Educating for Equity: Ideas, Resources from Facing History and Ourselves

There’s no single roadmap to developing a more equitable teaching practice, but these simple steps are a key part of any journey.


Facing History seminar photo
Exploring the Role of Allies in Confronting Injustice: Los Angeles Summit on School Culture, 2018. Photography: Embrace Life Photography.


Summer is here: a time when educators often have a chance to rest and reflect. That reset feels more needed than ever after this extraordinary school year. Educators have weathered a series of historic events, from the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted schooling to the massive protests sparked by racial violence and injustice. Many are relieved to leave behind the sense of upheaval and crisis that characterized the year—yet many don’t want to go back to “normal either. As educators recommit to teaching for equity and justice, how can the space and time afforded by the summer offer an opportunity to begin to make meaningful and lasting changes?

At the global educational nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, we’ve been supporting hundreds of educators and schools all over the country who want to better serve all of their students. We understand, as the Due East Educational Equity Collaborative writes, that “Educational equity is about individuals, relationships, and systems. A school that is educationally equitable is one in which we value each individual for who they are and provide the structures, environment, and resources each student needs to reach their greatest potential.… Educational equity emphasizes the needs, experiences, and outcomes for underrepresented or marginalized students….” This work is critical to building more just schools—and indeed a more just society—that invite, support, and recognize the contributions of all.

We also understand that there’s no single roadmap to creating more equitable teaching: our journeys begin in different places and will follow different paths. But there are a few habits—including individual reflection and sustained conversation in the adult community—that are a key part of any journey. We explore them below, with ideas and resources to help you implement them in your own practice.

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Find out more about Facing History’s approach to Teaching for Equity and Justice, as well as related professional development opportunities.

Start with yourself

A practice of self-reflection is an essential tool for educators who want to create more equitable schools. This process involves reflecting on our individual identities, and then becoming aware of our beliefs, values, biases, politics, and emotional responses. Doing so empowers us to be thoughtful about how these forces and factors influence our interactions with and expectations of students. Here are four ways to begin.

  • Start a practice of journaling, and use your journal as a place to record your responses to the prompts listed below.
  • Create an identity chart. What parts of your identity are visible and what parts are invisible? Notice which identities grant you membership and privileges in certain groups with power, which ones deny you membership, and which ones shift depending on the context. What parts of your identity have the greatest impact on how you interact with your students?
  • Read a reflection by another educator. We recommend A Letter to the Students of Colour Who Were in My History Classes, How I Faced My Identity When Teaching the Reconstruction Era, and After Eric Garner: One School’s Courageous Conversation. Then consider these questions: Did anything surprise you about the reflection you read? What elements did you identify with? If you were to write a similar reflection, what aspects of your identity would you focus on? What stories would you tell?
  • Read the Facing History resource The Blink of an Eye, which explores the concept of implicit bias. Then explore the resources in the Implicit Bias Module Series from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University and reflect on your learnings in your journal.

Talk with your colleagues

As educators, we know that learning and development are social. Learning flourishes when we raise questions and explore possibilities with others, and this is just as true for educators as it is for students. How can you center conversations about equity in faculty and staff meetings and planning times before school resumes and throughout the school year? As educator Monica Washington writes in “Start the School Year With Equity in Mind,” “If equity is incorporated into faculty meetings and professional learning communities, then it will become more than some tangential part of teachers’ to-do lists. Deliberate and planned conversations will sustain the work and keep it at the forefront of what is important in a school.” Washington’s article explores tools, like surveys and audits, that can inform these conversations.

Stories, films, and other texts can also be common reference points for meaningful conversations. At Facing History, we often draw on the work of John Amaechi, a British psychologist, former professional basketball player, best-selling author, and educator.

  • In this six-minute video, Amaechi discusses the connection between concepts of identity, the creation of a safe learning environment, and the potential for student achievement. He describes the concept of a “you-suit,” a metaphor that captures the way that young people try to “blend in and fit, pass” in an environment where they may not feel able to be themselves. He asserts that teachers, school librarians, and other staff “have to create this emotional space where it is safe but challenging, where people can be themselves, where people can take chances and fail, where people can tell stories about themselves and reveal things about themselves without risk of derision, without fear of being marginalized. Without safety, there is nothing, there is no learning.”
  • After watching the video, discuss with your colleagues: How does the notion of the you-suit resonate with you? What does your school do well in terms of alleviating the need for a you-suit, for both students and educators? What is the greatest challenge around school culture that your school faces? What work still needs to be done in your school to create a safe and inclusive culture?

If you haven’t yet begun your equity journey, we hope these practices will help you get oriented and take your first steps. And if you’re already well on your way, consider these resources and questions as an opportunity to refuel and extend your learning.


Pamela E. Donaldson is associate program director for equity and inclusion at Facing History and Ourselves, leading the organization’s equity work within school culture and curriculum.
Laura Tavares is program director for organizational learning and thought leadership at Facing History and Ourselves, where she leads strategic partnerships, designs learning experiences for educators, and creates classroom resources.

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