Exploring A Teacher-Driven Approach For Advancing Racial Equity in Education

Reflections on a new model, with highlighted insights & action steps for leaders
An initiative of Business Innovation Factory in partnership with  Pacific Educational Group, and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


How might we transform the values, norms, and practice of the classroom?
How might we activate teachers to change not only what is taught, but how it is taught,
how teachers and students engage, and how school communities learn and grow together?

(McKinsey, 2009)

Discourse on race and student success has largely revolved around measures of academic performance; however, the achievement gaps noted across racial and cultural lines are indicators of deeper problems: a lack of racial consciousness and the presence of systemic racism.

The current U.S. public school system is built on the beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes valued by white culture. With schools becoming increasingly racially diverse, it is imperative to eliminate the practices and cultural messages that are detrimental to the wellbeing of students of color and their ability to thrive academically.

Problems stemming from systemic racism often manifest on the classroom level. Racial and cultural disconnects between teachers and administrators, and students often leads to miscommunication, disengagement, and disproportionate penalization.


The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) helps education leaders explore, test, and scale next practices and new models, tackling complex, systemic issues through human-centered design and rapid prototyping. BIF seeks to understand challenges and identify opportunities from the perspective of end users – teachers and students – and to quickly develop and test solutions in the real world.
Educational equity is a system-wide issue that cannot be approached as a bolt-on to existing teaching and administrative practices; it must be at the core of every effort throughout the education system, interwoven into strategies on administrative levels and incorporated into everyday teaching practices. Many current initiatives provide inconsistent, narrow-focused point solutions that fail to address the core underlying issues surrounding racial inequity.
Many racial equity initiatives are also top-down administrative mandates that fail to tap into the catalytic power of organic, teacher-driven change. Teachers are the first responders and advocates within the system; they see racial dynamics being played out in the classroom and can bring valuable insight from the classroom back into the rest of the education system. The goal to advance racial equity must be supported at every level, but most importantly, teachers must be supported in accomplishing this work in order for significant impact to take place.

With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BIF was tasked with developing and testing a new model that used a system-focused, teacher-driven approach to advancing racial equity in education.



BIF hypothesized that certain components need to exist in a new model in order to promote racially equitable practices in school communities. Some of these components include: a catalyst for shifting mindsets to see and understand racial dynamics, trainings for teachers to effectively engage in interracial dialogue; exploration activities around change, action plan development tools; and a vehicle for spreading teacher-driven impact.

In order to enable individuals to see and understand racial dynamics at play and to instigate conversations around change, BIF sought out a tested racial equity framework, and partnered with Pacific Educational Group (PEG) to drive effective conversations around race.

To investigate the problem space and develop action plans to enact change strategies, BIF employed its participatory design methodology. This methodology invites stakeholders to explore opportunities for change and provides structure for navigating complex issues in a human-centered, implementable way.

To promote teacher-driven impact and enable the spreading of learnings within school communities, BIF employed a community of practice implementation approach. Communities of practice are groups of people who share a craft or profession and who join together to engage in a process of collective learning and action. Communities of practice, in an education setting, allow teachers to self-organize around topics of their choosing and position teachers to learn from and with one another on pressing issues related to their work, such as racial equity.


Using PEG’s racial equity framework and BIF’s participatory design methods, BIF and PEG developed a fellowship – a community of practice – to address issues regarding racial equity, and recruited current and emerging teacher leaders from 4 states to participate.

Participants took part in 3 two-day learning retreats, online training sessions, and regional meetups in order to receive coaching from BIF and PEG facilitators over the course of 11 months. During the program the 20 fellows built local communities of practice focused on racial equity, and collectively reached over 220 teachers, school administrators, and students through their work.

Through this program, BIF was able to test the new model with teachers, education leaders, and students, and to develop learnings around conducting racial equity work in a system-focused, teacher-driven way.




Educational equity is raising the achievement of all students, while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest performing students and eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories.” -Glenn Singleton (2015)

“My students lived experiences continually interface with racial inequities,
and I believe many of them can and would lend critical insights on the ways
in which the school system can support varying learning styles, be culturally
responsive, and equip students to deal with institutional biases as they
pursue options after high school.”
– Naadu Blankson Seck, High School Teacher


Drawing from the 3 key learnings about the model, we have created toolkits to help teachers and school leaders engage in personal inquiry, establish communities of practice, and think through issues of racial equity with a systems-focused lens.

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