The Undoing of Systemic Inequities in Instruction

By Guest Contributor Lacey Robinson, President and Chief Executive Officer of UnboundEd

Lacey Robinson is president and CEO of UnboundEd. To hear more from her, opens in a new windowwatch our webinar, Ensuring Educational Equity for the 2020-2021 School Year and Beyond.

School looks different this year, and so could our instruction. COVID-19 continues to expose the unhinged, weathered, and tattered door to our school systems’ existing inequities. Inequities that have weighed on an already stressed workforce of educators, tasked with endless responsibilities, and students and families, who lacked meaningful and engaging learning experiences. This moment is an opportunity for us to be more mindful of the decisions we make regarding what and how we teach our brown, Black, and other students who are traditionally marginalized.

Our beliefs may drive these decisions, and without even being aware, these beliefs and actions are reflections of implicit bias. If we aren’t mindful of our actions, we can perpetuate segregationist structures in our schools, no matter our capacity, no matter our curriculum. But there is a way. We can start by changing the way we think.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explains our modes of thinking in two ways: System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1
    • is the fast response, that fight, flight, or freeze response that we have
    • feeds off the patterns that we fall into, implicit biases, and immediate thoughts
  • System 2
    • is about inquiry, reasoning, and logic
    • is a mindful approach to change initial perspective of a situation

I believe that if we take the time, the education community can shift to a System 2 way of thinking.  My organization, UnboundEd, follows this mode of thinking by building awareness around ensuring that adopted and adapted curricula align to standards.  We are grounded by the intersection of standards, content, aligned curriculum, and the equitable instructional practices that are essential for closing the opportunity gap caused by systemic bias and racism.

Educators and Instructional Suppliers can follow this model, by asking the following questions:

  1. Are we offering up equitable access to grade-level complex texts and tasks?
    If we are not pushing ourselves to move into System 2 thinking, we often adopt strategies and ideas about instruction that don’t build equitable access to rich learning experiences.
  1. Are we intentionally focused on equity?
    Without stopping to ask ourselves this question, we move back into System 1. This could look like starting with aligned lessons and gutting them of their rigor. We define this as panic pedagogy.
  1. How do we strategize to avoid detouring into panic pedagogy?
    Even without the interruption of COVID-19, we often feel strapped for time. In this push to recover, we risk perpetuating segregationist ways of thinking about teaching and learning.

Like it or not, we all draw from conditioned tendencies. They often develop through the narrative we receive of our historical legacies in the United States. The legacies that we amplify are often through a white-dominant lens and hold the smog of racism. Too often, our brown and Black students have little to no exposure to their generational legacies’ depth and power. We can teach all of our students that they are the descendants of inventors, scientists, and medical pioneers. Without a close examination of our biases, we will continue, even with good intentions, to recreate environments where students are not allowed to be themselves.

So let’s come together as a collective community to continue to examine our biases and disrupt systemic racism so that when we come out of this global pandemic, we can truly affirm, support, and challenge ALL students to reach their potential. 

Lacey Robinson, President and CEO

As a teacher, principal, and staff development specialist, Ms. Lacey Robinson maintained a focus on literacy, equity, and school leadership for more than two decades. As Chief Executive Officer of UnboundEd, Ms. Robinson has set the vision for equity-driven national change. While keeping an eye on the design, delivery, and quality of all the organization’s work, she ensures its health and sustainability. From the organization’s infancy, in the role of Chief of Program and Engagement, Ms. Robinson engaged with industry partners to support standards-aligned, content-focused, equity-driven adult professional learning and development. While supporting vital design and execution elements for UnboundEd’s signature professional learning opportunity, the industry-leading Standards Institute, Ms. Robinson contributed to the rapid growth of an organization respected for its national programs and customized professional learning for K-12 educators. Admired and respected for her contributions to the education of our children, Ms. Robinson is widely sought after as a keynote speaker due to her skills and passion. Her life’s work aims to eradicate a student provision gap still predictable by race. As CEO, she pursues this passion by leading an organization known for the highest integrity in professional development experiences; experiences which honor us all as professionals in educating our nation’s children, and in leading the schools that serve them.