How We Can Bridge The Cultural Gap

Stages of change outline a path toward equity

By Gregory Peters
Categories: Continuous improvement, Equity
October 2016
Vol. 37 No. 5
American public education has a long-documented pattern of serving, and failing, certain student communities more than others with a predictability based on cultural demographics — especially race and its intersection with gender, class, and language (Center for Public Education, 2012; Hilliard, 1995). If we accept that the U.S. public school system is a manifestation of a history rooted in white supremacy and colonialism, then we can better make meaning of our failure to educate all youth equitably regardless of social predictors and our persistence to strengthen the school system as a hegemonic social structure. As the cultural and experience gap between an increasingly diverse student population and predominantly white, female educators widens, schools continue to rely heavily on the pedagogies, curricula, assessments, and interventions that

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What is an equity walk?

An equity walk is a collaborative process in which school teams gather observational data to take a pulse of the school within a brief snapshot of time. The data serve as one narrative used to explore an agreed-upon focus, such as a critical incident or a larger problem of practice, that contributes to an identified, student-related inequity within the school. While this is a facilitated process, there are general guidelines:

  • The team visits every classroom together.
  • Each visit lasts at least three minutes. The team spends a few minutes after leaving each classroom to share and calibrate examples of evidence.
  • Visits are not classroom observations of any specific teacher, but rather an observation of a school or program as a whole.


In one equity walk, a team chose to focus on patterns of student participation by race and gender for a grade level where an experience gap and achievement gap persisted for its male students of color.

Before conducting the equity walk, the team calibrated examples of authentic, observational data and discussed hopes, fears, and biases that may surface during the observations. They prioritized looking at seating and grouping arrangements as well as coding student-to-student and student- to-teacher discourse.

After an equity walk is complete, the team compiles, shares, and discusses individual observations to identify patterns and outliers and reflect on the findings and related implications for the school and its leadership. During this time, the team also determines next steps to share the equity walk synthesis and analysis with the larger school community.

One school’s strategy that proved particularly effective was to share its equity walk data with a series of probing questions at staff meetings following the walk so that teachers could reflect on the data in relation to their individual practices.


Center for Public Education. (2007). The United States of education: The changing demographics of the United States and their schools. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Hilliard, A.G., III. (1995). The maroon within us: Essays on African American community socialization. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press.

Peters, G. (2012). Teacher transformation: Transcending hegemonic roots (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Department of Educational Leadership, California State University, East Bay, CA.

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Gregory Peters ( is executive director of the San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools.

Categories: Continuous improvement, Equity

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