Advancing Equity with the FFT

July 29, 2021

Charlotte Danielson, in her first publication of the Framework for Teaching (FFT) in 1996, wrote: "a commitment to excellence is not complete without a commitment to equity.” Her words continue to ring true today, perhaps more than ever, and they continue to be a driving force behind what brings the FFT to life in our classrooms and schools.

The concept and practice of equity is built into the FFT at every level, from its guiding purpose all the way down to its individual domains and components. Every component in the FFT is a descriptor of an educator’s tasks, roles, and responsibilities in the pursuit of excellent teaching. And excellent teaching is about ensuring that every student – regardless of their identity, culture, or background – experiences the very best of their teacher. This includes prioritizing students who come from historically marginalized communities by considering the barriers to access and the resources they need to succeed.  

My favorite way to give teachers a tangible example of what equity looks like in practice is to teach them a simple trick: add the word “ALL''  and question “for all?” to any description in the Distinguished Level of the FFT and see how that changes their lens and approach. For example, we can unpack the Distinguished Level of component 2a: creating an environment of respect and rapport. Here is what it looks like to make that adjustment to a few key descriptions of the Distinguished Level:

  • The teacher demonstrates knowledge and caring about ALL individual students’ lives beyond the class and school. Is this true for all students in my classroom?  
  • ALL students participate without fear of put-downs or ridicule from either the teacher or other students. Is this true for all students in my classroom? 
  • The teacher respects and encourages ALL students’ efforts. Is this true for all students in my classroom?

This shift is small – only a single word and question - but it may help an educator see their classroom, their instruction, or each of their students in a new light. If even one student is having a classroom experience where they don’t feel respected or encouraged, it’s not an equitable classroom. Using tricks like this help educators identify those potential gaps and tap into the core of pursuing equity in the classroom. It forces them to see their own patterns, unpack them, and make adjustments. An enormous part of the work of both equity and excellence is uncovering both the patterns that allow you to be a good educator and the patterns that prevent you from reaching every student. When we see harmful patterns, we can disrupt them and create more equitable classrooms.

But true equity isn’t just the job of individual educators. There are some key steps that administrators and school communities must take in order to leverage the FFT through an equity lens. The first is to align on a definition of what equity means within their school context. Some people think equity is about removing barriers; some think it is about leveling the playing field; and some think it is about being seen and heard. None of these definitions are necessarily wrong or right. But without a common definition, it will be impossible for a school community to purposefully and collectively work towards equity.

An aligned definition is necessary and provides a strong foundation. Using the FFT as a tool to help you figure out where you are against that definition is critical. But the real work starts after you’ve done that. The next step is to find out the story behind the definition and the data. Why are some groups of students excelling? Why are others being left behind? It is the work of a school’s leader, along with every member of their team, to do the qualitative, compassionate, and investigative work around how those data show up within their school. 

For example, one middle school I worked with was perplexed that after years of implementing a reading intervention, there was a subset of students who still lagged behind their peers in reading performance. After gathering initial quantitative data, they engaged in compassionate data analysis by interviewing these students and asking them to tell stories about their reading habits. They found that many of the students were reading at home, but the key difference was that the texts they read at home were of interest to them. Conversely, all of the reading exemplars used for intervention in school did not feel engaging or relevant. The school decided to ask students to recommend texts that they were interested in reading and teachers created interventions using student-driven and high-interest texts. They were able to advance outcomes in reading across their student body by taking an inquiry- and equity-focused lens towards the data.  

Whether you are an individual educator or a school leader, equity must be internalized as both a process and a goal. It’s the what and the how, a continuous aspiration that may look different in September than it does in May. When we truly bring both the excellence and equity components of the FFT to life in our schools, we have the opportunity to fully see the students in front of us, honor them, and meet their needs in ways that accelerate their learning and open the doors of opportunity for their futures.

By Maria Akinyele
Assistant Director of Innovation & Strategic Partnerships