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How To Safely Introduce Equity Conversations In Your Classroom

How To Safely Introduce Equity Conversations In Your Classroom

By Paul Haluszczak

This week, superintendents from across the country will be gathering in Nashville for AASA’s national conference. The theme? Leading for student-centered, equity-focused education.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a steady drumbeat of revelations by those who are in positions of power to accelerate meaningful change. When formal education couldn’t be siloed inside a single school building, the inequities children face in their everyday lives were illuminated brighter than ever before.

Before the pandemic began, 42% of households had limited technology access. By fall of 2020, that number was reduced to 31%—an improvement no doubt, but still an unacceptable figure if we are interested in ensuring every learner, no matter their background or circumstances, is provided a high-quality education experience.

Of course, inequitable access to technology isn’t the only challenge we have been called to quickly resolve.

Many have spoken about the past two years as a “twin pandemic”—one related to COVID-19 and the other related to racial injustice.

The very same day a national emergency was declared by then President Donald Trump for COVID-19, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police officers issuing a no-knock warrant. Two months later, the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd. Less than one month later came Rayshard Brooks. Two months after that, Jacob Blake.

As the majority of the country worked and learned from home, we were able to easily turn our attention to the latest news story—bringing renewed energy to a fight for racial justice that has been filling history books for centuries.

What these highly publicized events made abundantly clear is that what happens out in our communities impacts how our young people show up and engage in our classrooms. That impact deserves to be acknowledged and given space for discussion and reflection.

On February 7th, in partnership with Dr. Eddie Moore, Founder of The Privilege Institute, Thrively released the first-of-its-kind 21-Day Equity Challenge for young learners.

Start Your 21-Day Equity Challenge Today

In just 10 minutes per day, K-12 teachers can engage learners in honest and safe conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Best of all, it meets everyone where they are.

If an open-floor conversation about these hard but necessary topics is too big of a leap (for learners or adults), all reflections can be shared between each individual learner and their teacher without any of their peers entering the conversation.

Similar to how learners can engage in daily well-being check-ins through our Well-Being Index, they can learn how to explore complex and emotional topics one-on-one with their educators before taking the leap to group conversations.

Imagine if these conversations were happening in every classroom in your school and in every school in your district? What impact might that have in developing the empathy, acceptance of difference, and strong sense of community we know every healthy learning environment must have?

Now is the time to move beyond the paralysis that can often hit us when faced with racial equity challenges. When superintendents return from Nashville around February 20th, they will be primed and ready to take action.

What better way to showcase your own leadership by sharing the 21-Day Equity Challenge with them as a way for everyone (adults and young people) to take meaningful action toward creating an equitable learning environment in your community.

What Are The 16 Habits Of Mind?

Young asian girl wearing a green coat with hood catches a bubble in her hands with her arms stretched out in front of her. The background is a park with green grass and green trees.

What Are The 16 Habits Of Mind?

By Paul Haluszczak

The Habits of Mind describe 16 mental disciplines that are needed to navigate the question: “What is the most intelligent thing I can do right now?” Developed by Dr. Bena Kallick and Dr. Art Costa through decades of curated research and real-world application, the Habits of Mind serve as a starting point to more deeply understand the habits we need to handle the complexity of the world around us.


Being a beginner at anything is always a challenge. Everything is new and every question takes a significant amount of time to answer. If a particular skill is involved, it can create immediate feelings of inadequacy.

Learners who have a strong habit of persisting stick to the tasks before them until they have reached an acceptable level of completeness. Giving up is a last resort. If the first attempt fails, they go back to the drawing board and create the next game plan.

Managing Impulsivity

We live in a world full of shiny objects. Everywhere we look, from our screens to retail shelves to billboards adorning our highways, calls for our attention are constant. If we don’t feel like being intentional with our choices, the world is often ready to make those choices for us.

Learners who are able to build this habit of managing impulsivity are able to remain attentive to the challenge or opportunity they chose to engage with. When new choices arise, they are able to take a step back, weight their options, and make a confident decision.

Listening With Understanding and Empathy

The capacity to understand and meaningfully connect with others almost seems like it would be a prerequisite to consider oneself an active, contributing member of society. 55% of our interactions are spent listening to the person or people we’re in conversation with. Yet, at what age were you taught how to understand and empathize with others?

Developing this habit results in a natural way of thinking that considers how potential solutions will impact primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. It empowers learners who carry this habit to connect deeply, build trust, and express positive leadership abilities.

Thinking Flexibly

Our brains our remarkable. The neurons that fired off when you smelt coffee this morning will be a completely different group of neurons one month from now (a concept known as representational drift). Although this group of neurons is always changing, the smell of coffee remains the same. Our minds are naturally flexible.

To strengthen this natural behavior, learners should be encouraged to assess and reassess the information available to them throughout a problem solving process. As circumstances change, they must build the habit of taking in new information and applying it appropriately.

Thinking About Your Thinking

Metacognition is a wonder of evolution. The ability to think about our own thinking gives us the confidence to step into the unknown, build the plane while it’s flying, take action before the whole picture is clear.

