Managing the Equity Issues Amplified When Poverty Meets Online Learning

Sounding Off May 20 / May 30, 2020

-Rosa Isaiah-

Listen to This Article


Transcript

Rosa Isaiah:
Welcome to We Lead Ed Radio, where we lead education. I’m your host Rosa Isaiah. I’d like to welcome my friend, extraordinary educator, equity, computer science and STEM advocate Shana White to my show. Actually, I’m welcoming you back. You always have wonderful insights for everybody. So let’s get started. The COVID-19 crisis and school closures have brought to light really what many of us have worked on and known about for a few years. Our educational system is an inequitable system for especially marginalized students and their families. What are your thoughts about all of this? If you could summarize just your feelings or ideas, what are you thinking about this?

Shana White:
I 100 percent agree. The system has always been inequitable. It was built that way on purpose. It was pretty much founded on the premise that white cis male, able-body, neuro-typical, heterosexual, and financially secure would be centered in all of the processes and thoughts and how schools run. Individuals who don’t meet those identity markers are automatically going to be cast aside. They’re going to be underserved, of course, and usually, they’re underfunded. I think the big thing is because there is a hierarchy in our educational system we’ve developed this unjust feeling of basically deficit mindsets of anybody who doesn’t fit that white cis male able body neuro-typical, heterosexual, financially secure.

So if a child is, for example, from a low socioeconomic background, we have schools that are not even properly funded to help students that are coming from poverty. They usually have teachers that are very new into education, don’t necessarily come in with the mindset of being an empowerer, but more or less a savior in a lot of situations, which is not what kids need. And so I think that this whole crisis with coronavirus has really just exposed the huge, humongous gaps in equity in our schools from coast to coast. You, myself, and a lot of other people have been screaming from the mountaintops for years how inequitable our school systems are, and I think now other people including parents are getting a realistic view of how inequitable our schools are.

Rosa Isaiah:
When I think about all that’s happened, I think the biggest challenge and something we talk about in my district as we’re planning and trying to stay connected with families and kids, literally is remote learning, and how it has created in many ways, bigger disparities.

Shana White:
Yes.

Rosa Isaiah:
And really widening this digital divide that we knew existed for many students. What are some challenges that families may be facing right now with remote learning from a parent’s lens? What are some of those challenges? People in poverty, marginalized students, what do you think they’re struggling with right now?

Shana White:
Well, I think their remote learning, similar to what you asked in the first question, it’s revealing kind of the opportunity gap that exists in schools. And I don’t believe in the achievement gap necessarily, I believe there’s an opportunity gap, and I believe that remote learning is revealing that. Because most of the time, the schools that are poorly funded are poorly staffed and poorly led have the kids that are Black and Brown and low socioeconomic backgrounds. And so those are the kids that continually get left behind in this churning system that we want to call our educational system. They constantly get left behind, starting at pre-K.

I think some of the major issues that people are facing beyond the obvious ones, which are devices and broadband access, a lot of times people lose the understanding that this is impacting rural communities very, very hard because there’s not a lot of broadband access in rural communities. And those are the big issues, but I think the other ones are not understanding the familial stressors that kids are facing right now. A lot of parents are maybe losing their jobs. Maybe they have contracted coronavirus. We don’t know a lot of things that are going on behind the scenes in children’s home lives. So basically, the family structures are under a lot of stress right now. Students might have changes in their home responsibilities or increased responsibilities at home, maybe because a parent is out of work or whatever the case may be. I think the other big thing that we’re missing the boat on, as educators that I noticed within my district, some of the teachers I work with, and then some of the other teachers I’ve had conversations with, is we’re really still binding ourselves to those compliance-based structures with assignments.

So like required log in hours, so you’re making kids who are dealing with a pandemic in a trauma type of situation to require to log into their online platform for five or six hours.

Rosa Isaiah:
Yeah.

Shana White:
You’re having synchronous sessions at 10:00 in the morning when maybe a child doesn’t even have access to a device or access to the internet, and you’re making these sessions required; you’re taking attendance. Those types of things are big, and I say the one thing that I think people don’t even talk about that I think is huge is the digital literacy piece. We have students that are very well versed in how to manipulate things on an iPhone or an Android device, but a lot of times, they don’t necessarily know how to work a learning management system. They might not be familiar with Google Classroom, and now everybody’s being forced to use these types of things–instructors to deliver instruction. And so you have kids trying to submit assignments that they don’t know how to submit into their teacher. The parents don’t necessarily know how the LMS works or Google Classroom and so you have kids and parents frantically and being frustrated by the fact that a technology that is foreign to them doesn’t necessarily work as it’s planned.

Rosa Isaiah:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Shana White:
And I think that’s a lot of frustration. I know for me with my own son, he has to do stuff through Google Classroom. He’s in second grade, and so I’m sitting there trying to help him open up a Google Doc and type in stuff. And so luckily I’m a teacher and I’m equipped to be able to do that. But there are a lot of families that are not, and a lot of families that don’t necessarily have tech-savvy in their home, and so they’re being tasked with all these monumental things to do to make sure their kids stay learning during this traumatic time, and I think it’s a bit unfair amount of pressure put on parents and kids.

