Assemble an Appropriate Team

No one person working alone can address long-standing systemic inequities in an educational system. Moreover, because equity work touches so many parts of a district or school, it frequently requires working across departments and schools. To successfully address the success gaps, your district or school will need to assemble an equity team.

There are five crucial items for you to consider and act upon when building this equity team.

Key Terms

Equity team, also referred to as just “team” in this toolkit, refers to a representative group of individuals assembled together to problem-solve long-standing systemic inequities in an educational system.

Five crucial items for you to consider and act upon when building this equity team

Mission and Goal

When leaders recruit potential equity team members, it is essential to clearly articulate the purpose and expectations of the team’s work. Be sure to communicate to each member the reasons their participation is vital. Emphasize that this is not just an obligatory meeting during which team members “go through the motions” and check off the requisite tasks. Instead, everyone should understand the important role their participation plays toward achieving each meeting’s outcome.

Consider the following:

Common goal
  • What changes are you asking team members to work toward?
  • What outcomes are you hoping to achieve together?
Need for openness
  • How will you encourage and support team members to share their own experiences and expertise?
  • How will you encourage and support team members to be welcoming and accepting of others’ experiences and expertise, especially when different from their own?
Time commitment
  • How often will the team meet and for how long?
  • Are you asking team members for a short-term commitment as your district or school determines and prioritizes actionable root causes, or are you asking them for a longer-term commitment that requires them to participate in developing and implementing an action plan?
Preparation expectation
  • How will you support team members’ preparation (e.g., asking them to review information from the resource list prior to the first meeting about the process or about the success gap(s) you will be discussing)?
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Roles and Responsibilities

The equity team composition is critical to the process of identifying the root cause(s) of success gaps. Having varied perspectives provides the best chance to identify the policies, procedures, and practices that may limit opportunities for some groups of children and students. Some schools or districts form a new cross-departmental team or repurpose an existing team with the specific mission of improving equitable opportunities.

When selecting team members, it is important to consider a cross-representation of stakeholders. These stakeholders include educators, support personnel, and people who have experience working with the group(s) of children you identified in the success gap statement. Representation should also include youth, families, and community partners knowledgeable about the group of children on whom the success gap work will focus. Including those with “lived experience” helps ensure all perspectives are represented, considered, and valued.

Below further describes the suggested team membership. Keep in mind that it is likely that you will need to add additional voices throughout the process as you learn more about what is causing—and what is required to resolve—your success gap(s).

Team Members

  • Representative of the
    District or School

    A designated representative of the district or school, often a curriculum director or school principal, who can influence change in policy and procedures, contributes to understanding of the education curriculum, and has knowledge of district or school resources

  • Family Representatives

    Persons who represent the group of children experiencing the success gap and will participate as full and equal members of the team

  • General Education and Special Education Professionals

    Staff (both certified and classified) who work with a range of student groups, including those identified as part of the success gap (e.g., if the gap is between English learners and students who are not English learners, ensure that professionals working with both groups are represented), and who serve as an expert in universal instruction as well as multi-tiered intervention

  • Students

    Students of an age and maturity level, with an interest in and willingness to participate, who can be included in meetings as appropriate

  • Educational Professionals Who Can Provide and Interpret Data

    Individuals with experience collecting, analyzing, and explaining district and school data (e.g., school psychologist, school counselor)

  • Community Partners

    Individuals from other child- and family-serving organizations, particularly those who can speak from lived experience to the issue relevant to the group of children identified in the success gap

Assemble an Appropriate Team

Take a moment to listen to how including team members with lived experience and decisionmaking authority will result in a stronger team that will be able to develop an effective plan.

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Effective Group Processes

Group process refers to how a team works together to accomplish its outcomes. Typically, leaders spend a great deal of time and energy setting and striving to reach goals, often with little attention to the process the team will follow together to accomplish its goals. To facilitate a productive meeting and encourage thoughtful discussion, the facilitator you select can establish a schedule and plan for team meetings and a structure that facilitates engagement as discussed below.

The Success Gaps Toolkit is flexible so that your equity team can work through the process in the way that fits your district’s or school’s unique needs and resources.

To set up team meetings, you will need to consider

  • Frequency of meetings
  • Length of time the team can meet
  • How much time team members can devote to the work outside of meetings
  • How you will keep team members engaged over time and/or rotate team membership

These factors will determine how quickly your team can move through the success gaps process. Remember that your goal is to produce sustainable change, not complete the process within a specific time frame. You may need time to develop buy-in from colleagues and determine how to best weave your equity improvement efforts with existing plans and initiatives in which your district or school is engaged.

As you and your team think about how to structure your team’s work through the process, you’ll want to think about the amount of time your team will be able to devote to the work and on what schedule. The Success Gaps Handbook has additional information and examples of ways teams with different blocks of available time might structure their success gaps work. Keep in mind that what is most important is that your team work through the success gaps process, one step at a time. Your team can tackle one task in a meeting or several tasks, depending on the amount of time your team can devote to the process.

Once you decide the time frame for your meetings, consider ways you might structure the team’s work. Below are some examples.


