Maintain equity as a mindset - Digital Promise Verizon Innovative Learning Schools
Equity as a Mindset

Maintain equity as a mindset

Key Takeaway
Because learning and development are fundamentally influenced by the context in which they take place, schools and classrooms should be learner- and community-centered. In the same way, learner-informed knowledge is a prerequisite for integrating technology in an inclusive way so that students from all communities can effectively use it to achieve their goals.

In order to successfully shift to a culture of teaching and learning supported by 1:1 digital technology, equity must stay front-of-mind during all phases of planning and implementation. In a recent Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) survey, IT leaders highlighted digital equity as the most pressing issue, with 97 percent of respondents saying their concerns regarding students’ home access to devices and the internet for remote learning increased since the pandemic began.

It is important to understand each student’s context and experience and how they impact their attitude toward school, technology and learning. Development and learning are complex systems and affected by multiple levels of environment in which an individual lives, from the immediate environment of family, neighborhood, and school, to broader contexts in which families and communities are situated1. Therefore, schools and classrooms should be learner- and community-centered. Lower educational outcomes can be partly explained by the mismatch between students’ home lives and what is required of them in school2.

This means it is necessary to develop an understanding of the particular inequities students might face outside of the school. Educators in high-violence communities, for example, need to be aware that many students may have experienced trauma and understand how to enact trauma-informed teaching practices. Or educators in communities with high numbers of immigrants must be aware that many families from certain countries or mixed documentation status may have heightened concerns about student data collection. In the same way, learner-informed knowledge is a prerequisite for integrating technology in an inclusive way so that students from all communities can effectively use it to achieve their goals. For example, digital resources can be a great equalizer for English learners and can significantly improve their learning by creating more comfortable and effective opportunities for communication, increasing students’ independence in learning, and reducing their anxiety level3. However, digital resources may result in a compounded gap for English learners if leaders purchase and implement them without considering whether their design is appropriate for use with the linguistic background of their given students and at the intended grade level or whether their teachers are equipped to provide culturally and linguistically responsive support.

Strategies for success:

  • Let the data be your guide: Identify the indicators of diversity in your student population (e.g., racial/ethnic groups, learning differences). This can help you better see where you should start, what types of considerations you should take into account when developing the technology plan, purchasing tools, or designing teacher PD activities. Tools like the Learner Variability Navigator can help you better understand and address the unique needs of each student.
  • Connect with communities: Avoid assumptions about your students’ backgrounds. Connect with communities to collect relevant information about the experiences and needs of different groups of your students in terms of technology use, knowledge, or concerns.
  • Allow your students to have a voice: Listening patiently to students and giving them safe opportunities to share their experiences can lead to deeper understanding around their needs in use of technology and more intentional practice.
Spotlight: Reframing the student experience

A VILS middle school in Louisville, Kentucky, which opened its doors in the fall of 2018 had an 86 percent Black student body. Many schools would refer to these students as “at-risk,” says the school’s VILS coach, but at this school, they are “at-promise. So we have a whole different way of looking at how we want to educate these young men.” With new devices and data plans for every student, learning was not limited to the school building or the school day. In its first year, the school had the highest percentage of growth for African-American male students in the district and was among the most improved middle schools in the state based on test scores over three testing windows. Teachers at the school acknowledged that the devices and access provided by the initiative were among the key reasons for the school’s immediate success.


  1. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2007). The bioecological model of human development. Handbook of child psychology, 1.
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). How people learn II: Learners, contexts, and cultures. National Academies Press.
  3. Liu, M., Navarrete, C.C., & Wivagg, J. (2014). Potentials of mobile technology for K-12 education: An investigation of iPod touch use for English language learners in the United States. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17 (2), 115-126.
    Liu, M., Moore, Z., Graham, L., & Lee, S. (2002). A look at the research on computer-based technology use in second language learning: A review of the literature from 1990–2000. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34 (3), 250-273.
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