5 Tips for Cultivating More Diversity in Schools
Summer is the perfect time to plan cultural shifts at school. It’s (relatively) quiet, daily crisis management isn't a factor, and you have time to think deeply about planning your cultural changes all the way through to the end of the next school year.
If culture is “the way we do things around here” and you want to get serious about including more voices at the table to impact the way things are done, then here are five possible ways to start doing just that.
Make Diversity a Human Resources Imperative
“Cultural, ethnic, and gender diversity” is considered “essential… when defining the teaching position.” Aggressively promoting your district to a wider pool of candidates through networking and recruiting strategies will help build a more diverse staff. Attend job fairs in new and different areas of your region, connect with and construct pipelines to more (and more diverse) colleges and universities, and seek opportunities to bring this approach to all areas: teaching, administration, and classified staff/support services. If part of our role as educators is to educate students about the diversity that exists in America and around the world, then that diversity should be reflected within the labor force, and increasing diversity in schools is part of that.
Balance Internal and External Perspectives
Almost every school employs a mix of veteran staff and those with less than five years of experience. There are also usually a few staff members who have made a lateral move to your school. They are veterans in the profession, just not yet in your building. All of these people and personalities bring potential value - and challenges - to your culture. Find the influencers amongst the insiders who can help drive change. Recent arrivals can bring a wealth of experience from their previous districts or from academia and can bring good ideas from those networks.
Perhaps you want to implement a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) initiative. Influential insiders are key to building support, but external staff perspectives are essential, especially if they come from schools/districts that already have effective PBIS programs. If you work in a Professional Learning Communities (PLC) district and want to strengthen your teams, work to ensure that your PLCs are reflective of the different ideas and perspectives in your building. In both examples, discussion and decision making will be filtered through the different perspectives at the table, making the product more vigorous and sustainable as a result.
Build Your Core of Believers
When Anthony Muhammad wrote about overcoming staff division, he talked about the presence of four faculty groups that actively participate in the culture wars of the school: Believers, tweeners, survivors, and fundamentalists. Believers have a growth mindset, believe that every child can learn, and feel a deep connection to the school. Fundamentalists do not believe that every child can learn, reject change, and seek to “close the door and teach” on their terms. Survivors are just plain burned out - in pure “survival mode.” Tweeners could become healthy believers or toxic fundamentalists depending on leadership and their colleagues.
For a more diverse culture, you need more believers. Because believers are more open to different perspectives and change, building your believer base will lead to a more open and diverse culture for all. Pay attention to and give your tweeners opportunities to participate and grow and they will become your believers. Your school culture will improve, allowing you to move forward in new and powerful ways.
Utilize a Diverse Range of Digital Tools to Reach a Diverse Range of Learners
Using a variety of digital tools increases access to and engagement with the curriculum, especially for students with special needs. Access tools, such as text-to-speech software, and student response tools, such as Plickers or Nearpod, increase the accessibility of content for all and increase the amount of feedback the teacher can gather during a lesson, addressing more students’ needs. Your learning management system (LMS) should help you organize and embed these tools in one location, making for a more productive classroom and student learning experience.
Technology can also be used to explore diversity itself. For example, in the early elementary grades, students could use digital cameras to bring pictures of their home life in to school to create a digital collage. Youngsters could also use digital voice recorders to capture the sounds of their home culture to share with the class by working with the teacher to edit and upload them to a class website. Better yet, even our youngest learners could combine the pictures with the sound to create a digital mash-up and a true digital work of art celebrating what makes their family life unique!
Ensure the Diversity of the Curriculum
When a diverse range of students sees their faces reflected in the school’s curriculum, self-esteem increases and all students develop increased awareness of and appreciation for cultural variety. Does your school balance state-mandated Western curriculum with opportunities to learn about non-Western cultures? Do you offer a diverse range of electives? Do your art and music programs reflect a world perspective? Remember, teachers who incorporate more diversity in schools are also more likely to be promoting better student-to-student interaction, deep learning, and engaging classroom praxis.
Unity in Diversity…
…to steal the phrase from the House of Blues. A diverse school culture reflects the needs of all learners and is much more interesting than some kind of dystopian cookie-cutter society. When you cultivate a more diverse culture at your school, supported and enhanced by technology tools and your school’s LMS, your school becomes a place where every student (and adult!) feels welcome, valued, and can learn.
What do you think about diversity in schools? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology