Equity 101: Culture: Book 2


Curtis Linton & Bonnie M. Davis

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    This book is dedicated to my parents, John & Blanch Linton, in recognition of the culture of excellence, opportunity, and fairness with which they raised me. Growing up, I was mostly unaware of race, but when I learned about racial inequity, I knew how to work towards equity because of how I was raised: everyone deserves the god-given right to experience excellence and opportunity, no matter who they are, what they look like, nor where they come from—and it is my personal responsibility to ensure a culture exists that empowers this right.

    —Curtis Linton

    To Eva, Dominic, and Maya: You are our present, the future, and the work

    —Bonnie Davis


    First and foremost, I need to acknowledge Bonnie Davis for creating a collaborative culture where she allows me to stand in my strengths, despite my weaknesses. Thank you, Bonnie, for sticking with me during this long writing process—I could never hope for a better co-author.

    I also thank my assistant, Megan Tolman, who keeps me busy, organized, and moving forward. I also thank my thought partner, Lisa Leith, who never lets an assumption simply stand on its own assumptions. Likewise, I thank the incredible content team members at School Improvement Network who strive every day to document on video and in print the very best in education.

    Huge thanks needs to be expressed to my editor, Dan Alpert, the most patient, understanding, and supportive man I have ever worked with—thanks for sticking with me.

    Without the hundreds of educators who have allowed me and my crew into their schools and classrooms, I never would have had the opportunity to learn about equity and effective school culture. The most important person in the work of school improvement is the ground-level practitioner who shows up every day ready to lead students toward their greatest hopes and aspirations—I honor and thank you all for the incredible work you do.

    Most of all, I thank my wife, Melody, for keeping me humbled and focused on why this work really matters. Thanks.

    —Curtis Linton

    In 2004, Melody Linton handed my self-published book to Blanch Linton, who handed it to Corwin Press. Since then, I have had the wonderful opportunity of working with both the Linton family and their company, School Improvement Network, as well as Corwin Press. I am grateful to all. At Corwin Press, I was assigned an editor, Dan Alpert, and in addition to being the best possible editor, he is a special friend. I am grateful for the support from Corwin staff: Heidi Arndt, Kim Greenberg, and Terra Schultz. A special thanks to Megan Tolman, assistant to Curtis, who has been especially helpful in bringing this project to fruition. Last, but most important of all, thanks to Curtis Linton, who gave me this opportunity to work with him. Working with Curtis has been a true gift in my life.

    —Bonnie Davis

    Publisher's Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Elizabeth Alvarez, Principal Chicago Public Schools Chicago, IL

    Jacqueline Berman, Retired Teacher Lawrence Public Schools Lawrence, MA

    Judy Brunner, Clinical Faculty, Author, Consultant Missouri State University & Instructional Solutions Group Springfield, MO

    David Freitas, Professor Indiana University South Bend Granger, IN

    Roberta Glaser Carlsen, Assistant Superintendent of Schools (Retired) St. Johns Public Schools St. Johns, MI

    Toni Jones, Superintendent Falls Church City Public Schools Falls Church, VA

    Betty Porter Walls, Assistant Professor of Education Harris-Stowe State University St. Louis, MO

    About the Authors

    Curtis Linton is executive vice president and co-owner of School Improvement Network, where he oversees all content and product development. The resources produced by Curtis and his team support administrators, principals, and teachers in increasing their effectiveness as educators so they can succeed in helping 100% of students become college and career ready. Throughout his career, Curtis has documented the improvement efforts and best practices of the most successful schools across North America. Annually, Curtis and his team visit over 100 of the very best classrooms and schools where equity is actualized every day.

    Curtis has authored several books, including Equity 101: The Equity Framework, and co-authored Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, which received the 2006 National Staff Development Council's Book of the Year award. Curtis is also a nationally recognized education consultant specializing in equity, school improvement, leadership, and Common Core. In addition, he is a co-organizer of the national Summit for Courageous Conversations, an educational conference that focuses on building racial equity in schools.

    Curtis lives with his wife, Melody, and two children, Dominic and Maya, in Salt Lake City, Utah. With his wife, he runs the Domino Foundation, which supports families that have adopted transracially. For more information, visit www.dominofoundation.org. He received his master's degree from the University of Southern California. Curtis can be reached through the School Improvement Network at curtis.linton@schoolimprovement.com and www.schoolimprovement.com.

    Bonnie M. Davis, PhD, is a veteran teacher of more than 40 years who is passionate about education. She holds a BS in education, an MA in English, an MAI in communications and film studies, and a PhD in English. For 30 years, she taught English in secondary schools, community colleges, universities, homeless shelters, and a men's prison. Following that, she was the professional development program planner for the International Education Consortium, housed at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

    Dr. Davis is the recipient of many awards, including Teacher of the Year in two districts, the Anti-Defamation League's World of Difference Community Service Award, the Missouri Governor's Award for Teaching Excellence, and the 2012 Educational Innovator Award from the School Improvement Network.