Strengthening metacognition occurs within learning opportunities that demand strategy, action, and reflection. The opportunity to think through different possibilities, test them out, reflect, and test again, is the universal path toward progress.

Striving for Accuracy and Precision

The standardized education system has often prioritized efficiency over all else. The learner who finishes their test first is seen as smart, the speed reader gets the most stars on the reading tracker, and the learner who picks up on things quickly is labeled “gifted.”

The world has shown many examples where the need for speed has resulted in catastrophic results—from oil spills (e.g. sloppy safety checks) to financial collapses (e.g. trying to accelerate wealth). Learners who are supported in striving for accuracy and precision over how fast something is completed, develop pride in and commitment to their work.

Questioning and Posing Problems

Theoretical physicist, Richard Feynam, spent his days interacting with the world with his 12 favorite problems top of mind at all times. With everything he consumed, he looked for ways to connect this new information to those 12 problems.

Feynam’s practice led to an exceptional ability to ask questions and pose problems nobody had ever thought of before. This habit made him an expert learner and teacher alike. The ability to ask meaningful questions and pose important problems is a habit worth strengthening.

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

When a challenge arises, we have the opportunity to explore in what ways we’ve experienced a challenge like this before. By reaching into our past, we can pull forward the relevant knowledge and skills that can be applied to this new situation.

To practice developing this habit, we simply must ask what’s familiar and what’s unfamiliar with the current situation. Then, we can take the unfamiliar and begin utilizing the habit to ask meaningful questions and pose the problems that need to be solved.

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

If “location, location, location” is the guiding principle in real estate, “communication, communication, communication,” might take the cake in the 21st-century workplace. Being able to think and communicate that thinking with clarity and precision is consistently at the top of hiring managers’ wish list in prospective candidates.

Thinking and communicating can happen through multiple media—through writing, video, and audio for starters. To provide opportunities for learners to become comfortable and confident with their thinking and communicating that thinking will reap immeasurable rewards today and far into the future.

Gathering Data Through All Senses

Did you know that scientists often suggest we have nine (not five) sense? Beyond the usual line-up of sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch, our internal senses look for hunger, thirst, pain, and balance.

Our brains are gathering data from all of these senses all the time, but to become aware of that data and to use it appropriately requires conscious habit development. To be consciously aware of each of these senses opens up a world of possibility.

Creating, Imagining, and Innovating

Humans have been around for thousands of years yet scores of new inventions and discoveries pop-up every day. The world truly is what we make it. Activating our creative muscles is one of the most fruitful workouts we can provide our minds.

The most important hurdle to jump over when it comes to creative expression is the fear of judgement. We must create a safe and trusting space for learners to create freely, applying improv’s “yes, and” principle in every moment.

Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Have you ever come across an adult with a child-like spirit where they experience the world with an inexhaustible sense of wonder and awe? Do you find yourself naturally attracted to this trait, sensing your own inner child waking up to play?

Creating a disposition of wonder and awe invites us to be endlessly curious about the world around us. To look at something as simple as a light turn on and ask “how does that work?” can lead to the discovery of Thomas Edison, photons and electrons, light waves, and so much more. To cultivate this habit in learners, encourage them to see rabbit holes and opportunities rather than distractions.

Taking Responsible Risks

Adventure doesn’t have to equate to carelessness. We can go on unexpected journeys while weighing the pros and cons of each decision along the way—understanding the difference between discomfort and danger.

Learning how to take responsible risks gives learners the courage to explore beyond their comfort zones and enter the Zone of Proximal Development where new learning thrives. Everyone has a different level of risk aversion, so we must meet them where they are and build their confidence over time.

Finding Humor

The gray line between humor and harm can be a thick one, but for young people who are navigating the social norms of society, it’s incredibly important for them to define this line as best as possible.

People who are able to find humor are known to be creative problem solvers, find novelty in the most ordinary things, improve their health and well-being, and attract good relationships. When we can bring humor into our environments along with an invitation to explore why something is humorous, we can cultivate a great habit for young people.

Thinking Interdependently

There’s no “I” in team is a cliché with scientific backing. The ability to collaborate with others and use multiple perspectives when approaching a problem increases the odds of coming up with solutions that are helpful and help more people.

Thinking interdependently is a habit that takes time and doesn’t have to solely involve synchronous, spoken communication. Shy and social learners alike can engage in developing this habit while maintaining a sense of safety by utilizing multiple media for communication.

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Learning is a natural phenomenon. If you’re alive and breathing, you’re learning. Therefore, the question isn’t “are you learning?” Rather, it’s “do you enjoy learning?” To build a habit where learners are open to continuous learning, they need an environment where learning is connected with joy and fulfillment.

The 16 Habits of Mind, although extensive, only touch the surface of the overlapping habits that, when intentionally integrated into learning experiences, can unleash the genius in every child.

To learn more about the Habits of Mind, join our live webinar this Thursday with Dr. Bena Kallick and Dr. Art Costa—co-founders of the Institute for Habits of Mind. For a complete summary of each habit, head over to the Institute for Habits of Mind’s website.

