The BELE Network

Oct 15, 2020

19 min read

Building Equitable Learning Environments in Crisis Mode

By The BELE Network

In September, BELE Network Learning Partners, Camille Farrington of the UChicago Consortium on School Research and Dave Paunesku of PERTS, led a webinar explaining the BELE framework and a discussion on how educators can build equitable learning environments, even during a crisis. They were joined by Maurice Swinney, the Chief Equity Officer at Chicago Public Schools, and D’Andre Weaver, Superintendent at DeSoto ISD, who shared real life examples of how they’re prioritizing equity in schools in their district.

For the full video, as well as a recap of the webinar and key clips, read on.


What is an equitable learning environment from the BELE Network perspective? [3:23–9:51]

Equitable learning environments are measured by their outcomes, which BELE defines as above. These outcomes emerge when students have certain developmental experiences over time.

These powerful experiences highlighted above can better engage students as learners and help them fulfill their potential. The BELE Network is challenging educators to ask students what they’re experiencing in school and to take systematic steps to ensure that every one of their students gets to experience these conditions.

When schools affirm students’ culture and sense of belonging, student engagement and learning increases, from GPA to attendance.

What is the BELE Framework? What are its components? [11:01–15:51)

Over the last four years, the BELE Network collectively developed this framework that centers the student experience. It’s critical not to silo any one part of the learning experience, from teaching and learning, schoolwide systems and structures, family, caregiver, and community partnerships, and district and state policies.

This framework aims to integrate across all of these efforts while acknowledging that student experience is what anchors everything else.

The framework is made up of four domains that impact the student experience. Each of these domains has a set of core commitments and practices that are culled from the best of research on the science of learning and development and best thinking on how to create culturally responsive environments.

The commitments are just as important as the practices, because they can help check your actions and policies to see if they’re aligned with equitable learning practices.

The full list of core practices and commitments start at page 8 of the BELE framework.

What exactly does an anti-racist learning environment look like, and how can the BELE Framework help someone create one in their school/district? — D’Andre Weaver [16:20–22:36]

How can the BELE framework be used by teachers and school or system-level leaders? — Dr. Maurice Swinney [23:21–24:47]

The real question is what is the student experience in schools?

Courtesy of Rovonna Baldwin

When you think about remote learning, how do you really center equity during remote learning? And what’s some of the guidance that you would offer up? And again, what is there in the BELE framework that speak to this? What would you say to folks, to your peers watching, what’s most important for people to center now? [26:22–32:00]

Dr. Maurice Swinney:

D’Andre Weaver:

What is the role of students and family voice and participation in that process, and how do you bring in students and families in a really meaningful way to shape the work that you do? — D’Andre Weaver [32:42–35:03]

How do you think about meaningfully elevating student voice, including students and families in what you’re doing? — Dr. Maurice Swinney [35:20–38:04]

How would you include the arts, music, and creativity to address the issues that we’ve been discussing so far? — D’Andre Weaver [38:37–40:50]

REUTERS/Brendan O’Brien

How do we help staff fully embrace and understand how to build an equitable SEL environment and how it relates to equity? Especially when people are often scared to address these topics, how do you build that buy-in to what can be a tricky conversation? [41:18–45:53]

D’Andre Weaver:

Dr. Maurice Swinney:

Can you suggest any resources or publications for those who are interested in learning more about race conscious SEL in particular? [46:22–47:43]

Dr. Maurice Swinney:

D’Andre Weaver:

Additional Resources: