Policy Matters Blog

Advancing Equity Through Social Justice Action

As professionals, school psychologists play a critical role in addressing inequities and injustices, both in and out of schools, to ensure all students have full and equal participation in high-quality education. While there have been many research contributions to the field of social justice, including definitions of social justice, culturally sustaining pedagogy, and culturally responsive teaching, we must pay more attention to actions school psychologists can take to break down the barriers that create educational inequities for students. This action is where the possibilities of equitable opportunities for all children are born.  

Once we have engaged in professional development and have a true understanding of and commitment to engaging in social justice advocacy, the next step is to apply this newfound knowledge where there are obvious inequities in education. However, best practices on the application of social justice advocacy to address inequities are not always readily available. Additionally, advocating for social justice is not always comfortable or easy and requires intentional planning for district and school leaders to embrace the need for change. School psychologists must be prepared to speak up and address inequities to ensure that the distribution of resources to students is equitable (matched to meet their unique needs) and that all students are physically and psychologically safe and secure. School psychologists are well positioned to begin this important conversation to challenge educational systems at the local, state, and federal levels to design policies and practices that are inclusive of all children. Listed below are a few intentional and specific actions that school psychologists may consider to develop social justice advocacy skills and advance equity in education. You can also consult NASP’s Policy PlaybookReady to Learn, Empowered to Teach, and resources on diversity and social justice to inform your actions.  

  1. Be an active participant or contributor to a review of districtor school policiesand procedures.  
    • Actions: 
      • Provide recommended edits for district or school handbooks or other policy documents, or revisit policies that serve to push students out.  
      • Incorporate restorative practices as an alternative model for discipline and share the current research to support such practices. 
      • Encourage districts and schools to create a statement in support of equity, diversity, and inclusion practices for district and school websites.  
  1. Review district andschool data through equity lenses by analyzing variables such asgender, ethnicity, academic outcome data, perception data (students, staff, and parents), discipline, attendance, academics, and free and reduced price lunch status. 
    • Actions: 
      • Create guiding questions that help stakeholder teams examine students’ access to resources and support in a safe and welcoming school environment. 
      • With a multidisciplinary team, troubleshoot any obvious trends to minimize barriers for students’ academic, behavioral, and social–emotional success. 
      • Reinforce the use of a multitiered system of supports framework to meet the unique needs of every child to increase student success. 
  1. Speak up when districtor school practices are considered a direct violation of students’or Parents' civil rights or of the ethical obligation for all education professionals to do no harm. 
    • Actions: 
      • Consult and share reliable sources for important federal or state mandates that clearly articulate legal requirements for school districts with the appropriate district or school leaders. 
      • Contribute suggestions for a standardized process (to include a review of various sources of data) for funding allocations and selection of curriculum materials, personnel, and other supports for students. 
      • Engage families and communities as often as possible to provide additional insight into existing concerns and needs, and partner with organizations and businesses that will serve as additional resources to help meet those needs. 

In a September Policy Matters blog, we looked at reconnecting with our passion for advocacy and winning friends and influencing people to be more successful and inclusive with our efforts. Our next mission is to step outside of our comfort zones as school psychologists and engage in social justice advocacy to dismantle the inequities that exist in education. Many school psychologists are in positions where inequities happen on a daily basis. Some may not be aware of these inequities because of a lack of social justice knowledge or self-reflection on cultural biases, prejudices, or beliefs. Others may be aware but uncomfortable with or unsure of how to engage in social justice advocacy. Regardless of where we fall on this continuum, school psychologists have a duty to advocate for children’s rights to an equitable education. 

If school psychologists hold a common belief that all students should have access to the support they need to access the same opportunities for success, then all school psychologists should be able to comfortably advocate for marginalized students. As school psychologists, we should be a voice for the voiceless and meet our ethical responsibility to act on social injustices that are prevalent in educational systems at the local, state, or federal levels. Effective change means intentional action to address systemic inequities to create a better tomorrow for the next generation of students. Taking steps to advocate for social justice can create greater access to valuable resources for students and families, increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes for students in school and in life.  

What actions will you take today to improve education inequities that exist in your district and school? I encourage you to commit to one action that you will take as a social justice advocate and encourage your peers and colleagues to do the same. If you believe every student should be afforded the same access to high-quality education in a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment, then taking action is a reasonable next step. Let’s do our part to break down the walls of inequity and help students reach their unlimited potential. 

This blog is part of a series of posts written by members of the NASP GPR Committee. Read the previous post here.