Diversity and Ensuring Everyone Learns

Defining Diversity

One of the most helpful tools I’ve seen when it comes to understanding diversity in any organization is the Diversity Wheel. I first saw this from Tommie Lewis of Make it Plain Consulting – a great Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consulting firm here in Cincinnati. I looked into this tool a little bit more and learned the following:

In 1990, Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener developed a framework for thinking about the different dimensions of diversity within individuals and institutions. Depicted as concentric circles, this ‘Diversity Wheel’ can be used in many different ways to encourage thinking about values, beliefs, and dimensions of identity for people and organizations

The Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI)

You can find the version of the Diversity Wheel (sometimes called the Culture Wheel) I refer to the most here. I encourage you to check it out, or simply do a Google search for “Diversity Wheel.” You’ll see lots of examples. Essentially, the wheel features parts of ourselves in the middle that we cannot control and flows outward to things more and more under the influence of our own reflections, choices, and control. It’s a lovely tool because it allows all individual to be part of the diversity discussion, even if they had never previously considered themselves to be “diverse.”

I traditionally understood diversity as being a product of economic, racial, ability, cultural, linguistic, and cognitive differences. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these categories; they certainly sums up diversity as it relates to instruction, school law, and our school traditions. I’m simply advocating for expanding the idea of diversity a little bit more. I find the Diversity Wheel to be incredibly invitational. Everyone can find differences to celebrate when exploring that wheel!

Supporting From the Leadership Position

Once checking out the Diversity Wheel, a school staff may feel more open to discussing diversity. We all have differences worth celebrating. Here are three ideas for working through diversity issues with your school staff. I do believe it’s best to have a culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse staff, but these ideas are meant to help no matter the make-up of your school staff.

Idea 1: Recognize The Staff’s Own Stories

I’ve been an instructional coach for a few years now. I delivered my last whole group lecture-style professional development probably two years ago. I will never deliver professional development sessions that way again. I am one of eight Learning Experience Designers in my district, and I remind the others often of this experience.

Why? Because there is usually so much rich expertise on a school staff that it’s much more fun to tap into their own ideas. That’s my true love as a coach: pulling ideas out of other rather than standing on a stage telling everyone what to think. The stories of classroom teachers are better received by other classroom teachers every single time.

Have you ever seen the episode of The Office called Diversity Day? It’s wildly cringy. It’s cringy because the least qualified person in the room – the boss Michael Scott – tries to control and manage the day. He was trying to deliver a Diversity PD without doing any meaningful work in the realm. If you’re using the Diversity Wheel as an introduction to what my friend Amy Hull calls the “heart work” of working in the diversity realm, just about any staff member can offer their own stories in a meaningful way. Small table groups can talk about their own Diversity Wheel results. You can even have staff members give mini TED talks about their own experiences. That’s a much better Diversity Day.

Idea 2: Discuss the Impact of Expectations

The Pygmalion Effect and The Gollem Effect are a couple of my favorite ways to describe how expectations truly impact learning. Hidden implicit biases may subconsciously impact our expectations of others who may not look like us. Teachers are not immune to this. They can inadvertently impose unintended expectations on their learners. On our design team, we often talk about the impact of expectations on learning. It’s so fascinating to learn about the neuroscience behind these very real psychological effects. This makes me wonder about the impact of common instructional approaches like ability grouping. I don’t know of any school that does not have some type of ability grouping. These create soft expectations that very well may be dragging our kids down. I also know that no teacher intends for that to happen.

This is part of the “heart work” that I referenced before. People can get up in front of a room and lecture to the room about the impacts of expectations, but that lacks power until educators connect to their own experiences. A quick 15 minute demonstration of the neuroscience can easily spark hours worth of discussions in small groups. That’s where the learning and growth is most powerful from my experience.

Idea 3: Strategically Group Your Staff

When I was a classroom teacher and it was PD time, you know what I did? I sat with my department. I shared a hallway, lunch, and classrooms with the other art teachers. I rarely got outside of that box. The PD practices that I list above really work best if you get heterogenous groups together. If you’re on a large staff like mine, often teachers appreciate meeting people they may not know well. Undoubtedly, there may be situations where people don’t get along or have some unforeseen beef from 15 years ago. However, if you’re asking them to do heart-work discussions like I suggest in Idea 1 and 2, it is most powerful to have differences. Only then will they really empathize with the differences in their own classroom.

Thank you Nate Dumlao and Unsplash for the Featured Image

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