Q&A with Rachel Logan: We Can No Longer Be Silent
When Rachel Logan quit her teaching job in Fargo to start a new chapter in Houston (TX), little did she know she would forever change the course of her life. Read a special Q&A with Sourcewell Equity and Inclusion Consultant Rachel Logan to learn how equity in education has become her life’s work and passion.
Read this special Q&A with Sourcewell Equity and Inclusion Consultant Rachel Logan to learn how equity in education has become her life’s work and passion.
Q: Equity is a term we're hearing a lot these days. What is equity in education?
A: Equity in education is really about people having equal access and equal opportunity to school and all the things that come with school (learning, relationships, activities, supports, technology, etc.). We’re also talking about equitable outcomes. We shouldn’t see gaps in opportunity that are predictable by groups. It also means not seeing over or under representation by groups in things like Gifted and Talented, Advanced Placement or Honors courses, Special Education referrals or discipline reports. By “predictable groups,” this means looking at subgroups like who is on Free and Reduced lunch status (socioeconomic status), racial groups, special education populations, or gender.
Sometimes I borrow the words of author and coach Elena Aguilar to describe equity in education as well. She says:
“In its most simplistic definition, equity means that every child gets what he or she needs in schools – every child, regardless of where she comes from, what she looks like, who her parents are, what her temperament is, or what she shows up knowing or not knowing… Equity is about outcomes and experiences – for every child, every day.” (Elena Aguilar, 2013)
Q: So, it's more than just race?
A: Yes. Inequities can show up in all forms! Race has raised awareness for many recently due to the forms of racial injustice we are witnessing in our country right now. Schools and communities that are dedicated to equitable outcomes recognize that people and cultures are diverse and our strength is in our diversity. Often times we find spaces are set up to intentionally or unintentionally privilege dominant cultural norms or groups.
Recognizing this set up is often the first step, which can be hard to see especially if you align with many dominant cultural norms. For example, school was pretty smooth for me, and I used to think it was only because I was a “good student” and I worked hard and “got good grades.” What I couldn’t see was the fact that almost every part of school from my teachers to the way school was set up to the books I was reading, even my faith traditions, were reflected and represented in my school experience.
As a white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, non-free and reduced lunch kid, school was designed for someone like me, which made my “hard work” a lot easier than if I was bumping up against invisible barriers to my learning. Schools serve the public. The public is made up of many people from a variety of socioeconomic status, racial and cultural groups, sexual orientation and gender identities, religious or non-religious practicing families, multilingual families, students and families with varying physical abilities and more. And the school’s job is to create the same opportunities, access, and outcome no matter who you are.
Q: You've been working with schools in central Minnesota on addressing equity since 2017. How did you get started on this journey?
A: I would say my first interruption to life as I knew it was when I chose to quit my teaching job in Fargo and move to Houston, Texas, to try something new. I was the only white teacher on my teaching team/hallway and I think I had one white student in the three years I was there. I quickly became aware of my own race (something I hadn’t given much thought to before) and also was immersed in a new kind of culture. Even though I hadn’t left the country, the regional and cultural differences were a big change from my small town Minnesota upbringing. I actually thought that I graduated from a “bigger” city until one of my teaching colleagues asked me if a town of 15,000 was one of those places where everybody knows everybody. Ha! I came away from my Texas experience with an expanded understanding of people; how people communicate, learn, and experience the world and I was grateful for the lesson.
From Texas, I took a job teaching for Bloomington Public Schools in the Twin Cities. I taught on the east side of town, one that was known for having students and families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and was truly racially diverse. My administrator there pushed us to think about the barriers and impacts on learning that happen when students are struggling with poverty. He was careful never to place blame or cast judgement on families that found themselves in tough situations, but rather pushed us as educators to think about what we might do to remove barriers and support learning; knowing that it might look different for different kids, but that the same level of high expectations for all is the goal.
He also didn’t stop with poverty, acknowledging that we must, as a school, examine the intersection of race and poverty. We analyzed our academic and discipline data for disparities by groups, we worked to use our budget to be sure that students were supported through counselors, social workers, behavior specialists; the approach was one that saw students and families as assets to support, rather than problems to fix or deal with. I came away from this experience thinking, this is the kind of work that I want to be involved in. If we aren’t thinking about how to create the environments that allow students and families or caregivers to feel safe, valued and seen, then students can’t even access the learning we’re providing.
I carried these experiences with me when my family relocated to central Minnesota. While I was hired at Sourcewell as a literacy consultant because of my background (MA in curriculum and instruction and K-12 reading license), I remember sharing about a year into the job, 'if there’s ever an opportunity to do some equity work here, I’d really love to support that.
During the 2016-2017 school year, we had a group of local education leaders approach us and ask how our service cooperative was going to support equity work in the region. Kassidy Rice, remembering my interest, asked if I would like to be a part of a beginning advisory board to determine how we might intentionally build out equity support. Of course, I said yes! That summer I was trained as a national SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) facilitator and we partnered with Paul Gorski and the Equity Literacy Institute to begin providing both internal learning and training for our Education Solutions team, as well as external professional development for educators in the region. That year we also launched our Equity Advocates group and started several SEED seminars. The work has been slowly but continually growing over the years.
Q: How can educators learn more about equity?
A: Our SEED Seminars are a great way to learn more about equity. We provide both a regional seminar, or when schools have 10 people or more that want to join, I provide that learning on-site (or virtually, now) after school. SEED is a wonderful way for adults to have a chance to wrestle with the tough or sometimes controversial concepts in school and learn ways to support students and one another based on a variety of topics.
We are starting our third year of Equity Advocates, led by Marceline DuBose (Due East Equity Collaborative). This group is made up of individuals that feel like, “ok, I see it (inequities); what do I do now?!”. Marceline leads the group through ways to advocate and support systemic changes within their school districts. Each participant is working on an equity-related project and I support them in between the large sessions through coaching support related to their projects. We also have developed a Cultural Competency Workshop that is PELSB approved, this year we will offer two courses, one in February and one in June. Our Equity Programs page on the website has additional information about all our program offerings as well as some resources, tools, and library additions coming soon.
We’ve had great partnerships with both Paul Gorski and the Equity Literacy Institute and Marceline DuBose from Due East Equity Collaborative. Both of their websites offer many resources and tools that educators would find useful. A few other resources I like sharing with groups are Teaching Tolerance and the Minnesota Humanities Center.
Q: If I'm reading this right now, what is one thing I can start doing today to remove barriers to equity in education?
A: It might seem small, but in order to remove anything you have to be able to see it first. Your first stop might be working on first recognizing the barriers that exist. Listen to people when they are telling you about an inequitable experience they’ve had and believe them! That sounds overly simplistic, but too often we shrug off people’s experiences because we can’t imagine it to be real or true if we ourselves, or anyone close to us, haven’t experienced the same kind of injustice. So seeking out and listening to diverse experiences and perspectives might be the starting place for some.
Paul Gorski and Seema Pothini wrote a great book called “Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education.” We have several copies in our library if you want to check it out. They are short, one-page case studies tied to different categories and groups but can really help build that awareness and ability to recognize what barriers exist.
But then we have to do something about it; we can’t be silent. When you see something wrong that is happening, or overhear a comment that phrasing that is harmful, speak up! Advocate for the children in your school that may not have a voice or any real power. Use whatever privilege or power you have to be sure that no matter who that child is, they too, have access to the same kind of learning, relationship building, and growth that all children should have.