UnboundEd, a Carnegie Corporation of New York grantee, works to disrupt systemic racism in school systems by implementing high-quality instructional materials and closing pervasive opportunity gaps. It provides professional learning and free resources to teachers and leaders that address racism, includes culturally responsive strategies, and stresses the importance of grade-level instruction. This summer, in place of its signature in-person five-day Standards Institute for professional learning, it introduced two-day virtual summits aimed at shifting beliefs about learning and advancing the performance of all students.
“We definitely considered not having the institute this summer but ultimately saw that to do so would be a disservice to the community,” says Andrea Hancock, UnboundEd’s deputy chief academic officer.
Through its work, the UnboundEd team addresses racism and equity head-on. “Racism moves with great viscosity,” says Lacey Robinson, president and chief executive officer of UnboundEd. “And somehow, it begins to devour our beliefs, and it ignites the automaticity of our implicit bias through our actions and intentions.”
When teachers are asked to look at instruction in new and different ways, it often contradicts what they believe works best for their students. Changing long-held beliefs regarding teaching and learning is challenging. UnboundEd understands this and is intentional in its work with educators to set them up for success that will lead to shifts in their beliefs.
Jim Short, Program Director, Leadership and Teaching to Advance Learning, Education Program, Carnegie Corporation of New York
The virtual summits seek to challenge assumptions, build content knowledge, and provide thoughtful planning of unfinished instruction that can be replicated in virtual, in-person, and hybrid learning environments. Facilitators model protocols that help participants with their efforts to promote anti-racism and apply culturally relevant instruction. Participants learn about unconscious bias — the automatic and unconscious stereotypes that drive people to behave and make decisions in certain ways. They examine lenses through which persons may view race and how each lens represents one’s beliefs and impacts actions.
“I really appreciated the immediate discussion around disrupting the status quo and curriculum as it is,” says Jasmine Getrouw, executive director for diversity, equity, and inclusion in North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools, who attended a virtual summit with a team of colleagues. “I loved the unapologetic way the executive director talked about the importance of teacher roles and what they do. The tool provided around expanding and performing culturally responsive teaching was very compelling and exciting.”
UnboundEd facilitators, who use freely available curricula throughout the sessions, emphasize that a key to disrupting racism is providing every teacher with access to an aligned curriculum and deep understanding of the standards. “One thing we want to highlight is how racism shows up in instruction, particularly in a time when teachers are physically disconnected from their students,” says Rolanda Baldwin, UnboundEd’s director of mathematics. “We want teachers and leaders to recognize what that looks like and take particular steps to address those biases and be culturally relevant in a classroom setting.”
Throughout the virtual summits, participants engage in whole group learning, small group discussion, and personal reflections. Online engagement tools, including chat, polls, and collaborative documents, offer a variety of opportunities for participation, and teams spend hours debriefing and making plans for their school system and classrooms. While there is a natural tendency to review what students may have missed during the pandemic, UnboundEd focuses on essential standards and curriculum components based on grade appropriateness while also permitting time to revisit key concepts and ideas as needed for students to progress.
“I can empathize with a well-meaning instructor or teacher trying to catch students up,” says Getrouw, “but if students are not engaged in a way that captivates them, and also in a way that centers on where they are supposed to be now and applies meaningful and integrated approaches, then we will continue to have the same issues without any active results.”
Virtual summit participants are aware that they have barely scratched the surface of the important work ahead. Even those with good intentions are often overwhelmed. UnboundEd’s website offers numerous resources for disrupting systemic racism, including an Equity Reset Toolkit to help district leaders reenvision how their systems support educational equity.
“We really do not want this experience to be lip service,” says Baldwin. “We intentionally put in time for reflection and space for building community. We want to make sure that teachers will do something different; it is very important to us that there be a change in behavior as a result of their attendance.”
Stephanie Hirsh, former executive director of Learning Forward, is an author and consultant specializing in professional learning, leadership development, and organization improvement.