-in, reflect, adjust, incorporate multiple perspectives and challenge their implicit bias.

Contributors to the document:

Robin Gordon, Rosemount, Eagan, Apple Valley (ISD 196)

Dr. Lee-Ann Stephens, Saint Louis Park Schools

Al Johnson, St Cloud Area Schools (ISD 742)

Susan Samaha, Fridley Public Schools

Macarre Traynham, Minnesota Department of Education

Tamuriel Grace, Robbinsdale Area Schools (ISD 281)

Julia Berry, Intermediate District 287

Kandace Logan, Minneapolis Public Schools

Myla Pope, St. Paul Public Schools

Lydia Lindsoe, Lakeville Area Schools (194)

Solveig Harriday, Wayzata Public Schools (ISD 284)

Dr. Keith Brooks, Eastern Carver County Schools (ISD 112)

Jason Knighton-Johnson, Mounds View Public Schools

Jackie Blagsvedt, Minnesota Department of Education

Pamela Booker, Minnesota Department of Education

Dr. Rev Hillstrom, Osseo Public Schools