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teachers discussing DEI strategies

About The Author

Jane has considerable experience in the world of international education. She first became involved in teacher and educational leader recruitment while working in Abu Dhabi. Over eight years, Jane worked with colleagues and agencies organizing extensive recruitment campaigns around the globe. Today, Jane uses her knowledge and experience to support schools and organizations in the design and fulfilment of their recruitment goals.

Like most teachers, much of my world revolves around the classroom. Whether I’m visiting another school, participating in a workshop, or reading a book or blog about organizational leadership, I tend to think of classroom applications.

Sometimes it’s a unique storage idea or an approach to a challenging situation, or maybe it’s simply an innovative yet engaging approach. Regardless, my professional curiosity is piqued.

Recently, a McKinsey and Company newsletter about the state of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives caught my eye.

The gist of the newsletter, “It’s (past) time to get strategic about DEI” (May 10, 2023), acknowledged the challenges many companies and organizations encounter in their efforts to maintain systemic momentum for DEI strategic initiatives.

DEI issues are not solely the purview of industry and business. Over the past several years, educational organizations, systems, and schools around the world have been reviewing policies and practices, creating awareness, and setting targets to successfully address DEI concerns in areas such as recruitment, strategic planning, policy and procedure, or resource allocation. As I read the article, I began to wonder what teachers might do when they see evidence of waning energy and commitment for DEI goals.

The article suggests five steps organizations might take to mitigate any malaise and get everybody back on track. Having donned my teacher or principal hat, I recalled many conversations with novice and experienced teachers alike who were attempting to establish and further DEI goals in their classrooms. The more I read, the more I recognized potential and practical classroom applications for each of the five steps in today’s classroom: Aspire, Assess, Architect, Act, and Advance.

As I briefly discuss each, I invite teacher readers to reflect on their efforts to embed a school community’s vision for DEI, fairness, and justice in their classrooms and consider how these ideas (and others) might facilitate and perhaps ameliorate their efforts.

5 Steps You Can Take To Foster Your School’s DEI Strategies

Aspire – Start with your school’s vision and priorities, and talk about your goals and what you want to see in the classroom. Be realistic and work with your students to create achievable goals and targets. Encourage students to share their experiences, hopes, fears, or anxieties through mind maps or storyboards, media presentations, displays, or word walls. If you are new to the school, I suggest starting small.

Assess – As the classroom teacher, what do you know about your current practice? What qualitative or quantitative data do you have that informs your actions and thinking right now? Consider where you typically stand – are your words and gestures equally accessible to all students? Ask students or a colleague to map out your movements – do you spend more time in some areas than others? Reflect on who gets your attention – to what extent are your interactions and responses equitable?

Architect – Once you have the data, you can develop a plan. Take time to ensure that your ideas align with the school and organizational vision and policy, as well as community values and context. Share with your students what you’ve learned, as well as your hopes and plans to address any areas of concern, engaging their ideas and seeking their support. As a role model, your openness to learn and adapt will speak volumes.

Act – Given the energy and excitement generated by the aspirations, it is at this step that it is very easy to get sidetracked or overwhelmed. Invite the support and resources of your school community – colleagues, administrators, and parents. Pay equal attention to your DEI goals and your instructional/curricular responsibilities, and consider how you might integrate the two.

Advance – How are you doing? What evidence of progress is there? Engage students by tracking your progress on dashboards, graphs, and visuals. Reflect on changes in attitudes and actions through creative writing or role plays. Don’t be too quick to judge; celebrate quick wins and be open to changing direction if something doesn’t seem to be working. Share your successes with colleagues and classes throughout the school. Progress builds momentum.

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Cultivate trust and commitment

Remember that trust and commitment are foundational to each step, especially when addressing DEI issues. As teachers, we must accept that we are always open to those everyday, sometimes inexplicable, professional “a-ha” moments, and as teachers, we must recognize that we are constantly striving for our students, regardless of background or boundary, to believe in and advocate for a socially just and equitable society. Celebrate the fact that creating a classroom that reflects such values is a good place to start.

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