17:45 PM

Turning Ideas into Action

WHA teacher establishes districtwide equity team, sets wheels of change in motion

Bryn Hatten realizes a plan without action is just a dream.

The high school science teacher and member of Sourcewell’s Equity Advocates Leadership Cohort vowed she would put action behind her words and did just that when she prioritized equity and inclusion in the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District.

During the 2021-22 school year, Hatten established the WHA Equity Team – comprised of roughly nine staff, including elementary, middle, and high school representation, as well as administration. The group meets weekly to discuss concerns, brainstorm ideas to highlight various identities, and support one another.

The group has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. Since last school year, the equity team has:

·        Offered pronoun signs to teachers for their classrooms

·        Sent educational emails to all staff acknowledging specific days of note, including missing and murdered indigenous women, or MMIW, awareness

·        Designed professional spotlight graphics for daily announcements during Black History Month

·        Invited an Ojibwe storyteller to speak to the school during National Native American Heritage Month

·        Created a short lesson plan for teachers to use during Indigenous Peoples’ Day

·        Helped students organize a life-sized mural representing the Native American medicine wheel

An area of impact where Hatten is most proud is working with administration to end a decades-long homecoming tradition that targeted and marginalized students from diverse cultural backgrounds. The equity team also helped organize the WHA Student Equity Club, where students spent weeks researching ways to make classroom environments more conducive to students’ mental health, and then presented their findings in a staff meeting at the end of last school year.

This year, Hatten has added the title of yearbook adviser to her name.

“Taking over the yearbook has opened up so many opportunities for me to connect with students, hear what they do or don't like about their yearbook and their school, and ensure that the kids being featured in the book are representative of our student body,” Hatten says. “I'm also currently working with the equity team to offer free, 20-minute senior portrait sessions and subsidized yearbooks to any kids who can't afford those things. I sort of view working on the yearbook as an extension of my work with the equity team.”

Hatten says participating in Sourcewell's equity cohort gave her the knowledge and tools to take WHA’s equity team from discussions about inequities to plans for action.

“Before I had my first meeting with the cohort, the equity team was just discussing all the things that are making our students feel less included and tossing ideas around, but Marceline Dubose and Rachel Logan gave examples of tangible things that need to change in schools.”

Hatten describes a session where Dubose – a lead consultant for the Equity Literacy Institute and founder of the Due East Education Collaborative – and Logan – an education consultant with Sourcewell –  discussed deficit ideology and how it guides much of the work equity teams do; but that it can also be harmful.

“We remind ourselves constantly that the inequitable systems and practices in our district – and, really, all districts – were made tradition over decades,” Hatten adds, “so it's unrealistic to imagine we might remedy those things in just a few months or years.”

In the meantime, Hatten says, educators need to focus on smaller changes until they add up and provide the momentum to lead districts to make larger changes.

“We’re starting to see little indicators that our work is making a difference in our school community,” Hatten notes, “and it’s giving us the stamina to push through the criticism, threats, and exhaustion. We always have to remind ourselves: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That sentiment is easier to internalize when you‘re actually seeing evidence that you’re coming up to a ‘mile marker.’”

To learn more about Sourcewell’s equity work, resources, and programs, visit mn.sourcewell.org/education/equity.