Improving Diversity and Inclusivity in Schools

Dec 8, 2020 by

One of the key challenges in education is inclusion, which is ensuring that every child, irrespective of background is part of the learning community.  Inclusivity means that a diverse group of students can achieve their potential and have their strengths and weaknesses recognized. The recognition of diversity in education is very important for equity in education. Inclusion and respect for diversity are critical for equality in the education system and provide innumerable educational, social, and cognitive benefits for students. School leaders, under the No Child Left Behind Act, are now obliged to make diversity and inclusion priorities (Gardiner, et al, 2009).

Improving diversity in schools and fostering inclusivity are both very challenging. This is because of the culture of many schools and districts, entrenched special interests, a lack of understanding and outdated attitudes and beliefs. A school that seeks to improve diversity and inclusion needs to examine all aspects of its organization, management and culture to ensure equality of educational opportunities (Raffo and Gunter, 2008).

The Role of the School Leader

A school leader needs to be a reflective practitioner and to examine every aspect of their own and others works and attitudes (Moulton, 2017). A school leader must not assume that they are culturally competent and understand the nature of inclusion. They can use tools such as those supplied by the National Association of Elementary School Principals to improve their ability to become culturally competent and to promote inclusion and diversity. Every leader in order to benefit the school should get to know the culture of their students and their views, such as Native American students, transgender students, etc. They should try to understand what makes their students unique and if they have any particular challenges.

Every educator should strive to create a culturally responsive classroom. This is one where the cultural needs of every student are recognized and celebrated, and these classrooms are truly inclusive. They can be created by ensuring that all perspectives are valued and that students engage in a constructive dialogue. All voices in the classroom must be heard. The school leader can establish a ‘tone of inclusion’ that means all students feel part of the learning community and feel respected. The educator needs to allow minorities to learn about their history and community (Raffo and Gunter, 2008). This could involve day-trips to sites of importance to some cultural centers, etc. Schools should have a zero-tolerance policy towards any behavior and language that are culturally insensitive. Any bullying incidents should be addressed as soon as they arise but viewed as opportunities for learning and growth for the school community. Punishment has often reinforced negative attitudes and stereotypes among students, therefore advocating for educating the bully and those in their midst becomes critical. It is now recognized that cultural sensitivity needs to be taught to students and promoted (Raffo and Gunter, 2008).

Several practical measures need to be taken to ensure that all students feel part of the learning community. Among these are

  • There is a pressing need to increase the number of minority teachers in the classroom. Diversity and inclusion require diverse teaching faculty. This can increase student engagement and prepare students for life after school in a multicultural society.
  • A school leader needs to ensure that all the faculty are committed to diversity and inclusion. This could involve adopting a transformational leadership style, that inspires teachers to strive to create inclusive and diverse learning environments.
  • Mentoring can be helpful. Teachers and members of the community can mentor students who are from minorities or who come from historically marginalized groups. These can help students to better engage with their learning (Healey, 2016).
  • Teachers need to have more training in cultural and other issues. This can help to transform a classroom and the experiences of children.
  • It has often been the case that the curriculum has not been inclusive and did not recognize diversity. The curriculum needs to help students to understand that there are multiple perspectives and views and that they are all equal (Fuentes, et al, 2020).
  • Schools need to have outreach programs that allow them to collaborate with a range of communities and services.  This can help students form a variety of backgrounds to feel part of a rich learning community. It can help educators to acquire more cultural competency and understand the needs of their students such as those who identify with other cultural groups, LGBTQIA, etc.

Diversity and Inclusion require supports and even extra resources. The Unites States government offers numerous resources to those who want to improve diversity and to promote equal educational opportunities. Resources such as Improving Outcomes for All Students: Strategies and Considerations to Increase Student Diversity have been published that can help school leaders develop strategies that support diversity and inclusion.

Comment:

How important is communication in promoting diversity and inclusion? What is your school or community doing to improve upon their diversity initiatives?

Keywords:

Diversity, inclusion, student engagement, educational opportunities, diversity and inclusion in schools

References

Gardiner, M. E., Canfield-Davis, K., & Anderson, K. L. (2009). Urban school principals and the No Child Left Behind Act. The Urban Review, 41(2), 141-160. Retrieved from: Urban School Principals and the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act | SpringerLink.

Moulton, Samuel. (2017, 3 June). Top 3 Findings on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Schools. Panorama Education. Retrieved from: Top 3 Findings on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Schools (panoramaed.com)

Fuentes, M. A., Zelaya, D. G., & Madsen, J. W. (2020). Rethinking the Course Syllabus: Considerations for Promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Teaching of Psychology, 0098628320959979. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0098628320959979.

Healey, Lauren. (2016, 16 November). K-12 School Districts Work to Improve Inclusion Through Teacher Training. Insight into Diversity. Retrieved from:  K-12 School Districts Work to Improve Inclusion Through Teacher Training | INSIGHT Into Diversity

National Association of Elementary School Principals.(2016). The Principal’s Guide to Building Culturally Responsive Schools. NAESP. Alexandria, VA. Retrieved from:

https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/NAESP_Culturally_Responsive_Schools_Guide.pdf

Raffo, C., & Gunter, H. (2008). Leading schools to promote social inclusion: developing a conceptual framework for analysing research, policy and practice. Journal of Education Policy, 23(4), 397-414. Retrieved from Leading schools to promote social inclusion: developing a conceptual framework for analysing research, policy and practice: Journal of Education Policy: Vol 23, No 4 (tandfonline.com).

United States Department of Education. (2017). Improving Outcomes for All Students: Strategies and Considerations to Increase Student Diversity. Retrieved from: Improving Outcomes for All Students: Strategies and Considerations to Increase Student Diversity — January 19, 2017 (PDF) (ed.gov)

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