Diversity, equity and inclusion work requires both self-reflection and reflection as an organization or network. It requires difficult conversations, listening to and prioritizing marginalized voices, investing time and energy, and continually assessing progress. Education networks must commit to the journey over time.
Laying the Foundation
As a starting point, we highly recommend networks and network-convening organizations conduct an attitudes or culture survey to gauge how participants and staff view and experience the network across a range of areas. Surveys like this can:
- Highlight the marginalized perspectives and experiences that must be centered moving forward
- Reveal important areas to address within current culture and policies
- Reveal inequities and gaps in how different groups experience the network
- Serve as a barometer of collective readiness for this work
This equity inquiry should be completed by a group of people who can speak to a range of experiences in the network, its organizations, and the schools and communities it engages. This team should amplify the perspectives and voices from marginalized communities (see guidance on how to Assemble a Team) and be informed by the findings of the culture survey.
Throughout the framework, we use the term “marginalized” or “historically marginalized” to refer to people, voices, and communities that face discrimination, disenfranchisement, and barriers. In the United States, people experiencing poverty and people of color, especially Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities, have historically and currently been disproportionately and systematically marginalized and under-resourced. While we use this term broadly, you’ll want to be more specific to the needs and assets of your community as you consider equity in your context. It’s important to understand the meaning of this and other terms essential to equity work. We’ve included some definitions and explanations in the resource library.
Racial Equity as the Lens
Inequity exists across many strata of society. Given the historical and systemic foundations of education in the United States, advancing equity in education requires an explicit commitment to racial justice and to centering the voices of Black, indigenous, and people of color. This requires individuals and organizations to identify and dismantle systems of white supremacy as they show up in decisions, behaviors, and relationships. This includes addressing the harm of white dominant culture and racial microaggressions. Kimberly Smith, Executive Director of the League of Innovation Schools and leader of Digital Promise’s Center for Inclusive Innovation, has named key actions for white education leaders to consider as “co-conspirators” in the work for racial justice.
Centering racial equity doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of other groups that experience marginalization, such as students with disabilities or those who are gender non-conforming. Identities are intersectional. But interrogating and designing from the lens of race is a way to “design for the margins,” which can help create less inequitable structures for everyone. (See also “Leading with Race.”)
How to Use the Framework
Answers to the reflections prompts in this inquiry will vary across participants, reflecting their perspectives and experiences. The modules should be used to understand those differences. Participants can respond to worksheet questions independently and then come together to discuss. They might also answer questions together as a group. Be sure discussion is facilitated in ways that mitigate power dynamics and amplify marginalized voices. You may also want to seek additional perspectives of those who can speak to a particular topic.
Each module in the tool contains a worksheet that walks those participating in the inquiry through a reflection process. Start with the “Understanding Your Community” section and revisit it throughout the inquiry to center the needs, assets, and stakeholders of your community. You can move through the other topics as relevant. Most of their worksheets are organized into these components:
- Areas of Inquiry – Respond to a series of questions that ask how well the network is embodying equitable practices in its work, leadership, and culture. Answer them candidly and specifically. Avoid assumptions, but seek evidence and prioritize marginalized perspectives. Taken together, the prompts are starting points for discussion and greater interrogation.
- Points of Progress – Identify work underway that is pushing the network to be more equitable and inclusive around each question area. List specific practices, policies, examples, outputs, or work that help your Network to be more equitable and inclusive. You might not always have something to name in this space. Nothing noted will constitute “mastery.”
- Work to Advance – Share ideas for making the network more equitable. Name specific practices, policies, behaviors, outputs, initiatives, or projects. Use this space to expand on or push back on observations in the “Points of Progress” section. There will always be something to name in this space. Seek resources and a range of perspectives to help.
- Reflect and Commit – Reflect on learnings and feelings from the process. Plan for change-making actions and next steps. Based on your discussion and the ideas generated in the “Work to Advance” section, what will you stop, do differently, change, disrupt, do better, do more, do less? Specify actions, commit to timelines for implementing them, and assign people to work on them. Design the work to ensure that marginalized voices are informing and leading it.
Give this equity inquiry the time and space required. Seek to understand. Have a learning orientation. Understand that this work requires personal reflection alongside the organizational.
There are no checklists or quotas for this work. Actions like increasing representation from people of color in formal leadership are necessary but insufficient. This work requires sustained commitment and the expertise of organizations and equity leaders who will support it. We recommend that education networks, and the organizations and individuals who participate in them, seek guidance from experienced equity facilitators and continue engaging with learning resources as part of their ongoing journeys.