I have noticed both an encouraging and a discouraging pattern when it comes to schools, school districts, and organizations looking at professional learning in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). On one hand you have the ever increasing awareness around the importance and critical need for learning growth in this area. On the other hand, this increase has led to the inevitable “mistakes,” box checking, and flat out educational malpractice when it comes to this work. While I am one of many voices on this topic (I hope you are learning from more than one), I felt compelled to share some strategies around developing a meaningful DEI plans so the many common and consistent mistakes I see made are likely to be avoided.
In doing this work it is critical to have the support, which is key, and the active participation from those in leadership positions. Merely mandating or treating equity work as “just another PD” will not only diminish the value, it will also lead to a mindset that it is of very low value. This also continues to shift the focus from the true locus of change, educators working with the students. Not sure what I mean, do an anonymous survey of teachers, employees, etc. and ask how valuable most find all of those professional development workshops in which a leader is not present and actively participating. I also recommend follow-up reflections and assessment to see how truly effective that “one day workshop” on this topic really was.
One area I find lacking is in a full understanding of each of those “terms.” I use the word terms in quotes because I sincerely hope that many of them are not treated as merely terms but rather mindsets that are directly correlated to action and thought. I will share more on each of them at the end of this post. Your staff should be able to explain each one and apply it to your specific setting or scenario. A good start to learning this and doing the work would be to review this site page here.
Do identifiers matter?
While I am on the topic of identifiers it is also critical to use specific identifiers. This keeps conversations and interaction on a human level rather than the identifiers being abstract thematic descriptors. By using specifics such as Black, People of Color, Indigenous, etc. conversations take on a specificity necessary for understanding. This also leads to another point, being purposeful and intentional in whom you select to do this work is critical. I have seen far too many instances where both the optics and outcome tell a story of an individual or group leading this work and they are not only ill equipped, but also doing more harm than good. As I generally share, good intentions are not good enough if they don’t yield good results. Here are some questions to consider:
Are you organizing a workshop or “training?” who is the facilitator? Simply choosing a person of color because they “fit the profile” can actually cause more harm than choosing an equally non-qualified person who is not a person of color. What is their background? What is their body of work? How does their life experience support the need for the work in the first place?
As you build and refine your plan it should include specifics for inclusion. A focus on diversity without inclusion is highly likely to be a catalyst for trauma and unsafe conditions to a person of color. This also provides a situation of tokenism and more box checking. A truly inclusive plan ensures that everyone has a voice and that every voice is heard. Heard meaning: welcomed, listened to, responded to, and valued. This will also ensure your plan is purposeful, intentional, and genuine. If your plan does not meet all three criteria it is highly likely nothing more than optics for acceptance rather than action for change. It is important that I also mentioned the cliched use of the term “safe space.” One simple question to ask: Safe for whom? As my good friend Dee Lanier has said, “the worst form of hypocrisy is pretending you care.”
As you continue developing your plan what is the time frame?
This is not work you can microwave and do it in one day, or worse a few hours. We don’t go to therapy on one visit and walk out healed. This is not work that should be looked at as a “one day workshop.” There are so many layers to not only doing this work but having it be sustainable. A one day workshop is no better than not doing it at all. In fact, this is another good way to create false expectations and an incorrect sense of accomplishment. Also does your plan look at your organization/school district as a whole (institution) and then address the parts (individuals) or does it simply treat DEI as an existential idea? Far too often it is the latter and not the former. Additional areas to look at in any plan include: Is the plan dynamic and malleable to adjust for changes in individual ideas, attitudes, and/or behaviors? Or is the plan static and the equivalent of a series of checkboxes? Does it look at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as individual components or does it identify each as essential threads in a quilt of organizational change (I will publish another posting on this topic)?
Does DEI really need the D?
As I conclude, I want to emphasize as well DEI should not need the D for Diversity. If your plan of action is truly inclusive then both equity and diversity will be natural by-products. Inclusion is about ensuring access, involvement, and opportunity. Opportunities to be seen, heard, and valued, where the ideas and perspectives increase the value of the whole rather than the sum of the parts. My primary purpose here is to simply provide added perspective based upon my extensive experiences as well as observations in this area. Remember, it is easy to change policies and procedures, it is much harder to change hearts and minds. For educators, this type of shift is often deeply personal and requires a large amount of introspection. Without this type of process, we will never be able to disrupt an inequitable, hegemonic, and broken system. Hopefully this will serve as a thought provoking conversation starter for you, your department, and your organization.