The BELE Framework: A Guide to Building Equitable Learning Environments
Overcoming this period of crises — COVID-19 and Systemic Racism — to restore our collective future
By The BELE Network
Over the last few weeks and months, we as a society have been forced to reckon with the deep-rooted systemic inequities laid bare by COVID-19 and recent protests against racial injustice. These conversations may be difficult but they inspire our work and reinforce the necessity of reimagining education for our youth, because equitable schools and classrooms are the foundation of equitable societies.
We recognize educators are being asked to make urgent decisions about budgets, resources and even distributing basic needs to young people and their families. While we are not strangers to the demand of accomplishing more with substantially less, this time is very different. We believe this uniquely challenging moment presents a rare opportunity to center student needs and our collective aspirations in ways that felt impossible before.
The need to pursue equitable, anti-racist policies and practices everywhere has never been more vital. Racism is not something that people are born with, it is taught and learned — oftentimes in the hallways of our schools. In order to move towards a society that is more equitable and just for all people at all levels, we must begin by expelling harmful practices from our education system and creating learning environments that are culturally affirming, anti-racist, and focused on the holistic student experience.
At this crossroads, as a sector, we have a once in a lifetime choice. Will we choose to deliver the educational experiences that students, especially students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, need and deserve — or will we choose to go back to normal, resurrecting learning structures and processes that are undeniably inequitable? There has never been a greater time to come together and rebuild the education system into one that truly serves every student. With the future of a generation at stake, we developed a guide with easy-to-implement practices to support those inspired to get the future right for our young people.
What: The Building Equitable Learning Environments (BELE) Framework is a guide for transforming student experiences and learning outcomes.
- We can only be healthy and strong as a nation when every educational institution is a place where all children can learn, develop and thrive. The evidence and research are abundantly clear. Both confirm two things we know as educators: 1) A young person’s academic, social and emotional development are inextricably linked, and 2) the quality of a child’s learning environment, their experiences and access to opportunity, determines their developmental and academic outcomes.
- Educators, system leaders, communities, and field influencers committed to transforming education systems can use this guide to increase student engagement and agency, support adult development and practice, and ensure schools reliably produce equitable student experiences and outcomes.
Why: We all inherited a public education system that limits possibilities for many young people and reproduces inequities based on race and class. The outdated system ignores current research and science about what students truly need to learn and grow.
- While none of us created this unequal system, it is ours to redesign. From students and teachers to principals and partners, each of us have the power, responsibility and valuable contributions to bring a new vision of education to life. Progress will require new ways of seeing, engaging, and acting on the problems at hand. Leadership, courage and willingness to share power are necessary to co-design new approaches to teaching and learning alongside those most negatively impacted by the current system.
- The BELE Framework, and the accompanying Equitable Learning Library, is not a “how-to” manual but rather a guide for redesigning public school systems using evidence-based tools. These resources will equip us to collectively drive lasting change from the classroom to the state legislature.
How: Equity is a process and an outcome. How you engage in the process is as important as changes you decide to make.
Equitable Learning Environments should be designed so that every student experiences:
- An engaging, intellectually rigorous learning environment
- Physical, emotional, and psychological safety
- Meaningful and relevant work and classroom discourse
- Their cultural, spiritual, and/or ethnic values and practices acknowledged, honored, and respected
- Feeling seen, respected, and cared for by adults and peers
- Opportunities to set and meet goals, and to learn and recover from failure
Equitable Learning Environments should result in the following student outcomes:
- Intellectual curiosity and strong academic skills
- A sense of agency and optimism for the future
- Self-love, self-acceptance, and pride in one’s multiple identities
- Understanding of one’s own and others’ cultural histories and contributions
- Empathy for and meaningful connections with others
Working from these targets, the BELE Framework offers examples of what these theoretical designs look like in practice, laying out each commitment in detail and offering concrete practices and policies that are proven to support students.
- The framework shows how incorporating examples from student’s communities goes a long way towards affirming the personal, cultural, racial, and academic identities of students.
- How adjusting grading structures can offer a better way to track student progress.
- How integrating family, school, and community on a regular basis can work to develop authentic partnerships that advance student success.
- And how adopting restorative, empathic, and student-centered discipline policies can help develop school environments that are more supportive of student safety and wellness.
What’s Next?: At this moment, we recognize school and district leaders feel an urgent need to respond to the massive disruptions to young people’s lives and learning caused by the COVID-19 and racial injustice crises. We know that the biggest educational harm is falling on students who were already overcoming numerous barriers to engagement and success well before this pandemic. We also know that many of those same students face systemic racism and discrimination that lasts long after they leave the classroom. If we can promote equity and anti-racist mindsets in learning environments for our young people, we can take meaningful steps towards creating a more equitable and just society for their future.
Providing rich opportunities to learn is critical and starts with re-engaging, listening to, and building relationships with young people and families. Those furthest from the opportunity can offer the best insight on what they need to succeed. This is how we effectively respond, recover and redesign our systems in ways that are meaningfully responsive to their aspirations and needs and support their well-being.
You can view the full BELE Framework on the BELE Network website.
The BELE Network is dedicated to reimagining our inequitable school system that has failed too many for too long, and is committed to transforming our classrooms into learning environments that nurture the intellectual, emotional and cultural growth of all students — especially students of color.