Rosa Isaiah:
Wow, just with what you said right now, there is I’m thinking four or five items there. Understanding who your students are, understanding the needs of the family, and these assumptions that we make in our privilege, even myself, even yourself as an educator. I mean, that’s an advantage that our families do not have. One of the things that we did in my current district is we’re not penalizing our students in any way for not completing assignments, because for all the reasons that you just mentioned, Shana.

Shana White:
Right.

Rosa Isaiah:
People are dealing with the stress of the pandemic and the fear and some anxiety around it, but also just basic needs. Like, “Hey, my parents lost their job.”

Shana White:
Right.

Rosa Isaiah:
Or, “I have to babysit my brothers and sisters.” I know that would have been the case for me at home. What advice would you give teachers who are looking to build community to stay connected with their students, especially our most vulnerable populations right now? What are some ideas, some takeaways? I want people to hear this and say, “Okay, you know what? I’ve got to get better at this with right now during this time.”

Shana White:
The first thing I would say is to breathe. There has been such an influx of information and just a rush for teachers to prepare for something that we’ve never been asked to prepare for. And so this is something we’ve never faced, at least in my lifetime; ‘ve never faced a pandemic in a country that I live in. And so the first thing that I would say is stop and breathe and take kind of a self-inventory of where you are, because if your mental and emotional state is not somewhat stable in the sense of being able to give and grant online instruction to students, then it’s not beneficial for you to be online with students. And I’m not saying that you should hide and mask your fear or worry, but at the same time, you should also be honest with those emotions that you have yourself before you maybe take that to your online classroom.

Shana White:
And you also need to make space to be able to vent to colleagues. I would say the one thing that I think that, at least for our district, we’ve been doing digital learning days for two weeks, we’re on Spring Break this week, is there was not a lot of collaboration. It was just kind of like everybody was fending for themselves and at a time like this, that whole solidarity of the educational workforce should be apparent. But I think it’s because we are getting mandated by different people and there’s no clear and concise and clear way to make sure that this is managed effectively for every population for all students. But I think the comradery piece, I think we’re missing that in the process. And so I would suggest reaching out to your colleagues and understand that, hey, we’re all in this together and they might have some tips that could help you be successful and you might have some tips for them to be successful.

I think the other big thing is granting yourself grace. Most teachers that are in face to face classrooms have never taught online. I was luckily one of the teachers who actually has taught online since 2009 so I’m pretty familiar with how to teach online and the big differences between it and face to face. But most teachers don’t have that privilege that I do. So I think being completely aware that teaching online and teaching face to face are two totally different beasts and granting yourself grace in the learning curve of learning how to teach online, lowering your expectations for yourself, is very, very huge. And also granting your students and your families extra grace, even more than you necessarily grant yourself.

This is a very tumultuous time for our country and for our world, and you want to make sure that your kids’ basic needs are taken care of, the students that you have, more than anything. Any time you’re giving assignments, and I always say this, and I even said this to my kids’ teachers, is whatever you think is an adequate assignment, go ahead and break it down into a half or a third of that, a lot less as far as what you’re expecting students to do. There shouldn’t be kids on computers for four hours straight doing work for one class. Kids should have bite-size things they’re doing, 15, 20, 30 minutes, high school kids, maybe 30 to 45 working on an assignment for our class. The other thing that I heard and I actually stress to my kids’ teachers is consolidating the communication. It’s literally like drinking from a fire hose when you get an email from every single one of your kids’ teachers.

Rosa Isaiah:
Yes.

Shana White:
Especially if you think about it for middle and high school because they have core classes and then there are connections over specials classes. And so I’m literally getting emails every day, and I have two kids so I’m getting close to seven or eight emails from every single teacher, whereas it would be better to say, “Here’s an email. These are the hours that this teacher is online, these are the hours at this teacher is online,” and it’s given to the parents on a weekly basis so it’s not like they’re drinking from a fire hose. So it’s broken down to bite-size chunks so that parents and their kids can manage this. And then the last thing that I would suggest, just because I’m a techie person, is don’t try to master new technology tools at this point. The stuff that you’ve done in class, that’s the stuff that you need to do now.

Don’t all of a sudden be like, “Oh, I heard that somebody on online was teaching us to do this really cool trick in Google Classroom.” It’s not worth it to put yourself under stress to try to learn this new trick and then to make your kids have to learn this new trick as well. So stick with the tech tools that you’re comfortable with and reach out for help if there are tools that you’re being forced to use that you’re not comfortable with.

Rosa Isaiah:
Shana, your message is exactly I think what I needed to hear today. Take a moment and breath. Reach out to your colleagues. Give yourself some grace, your families grace, but also don’t start anything new. I think our listeners are really going to benefit from this. I know children are going to benefit from this conversation.

Join us as we discuss the ideas in the article with educators around the global at the Second Wave Summit | 2020






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




Previous Post

Shifting From Emergency Remote Learning to Whatever Comes Next

Next Post

What Can We (Should We) Learn From This “Experiment” in Remote Learning





0 Comment


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.