    Dr. Davis's Corwin Press books include How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You: Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies (2nd ed., 2012), How to Coach Teachers Who Don't Think Like You: Using Literacy Strategies to Coach Across Content Areas (2007), The Biracial and Multiracial Student Experience: A Journey to Racial Literacy (2009), and Creating Culturally Considerate Schools: Educating Without Bias (2012, with co-author Kim L. Anderson). Other publications include numerous articles and book chapters focusing on literacy and equity.

    Dr. Davis is the mother of two adult children, Leah and Reeve, and one granddaughter, Eva, and resides in St. Louis, Missouri with Fred Baugh, her partner of 22 years. She provides professional development services to districts, giving keynotes, workshops, and ongoing support through her consulting firm, Educating for Change. She may be reached at www.educatingforchange.com or by e-mail at a4achievement@earthlink.net.


    My wife and I bought our first house in a beautiful old neighborhood of craftsman bungalows in Salt Lake City, Utah. I love to cook, and I had always dreamed of growing tomatoes in my garden. I had never actually grown tomatoes, though I had pulled up thousands of weeds around my mother's plants when I was young. In all my enthusiasm, I looked at my yard and discovered that it was hard, dry, solid clay. It had been decades since any previous owner had worked and churned the soil. The clay was so hard that not even grass and weeds would grow in it.

    My first thought was that I better buy a high-quality tomato plant for it to succeed in this hard, clayey soil—the extra money would be worth it to get the big, red, juicy tomatoes I dreamed of. Luckily, a patient and understanding person at the garden center kindly explained that if I did not rework the soil through tilling, aerating, and adding significant manure and organic material to it, the clay soil would choke my plant's roots and cause the plant to wither and die.

    Before I ever planted a single tomato plant, I spent many hours and several weeks churning the soil in my yard and creating a system—a culture—that could not only keep alive what I planted, but also allow them to grow, thrive, and produce the beautiful fruits and vegetables I hoped to harvest. Harvesting this produce could only come after creating the ongoing conditions for effective growth and development.

    School culture is like the soil that plants grow in. If, in a garden, we focus all of our efforts on watering, pruning, feeding, and supporting the plants without assuring the soil is ready, we are left with weak plants that wither and die at the slightest challenge. If, in a school, we focus all of our efforts on the strategies, curriculum, data, assessments, and interventions without first building a culture of acceptance, support, relationships, and excellence for each and every individual student and educator, then we keep the school on the cycle of continuous improvement without ever actually improving.

    In visiting, observing, and documenting hundreds of highly successful schools across North America, I have strongly concluded that all of the “best practices” in education cannot overcome a toxic school culture accustomed to mediocre student performance. No matter how wealthy or poor, no matter how White or Brown or Black, no matter whether English is spoken as a first or second language, no matter whatever other characteristic may define a school—the success of the students and educators depends on the effort they put into building the culture of the school.

    One year after our tomatoes started growing, we added life and soul to our beautiful little garden: We adopted our son, Dominic, and then four years later, we adopted our daughter, Maya. Both children are Black and were placed with us by their African American birth mothers. Even though Melody and I had worked hard to build a culture within our home that was loving, supportive, and accepting of everyone, we recognized that the “garden” of our own lives—our cultural competency—was insufficiently devoid of racial understanding and awareness. Much like our physical garden, we had to till our internal “soil” and enrich it with knowledge, relationships, and awareness of what it means to be of color in a very White world—we had to build a truly inclusive culture within our home where the inherent differences between us and our own children could be normed and equalized.

    About the time Dominic was born, I met Bonnie Davis, one of my key allies and partners in this work of equitizing education for all students. Bonnie likewise is a White parent of a Black son. For me, she was one of the clearest voices I had ever heard as to what it means to acknowledge one's own Whiteness in an effort to overcome institutionalized inequities and racism—whether in school or in the home. Bonnie laid out the strategies, illustrated the realities, and helped me process the White side of racial equity. Through these conversations, I learned how to look at the privilege of my own White experience, rather than dwelling solely on the inequities of others different from myself.

    I invite you to join me and my co-author Bonnie Davis on this journey to build an equitable school culture that works for all students. Bonnie is one of the foremost educational experts on what it means to work through personal experience, bias, and expectations to succeed with students different from one's self. This is at the heart of creating an equitable school culture: norming difference for students so that each and every one fundamentally knows he or she is loved, accepted, and supported toward excellence, no matter how that student might differ from the educators and other students in the building. An equitable school culture can only exist when the staff as a whole is vested in creating an environment wherein every student succeeds.

