I recently conducted training with a group of principals focused on equity in classrooms. The principals were quite interested in learning how to make equity a reality in their schools and were committed to the goal of equity for all students. During our discussion, a question arose, “Are we talking about all students or just some students?” Great question! Were we willing to bravely admit that the students we were really talking about were black and brown students? Yes, we were, and we affectionately referred to these students as students in the “gap.” You know these students, the ones we are actually referring to when we say there’s an achievement gap, opportunity gap, or a learning gap. It is important to mention that, while not the focus of this piece, my strong belief is that these gaps are due to inequitable systems, policies, and practices, not student deficiencies. If we want to truly move the needle for these students, we must move out of our own “tranquilized obviousness.”
Tranquilized obviousness means we have become complacent with the way we think and show up in life, therefore our state of being is on autopilot. This tranquilized obviousness is continuous with every one of us. (If you are saying, “not me,” you just proved my point.) We take it to work with us, we live it in our personal relationships, and we drag it along with us day-to-day as we show up in the world. If you have ever declared that you “stay in your lane” in most areas of your life, you are effortlessly living in tranquilized obviousness. This repetition of behavior can cause us to continue the same behavior and thinking when it is no longer the most effective or appropriate way of acting for ourselves or others.
How does tranquilized obviousness show up in classrooms where “students in the gap” exist? Often, it is seen in educators who have high expectations for certain students and low expectations for others. It is these automatic judgments based on past experiences that keep us from recognizing and nurturing the potential of these students. Being willing to activate self-awareness is a critical first step in moving beyond automatic judgment to create equitable possibilities for all students. Use this checklist to conduct a self-assessment and school environment assessment. This will help you determine where tranquilized obviousness creates blind spots in instructional practices and the learning environment for students who are in the “gap” at your school. If you dare, consciously use the checklist to start a conversation with colleagues and your leadership team about the possibility of implementing one powerful next step to move the proverbial needle on equity as a team.
We often don’t realize how tranquilized obviousness causes us to unintentionally lower our expectations of students. According to the American Psychological Association, teachers encourage less, demand less, and accept less from students in the gap because teachers systematically underestimate the talents and abilities of these students. Take another look with new eyes and push past the fog to set high expectations for students in the gap with no excuses and no exceptions! Be intentional and ask students what they need to make progress. Then begin to co-create a plan to help them reach their learning goals. Setting high expectations, along with providing personalized resources, tools, strategies, and supports can significantly increase equity in your school. Additionally, hold these students equally accountable to others and instill a sense of accountability to themselves, their families and their community. This helps to build their character, confidence, and their consciousness about who they are and how they want to show up in this world.
Finally, check your internal dialog and your breakroom conversations about these students. Are there themes that continue to perpetuate a single narrative about students in the gap? These biases interfere with our practices and bias how we provide equitable student learning opportunities. Challenge yourself and your colleagues to have an atypical conversation about students in the gap. Consider starting the conversation from an asset-based perspective and envision how you can empower students to use their voices to write their own narrative and practice positive self-expression. There’s immense power in the story of students. You can use these narratives to help change the perceptions within your learning community and truly start to transform your classrooms into equitable spaces that provide engaging learning experiences for all of your students.