How do school leaders create an environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed and valued? When hiring, do we look for candidates that share our values and bring their own rich cultural experiences? Or, do we unconsciously give opportunities to candidates that mirror our existing landscape, which is often times-- the structural makeup that hinders growth, cultivates single-viewpoints, and perpetuates exclusion? I would argue that diversity is as much about getting folks through the door as it is retaining them once they are there. And, the latter requires more than a surface proclamation. It requires a deep dive into disrupting old ways of thinking, old ways of interacting, acknowledging, and then doing the work that it takes internally to before we visually see changes.
As a part of the leadership team, coaches can be a critical element in the hiring process, lead and give feedback on school task-force work, or gather a pulse on environmental needs. By our very nature as relationship builders who waffle in between teacher spaces, student spaces, and administrative spaces, we often see, hear, and experience the challenges and successes in a district. We are adapters by choice. In our role we have the capacity to ask ourselves and our colleagues reflective questions. Sometimes this means simply stating facts--saying things like “this is what our teacher demographic data shows; what may be possible reasons for this, and how have we impacted these numbers?” Within a heated and sometimes even topic-sensitive conversation, we can say things like “ these our the words I have heard, and these are the actions that have followed immediately after those words, was this your intent”? Signaling contributors and observers to acknowledge the impact of their own actions through non-biased questions can open up the “why” and “how” things have always been done.
If an organization that you work for states that they want a diverse team yet fails to retain the human capital needed, asking key questions can make all the difference. Questions like “what did we do individually and collectively to create an environment where diverse team members can thrive? Did we support team members with diverse perspectives by responding to their stated needs? Did we make assumptions instead of asking for clarity when challenges arose? Did we provide an atmosphere where reflection and discomfort can live? Do we show with our actions that we embody the values we profess?
With so much talk about culture, school climate, and diversity, asking the right questions about creating “community,” is a large step in the right direction. Of course, there are hours and pages that should be dedicated to this conversation---even historical movements past and present live in this dialogue. However, the actions of one or two have the ability to gain momentum. It is in those tight spaces, those closed-door talks, as well as sitting across from colleagues at those large-tables where coaches are able to invite new ways of thinking into the room and begin to slowly and intentionally turn the wheels of change.
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