A New Metaphor for School Turnaround 

As a child, I always watered the leaves of plants.  I poured water onto blooming orchid buds and even submerged individual chilis on our pequin pepper plant in cups of water, whispering to them drink up.  My mother would frequently redirect me, sharing her position that plants drank water from the roots and that my attempts to feed the flora through other methods were at best ineffective and at worst injurious for delicate petals and siblings surprised by slippery floors. 


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Establishing A Vision Of Equity

Improving equity starts with a shared vision.

Generating that vision, though, presents unique challenges.


During a recent consultation with a large educational non-profit, I interviewed over twenty team members and asked the question, “How do you define equity?” A sampling of those responses illustrates that while everyone may validate the value of equity, significant nuance separates what equity means to different individuals.


  • “A set of shared values that are upheld by every team member.” – Director of Human Resources

  • “Eliminating the academic opportunity and access gap that students in historically marginalized communities experience. That includes heightening awareness and then working to eliminate the white supremacy culture that is at the core of our country’s systems and policies leaving many people exposed.” – Vice President of Operations

  • “Equal representation, equal voice, equal vote; empathy, understanding, restorative practices, bias awareness; consistent reflection.” – Regional Executive Director


The sentiments expressed in these responses undoubtedly feel inspirational. Yet I remember sitting with tightness in my chest after gathering varying perspectives, wondering how to facilitate dialogue for achieving consensus when individual viewpoints spanned such a wide spectrum.


Navigating Toward a Shared Vision


The inner turmoil I felt propelled me to synthesize strategies for generating a shared vision of equity. Here are my top three takeaways:


  1. Research-based definitions act as springboards for deeper discussion. Personal lived experience will ultimately inform a vision of equity. However, research-based definitions serve as a grounding tool for connecting conversations to the historical context and meaning of equity. Reliable definitions can be found at The Center For Public Education , The National Equity Project, and The Glossary of Education Reform. In drafting a vision for equity, it is helpful to begin with these definitions and then modify according to individualized context.

  2. Emphasize and celebrate lines of difference as a means of strengthening dialogue. In my own practice, I have found dialogue flows more readily once difference of perspective is named. This requires us to climb down from our ladders of inference by combining statements of “I notice…” with the inquiry of “I wonder…” For instance, during our first equity team meeting a leader asserted, “I noticed you named elements of equality. I wonder what you think the relationship is between equality and equity. Can you tell me more?” Instead of shying away from dissenting opinion, this leader chose to engage in dialogue directly related to difference. In this regard, protocols act as useful tools for structuring and facilitating dialogue around diversity of perspective (I tend to incorporate the focusing four protocol to generate a shared vision of equity).

  3. Focus on the specific and granular to align desired scope of impact. Instead of saying, “we want all kids to have access to an excellent education,” a team member might propose, “we are failing our black and brown kids with our school’s disproportionate suspension rates. Equity, for us, signifies a need to more effectively cultivate the unique gifts, talents, and interests of our students.” Shifting from vague to specific allows team members to envision outcomes that will more directly impact students. To this end, storytelling can be a powerful tool for bringing and sharing experiences around diversity and equity in your setting. A simple prompt, such as, “tell about a time when equity was absent in your school or classroom setting,” can be the key to surfacing challenges that may require extra attention. By answering this prompt and sharing stories of practice, common themes often emerge that help zero in on the building blocks that can be manipulated to create a strong equity culture


Making an Impact


The non-profit mentioned above chose to leverage the research-based definition provided by The National Equity Project.


With this in hand, they initiated a 60-minute group dialogue with the guiding question, “How would you modify this definition to more closely align with our organizational vision?” Team members shared opinions based in lived experience and celebrated lines of difference throughout the conversation. By sharing stories of practice, they shifted the wording of the original research-based definition to more closely align with specific organizational equity gaps.


Their vision of equity emerged as a guiding compass for informing data collection, diagnosis of needs, and production of initiatives. With quality communication feeding into a consensus, the organization succeeded in creating a more equitable outcome for students, staff and community members.


Steve Askar, RIDES Fellow 2019-2020


Steve Askar

2020 RIDES Leadership Fellow

2020 Urban Scholar

School Leadership Program

Harvard Graduate School of Education



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Two families — one black, one white — shared a harrowing history. Then they met. Slavery unexpectedly connected the Kings and the Beckers.

Dr. John B. King, Jr. gave a keynote presentation at the 2018 RIDES national conference that emphasized the need for an ongoing commitment to dismantling racism in our educational systems. King is the current President and CEO of the Education Trust and former United States Secretary of Education under President Barak Obama. Recently, reporter Ian Shapira of the New York Times wrote a story about the King family’s search for their historical roots. King discovered...

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Reflecting on the Stonewall Riots: 50 Years Later

Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul
Reflecting on the Stonewall Riots: 50 Years Later

With the passing of Pride Month this year, we took time and space to reflect on the legacy of the Stonewall Riots. On June 28, 1969, a New York City police raid targeted Stonewall Inn of Greenwich Village--one of few establishments catering to members of the LGBTQ community, including homeless youth, sex workers, and other marginalized groups....

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Leadership Transition: A Note from Prof. Lee Teitel

Colleagues –

I write today with some exciting leadership transition news concerning the Reimagining Integration: Diverse and Equitable Schools (RIDES) project. First, let me start with a brief review of the RIDES work to date. We started RIDES 3 ½ years ago as a response to Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and the societal forces that somehow made it a common and regular event for unarmed black and brown men to die at the hands of police. With startup support from the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean’s Office, and a three year grant from the Walton...

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Serving & Partnering with Families

Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul


We uplifted and centered student voices during last month’s Virtual Community Webinar. Not only is it key to involve students as partners and equity agents, but we need to also value the expertise that caregivers and families bring to the table. After all, they are the experts--parents are our first teachers.

Dr. Karen Mapp,...

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Supporting Immigrant & Undocumented Students

Image and post by Amy Jiravisitcul

Immigrant students and families across the country carry a diverse set of experiences and cultures within each of our school communities. In the past few years, we have been exposed to a barrage of xenophobic rhetoric in national public discourse, alongside alarming media coverage of abuses at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In addition, this administration’s sweeping policy...

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Alignment: Are We All on the Same Page?

By Amy Jiravisitcul

When engaging with diversity, equity, and inclusion across an organization, many professionals invoke the image of moving the needle, making gradual progress in small increments. However, organizations need to also consider whether all individuals, all departments, all stakeholders are using the same scale. 

Dr. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, wrote about the...

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