Centering Children in the Educational Experience - Kristopher J. Childs, Ph.D. at Education Week Leadership Symposium 2022

At the Education Week Leadership Symposium 2022, Open Up Resources Chief Academic, Equity, & Social Justice Officer, Dr. Kristopher J. Childs emphasized how children should be at the center of the educational experience while exploring who is being served by the educational system, and how high-quality instructional materials play a role.

Education Week Leadership Symposium is K-12 education's premier leadership event, where school and district leaders discuss the top issues and challenges confronting leaders today.

During Dr. Childs’ presentation, he asked the audience: “In your educational environment does every child under your purview see themselves authentically represented throughout their educational experience?”

He explained why access to high-quality curriculum with diverse representation is at the root of creating a better learning environment for every child.

WATCH: Dr. Kristopher J. Childs presents at the EdWeek Leadership Symposium 2022

Dr. Childs jumped in with Open Up Resources’ baseline of classroom equity:The state that would be achieved if children fared the same way in society regardless of race, gender, class, language, dis/ability, physical, or any other social or cultural characteristic. In practice, equity means all children receive necessary supports and opportunities in a timely fashion so they can develop their full intellectual, social, emotional, and physical potential. In order to achieve equity, adults organizing the learning opportunities must be willing to alter traditional beliefs and practices that promote success for all children.”

Most audiences members pointed to the last line of this definition as the most striking – noting that adult educational leaders must be willing to alter traditional beliefs and practices for the betterment of all children. 

The next question then, is how leaders in education are able to create a better learning environment for all children, and how can the system change so that every child has access to a high-quality educational experience? “Not how do we change the children,” he noted, “How do we change the system?”

Citing The Opportunity Myth, he listed the four key resources children spend most of their time without accessing:

  • Grade-appropriate assignments
  • Strong instruction
  • Deep engagement 
  • Teachers who hold high expectations 

This is in part due to the fact that teachers are trying to figure out a lot on their own on top of an already crushing workload. He noted that teachers spend an average of 12 hours per week searching for or creating their own materials. About 90% of these teachers are using Google to find lessons, and 72-80% of teachers use materials developed by themselves or their colleagues at least once a week.

He asks educational leaders how they can give teachers this time back: “And not give them time back to give them something else to do. How can we give teachers time back so they can rest, reflect, and use their minds to be innovative within their classroom structures?”

Part of the answer is providing teachers what they need, families resources that they need, and ultimately getting children what they need through curriculum materials. Access to high-quality materials increases engagement throughout the ecosystem and has been proven to improve student achievement while also ensuring students are receiving grade level work. When coupled with professional learning, the impact is even greater.

And within that curriculum, it is critical that there is diverse representation. In his presentation, Dr. Childs plays a clip from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop who discusses her piece, Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors. She explains that diverse books are important because all children need to be able to see reflections of themselves or their "mirrors." Books can also provide "windows" to see into others’ worlds, and they can give "sliding glass doors" to enter another world. She explains: “Diversity needs to go both ways. It's not just those who have been underrepresented or marginalized who need these books, but also important for the children who always find their mirrors in their books and therefore get an exaggerated sense of their own self worth and a false sense of what the world is like. Because it is becoming more and more colorful and diverse as time goes on.”

Ultimately, Dr. Childs emphasized that educational leaders should be providing high quality materials, tools and supports for teachers to provide diverse experiences for children, engaging with families, and creating more advocates in the education space. Every one of these things ensures “we’re doing right by our children, each and every day in our respective environments.”