Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the ClassroomJanuary 12, 2022
Building the Structure from the Ground Up
Under Princess’ tenure as assistant principal, Brooklyn’s Math, Engineering, and Science Academy (MESA) boasts regular, staff professional development on DEI; a dedicated committee that creates awareness around Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month; and consistently collects feedback from students and staff on how they can improve. But it wasn’t always this way and progress didn’t happen overnight; it has been the result of starting small with interested staff and Princess’ leadership in both coordinating the efforts and allowing her colleagues to take ownership of responsibilities. These have included educational workshops, a book club, affinity staff groups by race, and focus groups on “allyship”—the act of uniting with another to promote common interests.
Princess’ Advice for Taking Action
Start small. Take stock of your staff. Are there staff members interested in putting a cultural assembly or workshop together? Creating focus groups? Starting a book club? Collecting staff and student feedback on their own experiences and needs? One person or a group of people invested in this work can motivate others to follow.
Make DEI a focus of professional development. Any approach to promoting DEI works best if it is embedded in what teachers and staff do, instead of a one-off activity. That way, staff can set expectations and have accountability for meeting them. You can go as far as appointing a DEI director along with a couple of associates. Why not create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for DEI like you do with instruction? For example, increase your percentage of students feeling comfortable talking about DEI by 20%? MESA makes involvement in DEI mandatory, dedicating each trimester to a particular focus (for example, establishing norms or community-building). Once DEI structures are in place, schools can take steps toward reevaluating curriculum and incorporating learning into lesson planning.
Collect data every year. How is your school performing in its practices to promote DEI? It’s difficult to assess whether the bases are covered unless you collect specific data from staff and students. The MESA team asked staff and students about their personal experiences with feeling included in the school, such as, “Do you feel connected to people of your same race?” Asking direct questions can help you find patterns as well as areas you might have missed. Princess views this process as “eye-opening”; her team had learned that Asians, a small population at the school, felt unseen—which led to programming around AAPI Month and other activities. Another way to obtain data is to conduct an “equity audit”—a comprehensive tool that allows you to rate your DEI practices in categories spanning school culture and climate to teacher pedagogy and classroom management.
Share best practices. Do you have a teacher or group of teachers who are creating a positive classroom environment for all students? Have them invite peers into their classroom to see these practices in action.
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