• The Spark

Access, Equity, and Excellence: Eradicating the Achievement and Opportunity Gap

Author:  The Spark Staff  | 06/29/2017

Tyrone Howard at MSC

In his moving and powerful presentation at the Model Schools Conference, Dr. Tyrone Howard, Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion; Professor; and Director of the Black Male Institute at UCLA, brought his firsthand experience and expertise in supporting underserved and minority student populations.

Dr. Howard began his session by warning attendees, “I may make folks uncomfortable, but I’m OK with that. We have a lot of students in our schools who are uncomfortable every day and we need to get them out of their uncomfortable zone.” He then went on to show his “attitude of gratitude” slide to thank the educators in attendance for all they do. His thanks also extended to the adults in his own life who helped him overcome his difficult beginnings as a child born to a teenage mother in an inner-city neighborhood.

"We are all the products of other people’s expectations,” he said. “Educators do one of the most difficult jobs on the planet—it’s demanding, difficult, challenging, and can be overwhelming. Educators get asked to fix problems that they didn’t create. This is life-saving and life-changing work."

How can we serve all students?
Tyrone Howard — 25th Annual Model Schools Conference

After posing this question, Howard tasked those in attendance to go back to their schools and have difficult conversations…to say things they may have wanted to say, but haven’t dared. “There are students walking into our schools every day begging us to have these conversations,” he said, emphasizing that it is important for teachers to understand what their students are going through; to put themselves in their students’ shoes. “Your reality is not your students’ reality. Teachers today are being prepared to teach in schools that no longer exist,” Howard said.

"We must move from pedagogy of poverty to pedagogy of plenty."

These eye-opening statistics shared by Howard represent what the average school today would look like if it were based on overall U.S. demographics:

  • 20 of 30 students would live in poverty
  • 3 would live in extreme poverty (from families making $10,000 or less a year)
  • 10 would not speak English as their primary language, but rather one of over 640 other languages spoken in US schools
  • 6 would not be reared by their biological parents (reared by extended family or foster parents)
  • 2 would be homeless
  • 10 will have been exposed to some type of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse before turning 18 years old

For Howard, these statistics drive home the fact that there is untreated trauma in our classrooms, and because trauma has a significant and long-lasting affect on cognitive development, socio-emotional development, and overall learning, “we have an ethical imperative to provide support in our schools for trauma.” Teachers today are not equipped to treat trauma in the classroom; to ensure equity of opportunity, he strongly advocates for strong mental health and counseling support in schools.

Relationships matter.
Tyrone Howard — 25th Annual Model Schools Conference

All children perform better when they feel an attachment, Howard pointed out. “Your job is not to be friends to your students,” he said to applause from the educators in attendance. “Children with disruptive behaviors are seeking connection, security, safety, and love. All teachers must fundamentally care about kids. Listen to what students and families are trying to tell you about their experiences.”

Audience at MSC

Here are some relationship-building strategies Howard shared for teachers to use in their classrooms:

  • Interview students—let them tell you about their lives and give you insights
  • Develop assignments that allow students to share relevant experiences
  • Attend an extracurricular activity of a student to show that you care about him or her
  • Greet students daily and know their names
  • Share yourself—talk about your own upbringing
  • Create one-on-one meetings with students and caregivers
  • Listen, learn, and be taught by students

Drawing the distinction between sympathetic and empathetic teachers, Howard said that if we are only sympathetic, we engage in pedagogy of poverty by:

  • lowering expectations
  • failing to challenge students enough
  • perpetuating deficit-based thinking

Empathetic teachers, on the other hand:

  • Listen to and learn from students
  • Recognize that student culture matters
  • Hold students accountable to rigor
  • Expect and demand excellence
  • Teach like lives depend on it
  • Teach with love, care, and DNA connectedness

This is the social justice issue of our time: Helping all students become literate.
Tyrone Howard — 25th Annual Model Schools Conference

In 2015, 84% of America’s teachers were white, 75% were women, and 90% were monolingual; 35% of schools had no teachers of color. After sharing these statistics, Howard emphasized, “Effective teaching is not bound by skin color. All teachers have to have best intentions for all students in their classrooms. Don’t pretend not to see race. Acknowledge it, embrace our diversity.”

Finally, Howard implored educators to work to ensure that intensive literacy intervention practices are in place at every school, starting in early grades, noting that “it’s too late to close the gap in 10th grade.”

He advocates for effective early reading interventions in these five important areas through instruction that is both engaging and motivating:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Building a robust vocabulary through the power of words
  • Developing comprehension strategies for constructing meaning

This impassioned and well-received presentation concluded with a quote from author and poet Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s safe to say that Dr. Howard left the educators in the room feeling emboldened and motivated to improve the lives of their underserved students.

See you next year at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference, June 24–27 in Orlando, Florida.

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