As a parent, guardian, educator, student, or member of the community, there are a lot of opportunities to recognize the need for more diversity and inclusion in schools.
For years, members of underrepresented groups have recognized not only a lack of materials and education, but also lack or representation in faculty, materials, text, books and more.
While some schools have embraced this change with open arms, a large majority are taking little steps here and there to fit into their models when it's convenient. Let me be clear. A true change when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion will not be convenient. It will have to be intentional. It will take time, resources, and dedication. It will require a total revamp of different systems, recognizing that racism and discrimination are systemically engrained issues in our society as a whole.
So what can we do? First it is important to recognize what things we need to be looking for. Without recognition of these things, it will be difficult to know what we are advocating and fighting for.
Below are a few things that should be evident in schools starting from pre-school education:
Diversity in materials: Your child should see different families (families of divorced parents, families with same gender parents, families with parents of different ethnicities, families with no parents, families with different abilities). This is important. How do we create a sense of belonging if children never see their lifestyles represented? Materials include thins like books, brochures, posters, coloring pages, etc. Is there inclusive language in materials, and multiple languages if applicable?
Representation in teaching: This shouldn't be limited to just months such as Black History Month. We should be seeing BIPOC authors, LGBTQIA authors, and other underrepresented individuals taught in reading materials, history, science, and other areas within schools. Highlighting local business owners. Teaching about different cultures and practices. Crafts shouldn't be highlighted just around Christmas or other specific holidays. Field trips to places that are local that represent more than just one area of thinking. Representation should be all the time. It should be a regular part of education.
Diverse staff in important positions: Take a second to think about how many marginalized individuals you see as staff in the schools? Now think about how many of those individuals you see in higher positions. If it's not many, or none at all, this is a problem. First of all, where is their seat at the table. Clearly they are not being invited in the first place. Secondly, are their voices even being heard when they are there. Thirdly, there are most likely not adequate opportunities to elevate them to positions where they are able to succeed and contribute. Children need to see people like them represented in higher positions. This also helps avoid tokenism. It is difficult to feel like you have a safe space when it comes to certain subjects when the people who are there to counsel you cannot relate in any capacity to your situations.
A clear policy and follow through on unacceptable behavior: Often times, even with different policies in place, there isn't a feeling of safety. Even staff members. There should be clear cut policies that are followed through when it comes to unacceptable language and behaviors related to discrimination. Anything unacceptable should be shut down immediately in classrooms. Most marginalized individuals have lived their whole lives dealing with microaggressions. By allowing what may seem like a little joke, opens up the opportunity for further discrimination. There needs to be consequences for everyone in the school, modeled from the top down. Complaints must be taken seriously every time, or individuals will never feel safe, heard or included.
An diversity, equity and inclusion statement with action items and follow up: Often times we see schools implement a mission statement in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. While it's a nice sentiment, what is important is the actions. The mission statement itself doesn't accomplish anything. How are educators learning on a regular basis how to be inclusive in their teaching and materials? What are the school board and principals doing to be proactive in their approaches? What types of activities are being planned to honor different diversity months, or individuals? Look for not only a statement, but follow through.
There are many more things that should be applied in schools, but the above items are good starting guidelines for individuals to recognize the opportunity for change.
Now that we have identified some of the issues that need to be addressed, let's talk about how we can identify what your local schools are doing, and what we can do to advocate for change.
How to Identify Opportunities
Talk to your local schools: Do not take their statements online at face value. Go speak to your local principal directly, and ask specific questions. If someone is not familiar with equity, diversity and inclusion work, it will be evident in their lack of answers and knowledge.
Ask your kids: While not all children may be able to communicate this, some older children will. Ask specifically what books they are reading. What they learned about in school. How their school is educating them on certain topics. If they are using inclusive language. Children are wonderful resources to report back on day to day activities and you will get a good look into the true nature of what is going on in the classrooms.
Pay attention to activities, crafts that come home, etc: Many times we are able to identify discriminatory things or lack of representation just in what was sent home. Are there crafts that encompass different individuals. Are all the drawings or materials sent home of white, able bodies, cisgender individuals, or are we seeing more diversity.
What to Do to Advocate Change:
Talk to the school board and principal: The school board an principals are in place for a reason. They are in charge of overseeing what happens in the schools. Often times staff is advocating for changes, but are unable to do so without the permission of these individuals. If the school board and principals see that these issues are important to parents, they are more likely to make a change.
Join the school committees: By showing up, your voice is more likely to be heard. Putting yourself in a position that allows you to voice your opinions to staff on a regular basis allows you to be heard more clearly. Taking the time to show up indicates a level of commitment to change.
Educate other guardians of children in the school and ask them to advocate as well: This may be one of the most important steps of all. The more voices, the more the school district will listen. The more complaints, the more results. If the school sees that a lot of individuals are advocating for something, then they are more apt to put something in place. Part of this begins with educating others. Many individuals who have never been a part of an underrepresented group don't even recognize issues that are going on in the schools. By educating others, there are multiple people that will jump on board with fighting for equity and inclusion.
Speak up: If you notice that individuals are being discriminated against, make the complaint. If you hear about it from your kids (even if it's not your child), make the complaint. There should be a zero tolerance policy for discrimination in the schools. Staff, students, and faculty need to know that someone cares for and about them, and that we will not accept inappropriate behavior on any level. This is what advocating is all about.
You can read more information on how to facilitate more inclusive classrooms HERE
Have further questions? Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org