    Throughout this book, when we use the term diverse to describe students, we are referencing directly the racial and other characteristics that set apart a student from the dominant White and middle-class norms that have so defined the practices and culture of our schools. Serving one “norm” rather than the vast diversities now so apparent in today's students only guarantees the continuation of educational inequities. As educators work to directly address their school's racial and other inequities, they will accomplish equity, which is eliminating student achievement disparities and lifting all students to high levels of success.

    For schools to achieve this, educators need to address equity at three levels: personal, institutional, and professional. The first book of this series, Equity 101: The Equity Framework, addressed these levels as follows:

    • Personal equity guides the process of centering one's self in equity and uncovering one's own biases, stereotypes, and privileges.
    • Institutional equity explores how a school and school system can overcome institutionalized factors that limit student achievement, especially for students of color and those from diverse backgrounds.
    • Professional equity focuses on how efforts to successfully implement equitable practices can assure individualized support for all students.

    Real stories of change are critically important in achieving equity. Throughout this book, we share the stories of schools, school systems, and educators who went through a change process personally, institutionally, and professionally to achieve equity for their students. These stories illustrate the process of equitizing education so that it works for all students, no matter their personal diversities. Whether a teacher, a principal, a coach, or an administrator, these examples of real educators and actual schools serve as a model for you and your colleagues in creating an equitable culture that works for all students.

    Throughout this book, we prompt you to use the equity lens as your tool in deciphering the equity efforts of the educators in these stories—and ultimately in understanding your own efforts to equitize your work as an educator. At the end of each chapter, engage in the Equity in Action implementation exercises, which include discussion questions and reflection prompts. Further, you will be guided to take advantage of the School Improvement Network's on-demand professional development resource, PD 360, where you will find interactive forums and videos of the schools in this book, and engage the Educator Effectiveness System as an ongoing support in your equity efforts. To access these tools, please visit www.schoolimprovement.com/equity101.

    No individual student ever enters school with the hope to fail. The natural inclination for a student is to dream of excellence and acceptance. But when school culture stands between the student and his or her dreams, the school has failed in its fundamental purpose of helping all kids succeed. Equitable school culture is the foundational characteristic of educational institutions that work day in, day out for adults and students alike. Thank you for entering into this journey with us to norm difference in our schools for all kids.

    Sincerely, Curtis Linton
  • Epilogue

    As you continue examining your own practice and building your skills as an equitable educator and leader, please engage the other three books of this Equity 101 series, which introduce the Equity Framework and address equity leadership and practice:

    Equity 101: The Equity Framework defines equity and introduces the Equity Framework, a powerful model that educators and school systems can use to analyze their own efforts in guaranteeing an equitable education for every student. Equity 101: The Equity Framework examines:

    • Personal Equity and what is needed to prepare oneself as an equitable and culturally conscious educator
    • Institutional Equity and what it takes for a community of educators to overcome institutionalized inequities
    • Professional Equity and the necessary practices that educators need to employ to guarantee the success of all students
    • The characteristics of an equitable school and classroom: Expectations, Rigor, Relevancy, and Relationships

    Equity 101: Leadership explains how to be an equity leader by exploring what it means to actualize equity and drive a school or system toward accomplishing equity for all students, regardless of race and background. Equity leadership requires that formal and informal school leaders authenticate their work in order to truly drive the equitization of schools. Equity 101—Book 2: Leadership features:

    • Equity leadership school success
    • Leadership within the Equity Framework
    • Working definition of equitable leadership
    • Authenticating equity leadership
    • Innovating toward equity

    Equity 101: Practice develops pedagogical skills that drive equitable practice in the classroom, offering an understanding for why traditional teaching practices actually result in student achievement inequities, and how to replace them with teaching skills, strategies, and pedagogical practices that accomplish true equity for all students, regardless of race and background. Equity 101—-Book 4: Practice features:

    • Equitable practice = school success
    • Practice within the Equity Framework
    • Working definition of equitable practice
    • Culturally relevant classroom practice
    • Equitizing classroom management
    • Equitizing curriculum
    • Equitizing assessment
    • Equitizing instruction

    We look forward to joining with you in this journey toward educational equity. Please keep us informed of your progress and the successful—equitable—practices you implement by joining the free Equity 101 group on PD 360 at www.equity101.schoolimprovement.com. We and other educators will engage regularly with the Equity 101 community online and share the stories of success that emanate from this work. You can also contact us at:

    Curtis Linton

    Vice President, School Improvement Network

    32 West Center Street

    Midvale, UT 84047 USA




    Bonnie M. Davis, Ph.D

    Educating For Change





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