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Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.’s Leading Equity: Becoming an Advocate for All Students, touches on mindsets, beliefs, and practices that are foundational to equity-centered teaching and learning.
The book is reflective of his work as the director of Leading Equity Center, a professional development, coaching, and consulting firm focused on creating education “disruptors” and advocates.
What I Liked
His conversational tone is engaging and relatable.
I can see glimpses of his power as a speaker and professional development trainer. He tells stories from his own experiences, such as attending his students’ powwows and being a Black man in Idaho.
He models the vulnerability and authenticity he writes about because “students know what’s up. If we aren’t being genuine or authentic for our students, they recognize that.”
In the chapter “Check Your Language Practices,” he tells an anecdote from his days teaching in the Virgin Islands when his students were saying “They Robby.” It wasn’t until a student explained that they were robbed that he realized what was going on.
“Language shapes our world because the words we use and the way we use them are tied to how we view this world,” Eakins explains. “Check what your language practices are, how you are inviting students to be, and how they are expected to speak.”
He guides readers through personal and systemic reflections that are essential to equity work. Chapters covering topics like recognizing biases, privilege, and positionality all have practical applications in the classroom. He includes anchor charts and questions to encourage readers to reflect on their own biases and fixed mindsets.
In “Becoming Mindful of Microaggressions,” readers rate a series of statements from strongly agree to strongly disagree and then reflect on their answers.
He gives practical advice.
For example, the statement, “When students are loud, they are probably off task,” explains that increased volume may be an “indicator of involvement” in a different setting and asks readers to interrogate, “Do your classroom norms allow for your students to be their authentic selves…?”
So often, equity work focuses on the theoretical that, while foundational, can also frustrate educators who want actionable steps for what to do next. There is no checklist for equitable classrooms and schools, but having ideas to try out tomorrow is gratifying.
He covers his bases
“Getting to Know Your Students” and “Adopt an Advocacy Mentality” are just a few chapter titles that cover the wide range of personal and systemic work required of an advocate educator.
He encourages educators to mitigate their implicit biases, reflect on the power of language, educate themselves, and advocate for all students through what he calls the three ps; purpose, preparation, and persistence.
On the student side of things, he covers the importance of knowing students’ names, creating spaces of cultural storytelling, understanding who they are outside of school, amplifying their voices, and viewing their unique strengths through an asset lens.
If I was an administrator or in an evaluative role, these are all things I would look for in my educators.
Leading Equity: A White Educator’s Review Click To Tweet
What I Wanted More Of
By the title, I assumed the book would be geared toward school leaders and administrators. As a result, I expected more of a system-wide approach. However, this text focuses on classroom practices and teacher mindsets. I’m all for empowering teacher leaders to embrace their school-wide leadership potential, but I just expected more guidance for “the common issues faced by teachers, principals, administrators, and other equity leaders” (emphasis my own), as mentioned in the book’s blurb.
At this point in my teaching career, this book confirmed much of what I understand. I found myself wanting something more. I have created building and district-level equity professional development and led book studies on Caste and Culturally Responsive Education in the Classroom through a local professional learning community called CSTP. I consider similar teaching books like Ratchetdemic, We Got This, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up, and We Want to do More Than Survive (let alone scholarship like Teaching to Transgress) as foundational to my practice.
That is not to say that I have it all figured out by any means. But as someone who is passionate about educational equity, some of the practices Dr. Eakins chooses to highlight felt rudimentary.
I hope, for example, that in 2022, all teachers know the importance of learning students’ names. It’s how we send a message to a student that says, “I value YOU, I accept YOU for who you are, and YOUR identity matters to me” (Chapter two: “Getting to Know Your Students”). But, I also recognize that may be a naive view, and there are many who do not embrace that basic task of relationship building.
Additionally, in chapter three, “Spend Time With Students Outside the School Setting,” he discusses the importance of understanding your school’s cultural diversity: “We need to be willing to learn about the characteristics that our students develop that become part of their identity.” He reminds readers to develop cultural awareness, appreciate and remain sensitive to differences, hold high expectations for all students, and practice culturally sustaining pedagogy. An important list, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel sufficient to meet the attacks on educational equity schools are facing today.
The Ideal Reader
Eakins ends the book by reminding readers that educational equity and student advocacy work is ongoing. He encourages readers to share this book with educators who would benefit.
Ultimately, I see this book as the perfect read for educators willing to engage in equity work but not sure how to start. I don’t think this will convince deniers of white privilege (though I’m not sure what could) and may feel redundant for folks who have engaged in this work for years. For educators who fall into this sweet spot middle zone, this book offers practical tools to grow their practice.
It was confirmation for me about why I teach, how I want to show up for my students, and the power that lies in our work as advocates of social justice and equitable education for all. As far as I’m concerned, the more books out here on these topics, the better!
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