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Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, has become a hot topic in schools. Despite political differences of opinion, a mounting body of research demonstrates that a focus on equity, done right, can create a culture of excellence for more students.

But, at a certain point, research and data is just a series of talking points.

If your school or district is committed to making DEI a priority for students and staff, you need a model to move your team from the relative safety of head nods and talking points to the gritty, impactful process of real, actual work.

It’s time to get it done.

So, what does a framework for diversity, equity and inclusion look like in K-12 schools, and where do you start?

These are the questions that Dr. Luvelle Brown answers in his Mission, Equity & Excellence professional learning cohort.   

Below are five pillars that every K-12 equity plan should include. If these ideas resonate with you, read to the end of the article for an opportunity to connect with Dr. Brown, hear his take, and learn how to put his process to work for you, your school team, and your community. 

Recognize implicit & unconscious bias. Talk about ripping off the Band-Aid. 

If you really want to do this work in a meaningful way, you need to approach it head on. That means starting from a single point of truth. Like it or not, schools and school communities operate with implicit bias. This bias unavoidably impacts how students, staff and parents learn and experience school. 

Before you can promote DEI in a meaningful way in your schools, you need to recognize implicit bias and account for it. 

What factors contribute to students, parents or staff having different lived experiences? How do these factors affect their school experience? Document answers to these questions and use them as reference as you begin to think about your strategy.

A couple of ideas to try on your own or with a group:

  • Describe the ways implicit bias shows up inside and outside of schools
  • Explore ways in which implicit bias can be managed/reduced in your personal life and in your organization.
  • List some of the ways in which implicit bias, low expectations, and systemic barriers prevent equity for all students, particularly children of color, students with disabilities, children living in poverty, and those whose primary language is not English.

Create a culture of inclusion & equity. Now that you’ve put your chips on the table and recognized the challenges in your system, it’s time to start changing the culture for good. 

This is hard work, and doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with getting your team bought in and committed. 

Where to start:

  • Define what you’re talking about before you start talking about it. Make sure your team understands terms like “culture,” “equity,” “diversity,” and “anti-racism” and the difference between them.
  • Commit to responding to questions and meeting resistance to DEI across different segments of your school community.
  • Describe your current school culture and be honest about the ways it marginalizes various student populations.
  • Examine current district and school systems, policies and practices with an eye toward equity and how they impact both teachers and students.

Establish metrics to gauge your progress. You can’t change the game — unless you keep score. If you really want to improve equity and inclusion in your district, you’ve got to set some goals and hold yourself and your team accountable.

Here’s what to do first:

  • Identify metrics to measure the effectiveness of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. These will be different depending on your school or district, but could include student performance by demographic segment, workforce engagement and morale, community and parent sentiment, school culture and more.
  • Use protocols to reflect more deeply on student achievement data. What is the data telling you? Are you looking deep enough, and in the right places?
  • Monitor, track and communicate information about student achievement to your stakeholders. Now that you’re tracking the right data, make sure your findings are communicated clearly and to the right audience. This is how you work together to make improvements.

Develop a strategic plan & systems thinking for equity. Your commitment to DEI in schools is only as strong as the process you create to support it.

Planning is everything.

Work with your team to articulate a clear vision and mission for equity and excellence in your schools, both inside and outside the classroom.

Start by asking these questions (as defined by Panorama Education):

  • How is the school experience different for different groups of students?
  • What does the achievement gap look like for different groups of students?
  • Who is represented in our process? Are some groups over- or under-represented?
  • How do different groups of families perceive our school culture?
  • Do we have a clear system for helping us identify and act on inequities?
  • Are teachers and staff properly trained and equipped to overcome these challenges?

Lead your board & community with a laser focus on your mission. As a leader, it all comes down to one thing: progress.

Your DEI initiatives won’t mean a thing, unless they change the way you work and make decisions for the benefit of your students, their families and the community at large.

Want to know if you’re making progress? 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can our team use an equity lens when making budget decisions?
  • Can our team effectively communicate (to internal and external stakeholders) about DEI policies and decisions?
  • Does my team understand the “why” related to DEI’s role in supporting students’ needs?

There’s a lot to unpack here. Want to dig deeper into this framework and learn how to implement these core pillars into your system?

Dr. Luvelle Brown is one of the nation’s leading voices on DEI and culturally-responsive practices in schools. Sign up here to learn more about is Mission Equity & Excellence cohort today.

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