Before the meeting

  • Ensure team members are not clustered in one area (e.g., family members, district personnel), and create a balanced seating arrangement (e.g., use round tables)
  • For in-person meetings, provide name tags or name tents that will aid participants in addressing each other during the meeting
  • Prepare participant and facilitation agendas to help manage time and expectations of the meeting

Beginning of the meeting

  • Create group awareness of how each individual will contribute, beginning the meeting with introductions that include a description of each person’s role
  • Provide a clear understanding of what you expect of participants to support the shared mission and goals
  • Post a visual agenda and provide a copy for every member, noting the allotted time for each of the meeting’s various components
  • Be sure to begin and end the meeting on time
  • Assign organizational meeting roles during the meeting to guide the group processes, maintain momentum, and promote the best use of time
    • Support efforts for all participants, regardless of their role, to work together to ensure the meeting proceeds smoothly
    • Confirm the five key organizational meeting roles for the equity team: (a) the equity lead, (b) the meeting facilitator, (c) the data lead, (d) the notetaker, and (e) the timekeeper; these roles are further explained in the Helpful Resources section below

During the meeting

  • Provide various ways for participants to voice their thoughts during the meeting, such as the following:
    • Discuss first with a partner or small group
    • Add their thoughts anonymously to an online group document
  • Monitor meeting productivity
    • Consider calling for a break if team members appear to be growing frustrated or tired
    • Ask the team to consider scheduling another meeting to continue the discussion if the team is not making progress or the meeting is running long
  • Plan appropriately for virtual meetings
    • Consider and plan for how the virtual format could affect the flow and length of the meeting
    • Consider the technology that will allow stakeholders to participate and share in an equitable way. Examples include:
      • Arranging multiple methods for team members to interact and contribute their ideas, such as shared editable documents, digital whiteboards, breakout rooms, etc.
      • Utilizing the relevant functions in the meeting platform (e.g., polls, chat rooms)
    • Consider the resources list for additional information about planning effective virtual team meetings

After the meeting

  • Design a way for participants to provide feedback about the meeting (e.g., use +Plus/Δ Delta activity, use poll questions)
  • Follow up on participant feedback by providing a summary of the feedback (e.g., via email, at the beginning of the next meeting)
  • Consider ways to incorporate team member suggestions into future meetings

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Ground Rules

Planning for your first team meeting

Careful planning will help your meeting run smoothly. By ensuring a cross-representation of stakeholders in the process, the equity team increases its ability to look more deeply at areas of potential success gaps. However, because the topics participants raise in equity conversations can be sensitive, it is important to acknowledge that team member(s) representing certain groups may have more or less agency and power in society and schools. This imbalance of agency and power can affect how team members interact with one another. Therefore, it is crucial before, during, and after each meeting to ensure all voices are heard and valued, especially those representing the group(s) of children and youth being discussed.

Plan carefully to ensure equity of voice to make it easier for everyone to participate and to set the tone for a productive meeting. Simple steps, like arranging seating in a circle, and providing multiple ways for participants to voice their thoughts beyond speaking up in the meeting (e.g., providing options for discussing first with a partner or small group, or adding their thoughts anonymously to an online group document) can make it easier for everyone to participate. As this is a team that will meet repeatedly, it may be valuable to spend time developing terms of reference, which also includes establishing norms of behavior (i.e., group norms, ground rules).

  • Terms of reference refers to decisions regarding how a group of people agree to work together (e.g., interact, communicate) to accomplish common goals
  • Norms of behavior are guidelines that describe specific actions and behaviors that team members should take to promote collaboration

At a minimum, setting group norms together can help set the tone for a productive meeting. Teams do not need a lot of established norms to work well together, but having agreed-upon expectations that the team applies consistently can significantly improve how your team solves problems and makes decisions. While the equity lead and meeting facilitator may sketch out initial plans for the work, the team may choose to develop these agreed-upon norms together. By creating expectations together, you will help the team promote a shared responsibility for ensuring team members adhere to the agreed-upon norms during each meeting.

Things to Consider

Possible Areas to Consider When Creating Norms of Behavior

  • What constitutes respectful behavior toward other team members?
    • What are the expectations regarding attendance, agenda, and boundaries of time?
    • ­Do all team members use the same words to mean the same thing?
  • How does a team member engage fully in the meeting?
    • What discussion style (e.g., structured vs. unstructured, case study) is appropriate for this meeting?
    • Should the facilitator call on a person before he or she speaks?
  • How do team members communicate before, during, and between team meetings?
    • ­What information should members receive before a meeting?
    • Are interruptions OK? What about side conversations?
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It is crucial that each team member actively engages in the decisionmaking process. To do so, make sure the facilitator ensures that team members understand the distinction between dialogue and discussion and that both are a part of the decisionmaking process.

  • Dialogue is an initial conversation that takes place between team members during the meeting. In a dialogue, there is a free flow of communication as people exchange their ideas and respond to others’ thoughts. During a dialogue, there is no advocacy for one idea or theory over another between team members. During this part of the process, team members should be open to the ideas of others.
  • Discussion is quite different from a dialogue. Discussions are decision-based. Unlike participants in dialogue, people in discussion want the group to accept their views. During this part of the decisionmaking process, the flow of ideas is often disrupted as people attempt to present and advocate for their opinion or recommendation.

Knowing where the group is in the decisionmaking process (i.e., whether in dialogue or discussion) is an essential distinction regarding their level of advocacy. It is the difference between seeking to understand and seeking to be understood.

On those occasions when team members do not agree, the facilitator is responsible for making certain that all ideas, opinions, and concerns are considered during the discussion period of the decisionmaking process. Although not all team members will get what they want, the team can move forward when each member agrees that he or she can live with the final decision.

Even though consensus may not always be reached, it can be achieved more reliably by

  • Seeking input from all team members
  • Listening to others
  • Identifying area(s) in which compromise is needed
  • Asking questions to achieve clarity and promote understanding of perspectives
  • Brainstorming possible solutions
  • Listing the most viable solution(s) and discussing the pros and cons of each
  • Selecting one or more solutions that the entire team can support
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Up Next:
Prepare and Share Data About the Success Gaps

Prepare and share multiple sources of data in advance about the success gap to uncover details needed to refine your success gap statement.