Reframing Our Assumptions to Create Equitable Learning Environments
By Errica Dotson-Hooper, Manager of the Teaching and Learning Center, HCDE
In just a few months, the school bell will ring for the final time this academic year, signaling the beginning of summer vacation. And while many will begin planning exciting activities to cycle down, revive, and replenish themselves, most school leaders will be brainstorming about the upcoming school year.
As soon as the final staff member leaves the building, on that wonderfully blessed last day of classes, administrative teams begin to reflect and evaluate their school-wide systems. Questions about teachers, support staff, instructional practices, PLCs, and duty schedules often drive the conversation about what will operate differently the following year. These conversations often fuel the excitement of the school team members, all of whom leave the table full of hope and possibility for success in every area of campus life. And soon, as anticipated, the new year begins with great fervor and excitement.
Unfortunately, though, in only a few short weeks, feels of apathy, fatigue and disappointment begin to emerge as those lofty goals and plans began to unravel and burst at the seams.
The Danger of Assumptions
Often, school-wide systems fail because the rationale for implementation is based on assumption. School teams are coming up with solutions without fully understanding the problem. If the focus of the conversation is on what happened instead of on why it happened, there may be some short term success but not long term improvement or change. Questions like:
- Why do students behave the way that they do on our campus?
- Why aren’t parents more involved?
- Why are teachers transferring to other campuses?
- Why aren’t we seeing significant gains in student achievement?
forces teams to dig deep and to be honest, to look past our own biases to operate more effectively and efficiently.
Making assumptions about the behavior of staff, students or community is one of the most dangerous things that educators can do.
Assumptions not only stifle growth and development, but also damage the campus culture. Assumptions keep individuals from authentically supporting each other and can also fuel riffs and staff division.
Overcoming Assumptions with L.E.A.P.S.
It is important to understand that our assumptions are based on our own reality, which is filtered by our experiences, beliefs, and preferences. If we are making decisions without real data but simply from assumptions, we will be projecting our own implicit bias, which will always place others at a disadvantage. To prevent this, we must be diligent in our own personal reflection to decipher when we are making decisions based on actuals and not conjecture.
If we are going to have an impact, then we must be willing to take L.E.A.P.S. (Loves/Experiences/Abilities/Personality/Struggles). This is an acronym that I created as a self-evaluation tool that will help us narrate our personal stories, understand and own each piece of it and then be fully aware of how our personal narratives impact our decision making as it relates to our school communities. Gaining clarity on who we are will help us better understand how and why we relate to others as we do. This, in turn, will foster more equitable spaces for our students to learn and thrive in the learning environment.
Errica Dotson-Hooper the Manager of Teaching & Learning for Harris County Department of Education. A native of Los Angeles, California, she is a graduate of Howard University (BA), Stephen F. Austin State University (MEd) and Dallas Theological Seminary (CGS-Christian Education). The Teach for America alum (Houston ’02) has worked in education for over 17 years in a variety of capacities serving staff and students in HISD, CEP, KIPP New Orleans and KIPP Houston. She is also church and organizational leadership strategist. She is a loving wife and a mother to a 5 year old daughter.
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