Activity Guide

Equity in School Culture

If your school is featured in negative news stories or is performing below average on state or national assessments, you may see the obvious—a need to change. On the other hand, why make waves if your school is average or above average, stacks up well against other schools in your area, and has positive local media coverage? How do you handle changing the school’s culture when there is pressure to leave a good thing alone? This reading defines an equitable school culture and provides an opportunity for a focused conversation about valuing diversity and ensuring equity in the school’s culture.

Reading: “Equitable Education,” Principal Leadership, March 2010, pp. 68–71.


How Well Does Your School Serve Each Student Equitably?

This activity utilizes a Breaking Ranks survey tool to help school leaders, leadership teams, and/or faculties evaluate their school’s culture. The survey tool asks participants to give their “best guess response” to the 21 questions in the tool, “How Well Does Your School Serve Each Student Equitably?” and rank their satisfaction with each response. Examining the results from this tool, completed by staff, community stakeholders, or school teams, can lead a full day or a series of afternoon discussions about initiatives to improve school culture.

  1. Prior to completing the activity with participants, the administrative or data team should use local school data to answer each of the 21 questions supported by data.
  2. There are two options for utilizing How Well Does Your School Serve Each Student Equitably? in professional development discussions.

Option 1: Ask staff members to submit their surveys for an aggregate satisfaction rank (average) for each of the 21 questions. In a subsequent meeting, distribute to the faculty both their completed survey and a copy of the survey with the answers based on local school data and the aggregate satisfaction rank for each question in the last column. Have participants meet by departments, grade-level teams, or interdisciplinary teams and discuss the data responses and the aggregate satisfaction rank. Each team should select three of the 21 responses that the small group identifies as most needing school change. In further group discussions, team members should list what actions or initiatives could be enacted to raise the team’s satisfaction for that item to a rating of 5. Debrief the group’s choices and initiatives and utilize these as a further discussion opportunity. Combine initiatives and record them on chart paper.

Option 2: Ask staff members to complete their individual surveys, recording responses, and ranking satisfaction for each of the 21 questions. Then distribute the survey tool with the responses completed with local school data. Have individuals, with their completed surveys, meet in smaller groups—by leadership team, departments, grade level, etc. Were their responses different from those provided with local school data? Each group should come to a consensus about selecting three questions for which they have a low rank and a high dissatisfaction level and brainstorm three to five school initiatives for each of the chosen questions that would change the satisfaction level to a 5.

How Well Does Your School Serve Each Student Equitably?

Step 1: Write a “best guess” response to each of the questions below.
Step 2: After you write each response, rate your degree of satisfaction with the response using the 5-point scale below.

Highly Dissatisfied12345Highly Satisfied
QuestionWrite your best responseDegree of satisfaction
What percentage of your students is involved in classroom lessons that develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, or communication?
What percentage of your students is involved in ongoing programs that develop skills in organization, study skills, conflict resolution, self-awareness, personal safety, and/or stress management?
What percentage of each student’s classroom assessment is authentic (e.g., portfolio reviews, student-led presentations, student projects) and provides multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery?
What percentage of your students is achieving at a proficient or higher level? How well does that percentage reflect the demographics of the student body?
What programs/interventions are in place to help struggling students? What percentage of students is taking advantage of the additional help?
What percentage of your students says they are well known by at least one adult in the building who knows their aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses and who helps them to be successful?
Does every member of your faculty expect each student to meet high course standards?
How often do the instructional teams or departments in your school regularly use data to plan, differentiate, and deliver developmentally appropriate instruction?
How much time is scheduled and used each week for teachers to collaborate on planning instruction, reviewing student work, aligning instructional units with standards, and encouraging interdisciplinary learning?
How often do school administrators attend team/department planning meetings?
What percentage of your teachers would say they have received adequate professional development and the time to collaboratively and regularly assess student data and plan for instruction?
What percentage of instruction at each grade level relies on active inquiry, hands-on, or project-based learning?ol>
What percentage of the curriculum and instruction has links to real-life applications and helps students connect their education to their future?
What percentage of your graduates must take remedial courses or other recovery programs as they transition to high school or college?
What percentage of the teachers, students, and parents would say that the transition into and out of your school is effective and appropriate?
What opportunities are students given to provide input and feedback into the academic and social activities at your school? What percentage of students takes advantage of these opportunities?
How often do staff members interact with parents—especially those who are hard to reach or who are non-English speakers?
What programs or services does the school provide that promote awareness and preparation for college and/or the workforce? What percentage of students takes advantage of these opportunities?
To what extent does the enrollment in advanced courses or special programs reflect the school’s demographics? What percentage of your English language learners and linguistically diverse students are mainstreamed?
How does your school’s recognition system value diversity, service, and academic achievement? How well does the percentage of students receiving recognition reflect the demographics of the student body?
How well do your school’s discipline statistics reflect the demographics of the student body?

C. Begin the Conversation: An Equity Tool Discussion Guide

Use this discussion guide with your staff members to begin conversations that will expand your school’s vision of school improvement, introduce multiple perspectives of successful practices, and focus the local discussion on broader possibilities for improving the academic performance of each student.

Option 1: Involve the Full Faculty.

Step 1: Aggregate scores of the full faculty. Submit your responses to aggregate average of answers and average of each “Degree of Satisfaction” score for the entire faculty. Complete a composite survey with average responses and an average ranking for each question. Plan a subsequent discussion meeting. Meet in small groups and provide each staff member with a copy of the composite results.

Step 2: Come to a consensus on selecting five questions on the Equity Tool that the group believes should be discussed. The list may include a question that has a ranking very different from your own, one that has been scored consistently low, or that has been scored low but will definitely need a higher ranking to improve the school culture for every student.

Step 3: For each selected question:

  • List those strategies or actions that the school, department, or team is implementing to improve the ranking.
  • List additional actions that would improve your satisfaction rating for that item to a 5.

Step 4: Consider the implications for you and your colleagues if you believe your answers are accurate indicators of how well your school serves the needs of each student. Compare the responses supported by local school data to those “best responses” given. Discuss additional strategies for the school improvement plan.

Debrief the Equity Satisfaction Survey Activity: Ask teams to select one question, explain why they chose it, and list programs or initiatives that might change the satisfaction rating to a 5. Ask whether participants’ responses were very different from those provided with local school data. After three or four examples, encourage discussion about how these initiatives would likely change the school’s culture.

Source: This self-assessment tool is adapted from Breaking Ranks: A Field Guide for Leading Change, pp. 58–59.

Option 2: Use this discussion guide with departments, leadership teams, or instructional teams.

Stage 1: Have your departments, leadership teams, or instructional teams meet in small groups to discuss their responses.

Stage 2: Have each group come to a consensus on the five questions on the Equity Tool that the group feels need to be discussed. The list may include a question that has many different rankings, one that has been scored consistently low, or one that has been scored low but will need a higher ranking to improve the school’s culture for every student.

Stage 3: Conclude the discussion with open-ended questions designed to encourage further exploration, such as, How do these actions align with our existing school improvement initiatives? What would they look like here? What new actions are you considering after having read the article?

An implementation template is included at the end of the Activity Guide to help you organize the new actions being considered for implementation. (For strategies to assist in organizing effective discussion groups, see the Text-Based Discussion Guidelines.)