Fostering Diversity and Inclusion

Dec 19, 2020 by

Diversity and inclusion have long been recognized as critical in K-12 schools and higher education.

Schools should be inclusive and diverse if students are to receive the best educational outcomes. It is essential for educational equity. Inclusivity and diversity are challenging and require a great deal of commitment and specific strategies. These strategies should be based on best practices and empirical data. Too often plans to build inclusion and diversity are impractical and lacking in ambition (Booker & Campbell-Whatley, 2018). As a result, a great many efforts to promote a learning environment that recognizes and celebrates differences have failed. Below are a series of specific and practical strategies that can be implemented that can build inclusion and diversity in the classroom and school.

  • Many students with educational challenges have an individualized educational plan, IEP. A school leader or the special education team in the school should guide teachers to implement IEP. This can take the form of ongoing conversations on where to seat the child and ensure that they are not segregated but part of the class to giving the student extra work or modified work to meet the child’s specific needs.
  • It may be necessary to adapt the curriculum to the abilities of all the students and provide them with learning tools that are suitable for their learning style. Too often curriculums have benefitted one group of students with a specific learning style. A more inclusive curriculum can be developed by using tools such as the Universal Design of Learning (see Comcast).
  • Schools should support students in their learning of important life-skills. Too often many disadvantaged students lack basic skills such as note-taking or cursive writing. These are often not evaluated in standardized tests but can help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to excel in the everyday classroom.
  • Increased Collaboration. Teachers have a myriad of skills and areas of expertise. If they continuously collaborate they can share their knowledge and expertise. For example, teachers with a variety of lived experiences can share their knowledge and perspectives with their colleagues. In this way, teachers are better able to support children from a wide diversity of backgrounds and with particular challenges.

A range of initiatives can be put in place that can support diversity and inclusion in the classroom.

  • Establish a model of change.  Several models provide frameworks for change such as the Creating an Inclusive School Environment: A Model for School Leaders (IRIS, 2010).
  • A team should be formed. This will liaise with stakeholders in the development of strategies that build inclusion and diversity. This can help school leaders and others to recognize what needs to change and what should be retained.
  • A vision statement can be developed that reflects and encourages the ambition of creating an inclusive and diverse learning environment and a commitment to educational equity. This is then communicated to all stakeholders (Leo and Barton, 2006).
  •  An action plan is developed with strategies and goals. These goals should be measured and constantly monitored. The plan should have the buy-in of the teachers and they should be facilitated to achieve the goals set out in the plan (William and Mary University, 2015).
  • The action plan includes administrative supports to promote inclusion, individual student supports and individual program educational development.
  • Adopt diversity management strategies. If the teaching staff are diverse, they can contribute to creating a learning environment where diversity is seen as an asset (William and Mary University, 2015).
  • Changing the culture of a school to one that is genuinely inclusive. Re-culturing programs can be adopted (Cochrane-Smith, 2009). These involve using empirical evidence to make all decisions and this can lead to new thinking and attitudes.

A school leader can promote a commitment to change, by leading by example. Some small-term wins should be sought to encourage all the stakeholders to participate in the changes required. Then any changes should be ‘anchored’ in documents.  This can be done by stating them in school missions, improvement plans, strategic plans, evaluations and brochures. Diversity work takes time. It is a journey. Great school leaders are reflective practitioners, reflecting with others as well on what is working and what is not, and be willing to identify shortcomings when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Regular review and then reevaluating how to move forward on these steps ensures an improved pathway towards better practices focusing on increased inclusivity.

Comment: Can you name the barriers to inclusion and diversity in your school or school district?

Keywords: inclusion, diversity, educational equity, improving educational practices

References

Booker, K. C., & Campbell-Whatley, G. D. (2018). How Faculty Create Learning Environments for Diversity and Inclusion. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 13, 14-27. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1184935.pdf

Cochrane-Smith, Marilyn. (2009). “Re-Culturing” Teacher Education: Inquiry, Evidence, and Action. University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Available from: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1226&context=teachlearnfacpub

IRIS. (2010). Creating an inclusive school environment: A model for school leaders. The IRIS Center for Training Enhancements. Retrieved from http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/inc/.

Land, Sue. (2015). Considerations: Strategies for Creating Inclusive Schools. VA: William and Mary University. Retrieved from: http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/packets/strategiesforcreatinginclusiveschools.pdf

Leo, E., & Barton, L. (2006). Inclusion, diversity and leadership: Perspectives, possibilities and contradictions. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 34(2), 167-180. Retrieved from Inclusion, Diversity and Leadership: Perspectives, Possibilities and Contradictions – Elizabeth Leo, Len Barton, 2006 (sagepub.com)

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