Hi there, hope you are doing well!
Earlier this week the Center hosted our Equity Institute, which I loved for many reasons. But I just want to highlight this one slide. It says:
The achievement gap sits on systemic inequities and disparities.
Therefore, it is necessary to address inequities systemically.
It is the system that causes the disparities, not the students!
I think it is crucial to the way we think about equity in schools, because so often we are trying to fix kids and not paying enough attention to our own agency.
Part of this is willing to be trained to notice. (I’m an avid podcast listener (I do a lot of driving), and in this podcast there is a blatant example of failure to notice—when people who should, so to speak, know better, fail to notice that something does not add up.) I am haunted by what I failed to notice as a school administrator because, for reasons I do not completely understand, I did not ask good enough questions.
Another part of this is our mental models. This connects to so many constructs that we use in education—for example, Growth Mindset is a mental model about the underlying causes of intelligence which has multiple effects in the ways that we think and act. We carry so many assumptions and beliefs around with us all the time, and they color the way we see the world.
The most useful way I have for thinking about mental models is to use Peter Senge’s phrase: The way you see the problem is the problem. This is a koan—it has multiple possible meanings and I have faith that puzzling around and through it will provoke enlightenment. But just to give a crass example: if you think that a kid’s failure to show up to school on time is because the parents don’t value school, then the problem is the parents. That’s how you see the problem. But you have located the source of the problem where you have no control, and that’s a problem. So the way you see the problem is the problem. Or: If your supervisor gives you a lot of critical feedback and you think that she’s out to get you, then she is the problem. That’s how you see the problem. And that prevents you from paying attention to the feedback, or asking good questions, or believing that you should be doing things differently. So the way you see the problem is the problem.
As a coach, I try to get my head around this by thinking very deeply about questions. In roughly these categories:
- What questions can I ask to help this person surface her assumptions and beliefs? Because the way she sees the problem is the problem.
- What questions is this person asking and are they the right ones?
- How does this person respond to questions? Does she appear to see them as requests for information, or does she think about why I might be asking?
- What questions am I asking myself and are they the right ones? And how open am I when people ask me questions?
It so helps to be surrounded by smart people who think and talk a lot and ask great questions, and are willing to examine their own mental models. I hope you have as many of those people in your life as I do.
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106