This Accelerator Seeks To Scale Equity in Schools By Mixing the Start-Up...

EdSurge Podcast

This Accelerator Seeks To Scale Equity in Schools By Mixing the Start-Up Mentality With Social Justice

By Jenny Abamu     Jul 17, 2018

This Accelerator Seeks To Scale Equity in Schools By Mixing the Start-Up Mentality With Social Justice
Caroline Hill speaking at iNACOL

Caroline Hill is a firecracker. She keynoted the Blended Learning Conference in Rhode Island and iNACOL in Florida. At both events, she asked educators to challenge their notions of the use of technology in the classrooms and their conversations around equity.

Hill has been a DC educator for years, but she is now embarking on a new venture, creating an accelerator with the goal of scaling equity. She hopes to combine the start-up mentality of the edtech world with social justice issues in a unique way.

Listen to the podcast for the full interview below or on your favorite podcast app (like iTunes or Stitcher). Or read highlights from the conversation (which have been edited and condensed for clarity).

EdSurge: I got an email, and I opened it up to see that you were starting a new accelerator. And I was like, this sounds like something I've not heard before, and I was interested in having you tell our audience about what you're doing.

Hill: The new venture is called the 228 Accelerator. And the name was really conceived when I read this report called The Ever-Growing Gap, and it said the average black family would take 228 years to achieve wealth parity with white families. And for Latina families, it would be 84 years. This is just an indicator of the injustice that's experienced by the most marginalized and excluded in our communities and our society. I've been in education in DC for the past 20 years. And I’ve seen this idea of equity getting more and more momentum, but, just knowing it would take 228 [years]—it's like we're still in startup mode.

We need to think about ways to accelerate this social equity throughout our entire school system—and the way that we think and design educational experiences for students. So the whole goal of the organization is to think about how do we take our mindsets and our beliefs about equity, and then scale them so that we can accelerate our progress to a more civil and just society.

That sounds interesting. The idea of scaling equity. But on a practical level, how does that work?

My hunch is that it's our individual interactions—like our relationships with each other—that plants the seed for inequity to fester. So we can look at the relationships between students, and the relationships between teachers, and the relationships between teachers and students, and students and content. Then we need to redesign them towards the desired outcomes, codify that and then figure out how to make that into scalable nuggets—policies, practices, and models. Then we stand a chance of being able to spread more equitable institutions.

Now, of course, we have to deal with the challenge that most of our schools are segregated.

We then have to think about, if we really want a true and just society, how do we bring students across lines of racial difference [and] across lines of economic and social difference? How do we bring those communities together to then create something more powerful than what currently exists?

What's wrong with the relationships that teachers and students have now?

We have some indicators about where students are. I know that plenty of students that go to school, they get into college, but they don't finish. They don't finish college, not because they're not smart enough, they run into these oppressive themes and narratives that exist in our society about people of color. About women. About people who are sexual minorities. About people who have newly immigrated to the country. These are all narratives that are in our heads and create the conditions for our relationships. So I think it's those narratives that have to be rewritten.

And those narratives are rewritten by people in the relationships they have with each other. So that's the nugget that I want to start and let's think about how do we get people to think differently about each other? And I think schools are the capture point for that because it's the only institution that every child, or every person, is mandated to engage with for at least 16 years of their life.

How would we do that? Are we satisfied with the teacher-student relationship as it is? What if teachers and students co-created content together? What would that look like? And if that's the desired outcome, then let's plan some small tests, to see what that looks like in practice.

Does that make sense?

Yeah. I have to ask though, when you say that schools have had these oppressive narratives. For the audience, describe an example of that. What does that look like in the classroom? I don't even think people can identify these things.

I think they're invisible. So it's important to call them out. I can tell you a story of my own experience when I was a principal. When I was a principal, there was a student who clearly was excluded and marginalized throughout his entire school experience, so much so, that he became a victim of police brutality. That happened outside the school. But while he was in the school, we were forcing him to be a part of our world, instead of conforming the school experience to his.

And what that looked like for his everyday experience, was that when he didn't do what we thought was the right thing, he was excluded again, and again and again. So much so that it became, ‘school is not the place for me.’

And I think that happens a lot for students, period. And I think it has dire consequences when school was the last institution that the child is buying into because other institutions have failed them along the way. When we exclude students, when they don't follow our behavior expectations, that's a particular narrative. When we see more black boys suspended in a school or more black girls suspended in a school, that's a particular narrative.

I went to the Educated Youth Center here in our city earlier this year and noted that most of the students in that space were black boys. That follows a narrative that what we think about students of color, what we think about boys of color. I think we have to think about and figure out ways to educate and correct, without excluding. Because I think it's customary in our culture to exclude when people don't do things that we agree with.

I can see some teacher saying, ‘yes, this is something we need to do.’ But I could also hear teachers saying, how am I going to teach my class when I have disruptive kids? This sounds rosy in theory, but in practice, it's really hard.

And that's when you get to that practical application, how do we do this work. And I think educators across the entire spectrum, whether you're a principal, or district administrator or a teacher, we need time and space to think about doing things differently. We can follow the same scripts that have been passed down from our parents, and our society does not change. We're just following the script; we're following our roles. We're doing our part.

If we want to move and accelerate this pace towards a more civil and just society, we actually have to have time that allows us to critically assess and reflect on our practice, and the impact of our practice on other people. And then how do I test that in a low-stakes, low-risk environment, so that I can ease into a new practice. The headline here is we need space and time to think. And I want to create those spaces for educators to do that.

What would your first cohort of people look like? What kind of skills would they be learning?

I think first it's learning a common language and fluency around equity, diversity and inclusion. I think we have very different understandings and definitions of privilege and oppression, of racism. So first we need to establish a common language. And then learning some listening structures because that is the first step in establishing relationships. Can we listen to each other?

Once that foundation is set, moving into thinking about what are the core themes that are showing up in my practice and my school? And then how then do we create another story? So if a teacher is experiencing—or if a leader is experiencing—the exclusion of some kids and not others, then you could say, Well let's rewrite the entire discipline policy. But what we would say is, Let's get really close to the students who have been excluded, and let's find out more about their experience. Then let's work with them to figure out what will work for them.

And then over the course of five to six days, walking that educator and that design team— including the student and teachers— through a way to make things work. How do we test it with real people, but in an environment, in a context, that doesn't threaten the day to day. Let's see what we learn about that. Let's reflect on how we're changing as we're going through this process. And if we see and like the results, then let's figure out what were the moves that we made. And then we'll talk about scaling that.

What is your response to people who might think that your tone is too much for them? Or even who might say, ‘I don't know if I'm ready for all that you're saying.’

This is not a time or moment to be silent. I think that different people are in different places when it comes to finding and articulating their voices. I think there's some common ground that we can all agree on. If you asked anybody, ‘Do you want a more civil and just society?’ I can't imagine someone would say no. I hope not. But there might be.

I don't know if we have a common understanding about why we are the way we are. Why our society looks the way it does, and why do these themes keep reappearing again and again?

I've seen a lot of students, and a lot of families, who won't have a voice. So because I do have a certain amount of privilege, it's how can I use my voice? To make their worlds better, and also to make my world better.

This was just a highlight of the EdSurge OnAir podcast. To learn how Caroline Hill will judge the success of her work or how you can join the first cohort listen to the full version of this interview on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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