The Power of Alliances: Equity in Responses

How do you feel when you know that you and your boss are on the same team, working towards to the same goal? Are you inspired? Do you work harder? Do you push through even when you’re tired or worn down? Do you stay positive, even when the work is difficult? Do you give grace?

But let’s say the opposite is your situation. Let’s say that you feel like your boss is out to get you. That your boss only cares about you getting done what he or she has asked you to do. That your boss doesn’t care about your ideas or your thoughts and is actually constantly waiting for you to do something wrong.

This is the power of an alliance. But think: how much more powerful is it when we are talking about a teacher/student relationship! Building an alliance is the foundational piece of culturally competency and responsiveness, and opens the door to endless opportunities for learning. When students know that the teacher and student are working together to meet common goals as opposed to the idea that the teacher is out to get the student, the affective filter begins to lower, and students are open to so much more learning.

One way to build alliances is to be intentional about equity in relationships. Over 30 years ago, the Los Angeles County Office of Education decided to tackle the problem of inequities in relationships between students and teachers. Using research, they identified 15 interactions that connect to student learning. These are called Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement, or TESA. They contain 3 main strands, with related interactions:

  1. Response Opportunities
    • Equitable Distribution
    • Individual Help
    • Latency
    • Delving
    • Higher-Level Questioning
  2. Feedback
    • Affirm/Correct
    • Praise
    • Reasons for Praise
    • Listening
    • Accepting Feelings
  3. Personal Regard
    • Proximity
    • Courtesy
    • Personal interest and compliments
    • Touch
    • Desist

For the next few blogs, I’m going to take a deeper look at each of these strands, but I want to start with response opportunities. The overarching question here is “Does each student have an equitable opportunity to answer the same amount and level of questions, and am I making the thinking needed to answer the questions accessible?”

Each of the interactions creates a way to intentionally answer this question.

  1. Equitable Distributionthe teacher makes a way for every student to answer or perform in classroom learning situations. Students think and learn differently. If we are only teaching to one type of learning modality, we may not be giving students equal opportunities. Students also process differently. If we are only asking whole group questions and calling on the first 3 students who raise their hand, we are probably cutting off the thinking and processing for students who take a little longer. Here are a few ideas for ensuring we give equitable distribution:
  • Wait and Thumbs Up – Ask a question, then give wait time. Ask students to quietly give a thumbs up when they have an answer.
  • Think – Write – Pair – Share – Ask a question, then give wait time. Then give students the opportunity to jot down their thoughts before they are asked to share.
  • Partner A/B Agree/Disagree – Ask a question, then assign one partner to answer the question and the other partner to agree or disagree and explain why. On the next question, flip roles.
  • T-A-C-O Cooperative Learning Strategy – ask a question, then allow students to:
    • T- Think
    • A – Answer individually
    • C – Concensus – Come to an agreement on the correct answer with their partner or group
    • O – Output – Designate a student in the group to give the answer
  • Visual Supports for Language and Vocabulary – By providing a language- and content-rich environment, students are giving better access to the information in order to answer the questions.

2. Individual HelpDoes each student get equitable opportunities for individual help (and, if one student needs more help than another student in order to access the content, does he receive it? Here are a few ideas:

  • 2 Minute conferences – scheduling this time ensure students receive the one-on-one time with the teacher
  • System for questions (Red light/Green light) – don’t rely on your own memory of who has received help or not. Create systems for getting help. One system may be the red light/green light system, where students who need help put the red peice of paper facing up, and students who do not have the green paper. This keeps students from sitting with their hands up in the air.
  • Checklist for asking for help – again, having a visual checklist can help students and build independence. It may look something like this:

I want to help, but I will ask you these questions first. Please ask yourself first and see if you can find the answer before asking me.

  • Ask your self these questions first:
    • Have you checked the word wall?
    • Have you checked the anchor chart?
    • Have you tried to find the answer?
    • Do you have a specific question to ask me?

By implementing this type of a system, students will eventually be able to help themselves more, and leave you available to help those who really need it.

3. LatencyThe teacher allows the student enought time to think over the question before assisting or ending the opportunity to respond. How quickly do you move on from a student after asking them a question? Here are a few suggestions for providing latency:

  • Build a climate of wait time – after every question is asked, give a few seconds, depending on the depth of the question, for students to think and process. For students who immediately know the answer, this may allow them to think deeper instead of just the first thing that pops into their heads. For students who need to process longer with language or thinking, this gives them a more level playing field. This is a great strategy to teach students. Also, if students need to think after you’ve called on them and you’ve created that climate of wait time, it takes the pressure off.
  • Ask ahead of time – give the student a heads-up that you are going to be asking them that particular question. Give them a time to process ahead of time or even check their notes.
  • Think-Pair-Share with a partner first – Allow students the opportunity to talk through the question before sharing before the whole class
  • Post questions visually

*Don’t ask questions to students who are off-task. There are other ways to redirect without embarrassment. You risk shutting students down, and this doesn’t accomplish anyone’s goals.

4. Delving, Rephrasing and Giving Cluesthe teacher is able to provide additional information to help the student respond. Here are some suggestions:

  • Rephrase the question
  • Guide back to supports
  • Ask scaffolding questions
  • Show a hand motion that attached to the meaning (total physical response, or TPR) or reminding of other memory strategies used to learn content initially

5. Higher-level Questioning – the teacher asks challenging questions that require the students to do more than simply recall. We want to make sure that all students are given equitable opportunities to think at higher levels.

  • Plan these into lesson
  • Give students wait time
  • Have students write answers down or answer with a partner to ensure everyone thinks through these questions
  • Post questions
  • Ask students thoughts or opinions

The name of the game with being a culturally responsive teacher is intentionality, and these steps can help you plan equity in interactions into your day-to-day classtime.

How would having equity in interactions build alliances, and in turn, increase learning?

How would not having equity in interactions hurt alliances, and in turn, decrease learning?

You’ve got this!

If you want more ideas for building alliances, click here to get info on our Summer Workshop: The Power of Building Alliances!

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