The Vision: Racial Equity

Design Challenge:

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?

Our Approach

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.

New Model

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, training 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.

Teacher Experience

Over the course of a year, fellows listened, observed, and gathered their colleagues to figure out how they could better serve the needs of their students of color. Here are the stories and learnings from Erica, Derrick, and Amy.

High School ESL and History Teacher

“My students already have a voice, how am I allowing them to use that voice productively?”

High School Reading Teacher

“I try to get to my students’ hearts.”

Elementary School EL Teacher

“What is it about what we say ‘is a great student’ and why are our black students not included?”

Key Learnings

An understanding of one’s own racial identity and experience is essential for effectively targeting structures and mental models that perpetuate racial disparities in education.

Many school leaders and teachers have the desire to address issues of equity in their school communities, but they often immediately take action without first gaining awareness of their own racial identities, experiences, and beliefs. Without this awareness, the attempt to address the needs of students of color may rely on inaccurate assumptions that lead to ineffective or harmful actions. School communities must first create a culture of continuous reflection with people of different racial backgrounds in order to raise the collective racial consciousness that must underlie any future initiatives aiming to unlock success for students of color.

Understanding others’ experiences is not enough. When trying to change a system in which one plays a significant role, individuals must gain fluency in the language and concepts surrounding race and equity in order to develop consciousness around how race impacts oneself and others.

Addressing issues of racial equity in school communities requires that we reduce the professional-personal divide that hinders vulnerable, courageous conversations.

Enacting change requires the ability to navigate uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Whether teachers are working with new colleagues or ones with whom they have had a long-term professional relationship, it can be difficult to build trust and create a space for open, authentic dialogue around race without sharing personal racial backgrounds and experiences. Embracing vulnerability and discomfort when conversing about racial issues accelerates learning around how to address issues of racial inequity in school communities.

Disrupting the culture of silence around conversations about race, and moving the topic of race and racial issues from side conversations to the main focus furthers the ability for teachers, students, and other educators to identify viable paths for change.

Teachers must be able to discern problems generated from the underlying structures and beliefs that perpetuate educational inequity in order to develop effective practices that go beyond point solutions.

Close proximity to students and the will to promote racial equity do not adequately prepare teachers to approach the problem of systemic racial inequity. Racial disparity within education is a complex issue. Without the ability to distinguish problems generated from individual events versus invisible structures and beliefs that maintain educational inequity, individuals may produce point solutions that, at their best, treat symptoms and, at their worst, continue to support structures and beliefs that do not value the needs of students of color.

Strong teacher-student relationships and familiarity with the local community offer teachers experiential knowledge of racial dynamics. However, in order to increase teachers’ ability to provide leadership to other teachers and proactively address issues of classroom equity, teachers must be trained to navigate and think about problems systemically.

“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)