Weaver Middle School Starts With The Heart

Four learners, three girls and one boy work on a project at a table together with sun exposure in the background and other learners at other tables behind them in a classroom setting

Weaver Middle School Starts With The Heart

By Jane Patterson

Community is everything. If you’re not convinced of that yet, Principal Elias Villa and Instructional Coach Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving will drive the message home.

For these Weaver Middle School educators, it didn’t take a global pandemic to understand that everything must be built on a foundation of trust bolstered by evidence of care and concern. While this is always a work in progress for these educators, creating a thriving community is at the core of every decision they make.

Weaver is located in a rural community in Merced, California, which is part of a swath of agricultural land known as the world’s breadbasket. This diverse community is growing and Villa and Lalumiere-Weaving are poised to ensure that its diverse population of learners, 85% of whom are socio-economically disadvantaged, have every opportunity to grow and learn in a deeply caring community. 

“We are explicit about what we mean by a ‘culture of care.’ We have a group of caring educators, committed to meeting the needs of every student. We know that many of our families are facing challenges and our students will absorb the heightened anxiety.”

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

One of the driving strategies at Weaver is restorative practices. Every educator is learning how to facilitate conversations that offer students a chance to share what is happening in their lives in a safe and supportive community. Students are learning to articulate their emotions while building empathy for one another. The same is true for the adults in the room. 

“Our staff is not just learning about restorative practices, but they are using the strategies themselves. This is how we build community amongst ourselves.

We’ve started book studies that deepen our understanding of a topic, then we get in a circle, just as our students do, and we talk. We bond. We learn how it feels to get vulnerable. At Weaver, we don’t ask our students to do anything that we haven’t done ourselves.

We allow kids to have a space to talk and to hear each other. They will talk differently in a circle than they will on the playground. They need a safe space to have an opportunity to hear one another.

We want everyone to know what it feels like to be in the company of good humans. This is a place where kids have respect for one another and most teachers seem happier. Our teachers model what a positive and respectful conversation looks and sounds like.

Connection before content is our guiding principle. We know that teachers are overwhelmed and kids have a whole new world to navigate. There’s a lot to do. So, we want everyone to trust that not only is it okay but it’s essential that you can show up as a human first. Trust that you have time to do the tasks that need to get done.

Start with the heart first. The more heart, the more purpose and meaning.

We give teachers permission to take time each day to make those personal connections. One of our goals is to continue to increase attendance. School has to be a place where kids want to go. A place they feel cared for—where someone is really listening, where they feel heard and seen.

School should always feel like a comfortable place where our students want to be. When students connect with the adults, they want to do more work.” 

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

Weaver Middle School is part of the Institute for Excellence in Education’s (IEE) Schools to Watch network. This national network provides an opportunity for schools to share best practices and find support for challenges they are facing.

“The cool thing is that being recognized as a School to Watch is not an end point, it’s a beginning point. The message is: ‘We like what you’re doing and we want to join you and follow your journey.’”

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

One area of focus for Weaver is engendering goal and future orientation among students.

“Seeing that every kid is a person of worth and dignity and allowing them to make choices. As adults, we often want to control what is happening. We try to avoid that temptation and instead create an environment where choice is not only available but encouraged.

In Homeroom, students reflect on their learning and take charge of what they need to do to grow. They write their own plan of action. This goal setting and reflection builds learner agency. Thrively has really helped students feel that they’re a part of the school.

Our kids get to know themselves, which has been crucial for all that we do, from goal setting, to restorative practices. Our students have become much more self-aware and reflective, and our teachers use this information to help students become more empowered learners.” 

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

Student empowerment is supported by several outlets for exploration in the arts and sciences. The award-winning band and the drama department, which sells out the annual Disney musical every year, are community treasures that highlight the persistence and drive of Weaver’s young performers. 

Students who do not find their passion in music or theater are encouraged to find their passion in sports, the Greek Olympics, and in hands-on science and math. 

“Our teachers are so passionate about their subjects that they have created a place where kids feel like it’s cool to learn new things. In English, the theme was window and mirrors: What are you reflecting to others and what are you seeing in another person’s world?

We’re never just going to teach students and give them a quiz. We ask questions and provide the space to think about them, in writing and out loud. Think, talk, listen, triangulate who they are as they relate to others.

Interactive conversations help students search for understanding and meaning. Our teachers have thoughtful, meaningful discussions that center on ideas that are relevant to their students and, in turn, students search for answers to big questions.

Teachers want to be authentic, but they need a roadmap. We spend a lot of time recognizing one another’s contributions, listening to one another to seek understanding. We don’t have one approach for our students and another for our educators. Everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

We are always in a constant state of growth and this can only be achieved with support in a nurturing environment that places a culture of care as a top priority for the entire community.”  

—Elias Villa and Nicole Lalumiere-Weaving

Weaver is making great strides, but Villa and Lalumiere-Weaving emphasize there is ample room to grow and to learn. Weaver educators are striving together to create a culture that reflects their shared values and goals and each day is a testament to that pursuit.

Thrively believes every child should have a sense of belonging within their learning communities. At the core of that work is ensuring every child is known and has their well-being supported. Check out how you can fulfill these promises in your classroom with our evidence-based strengths assessment and Well-Being Index.