Leaders and administrators can play an important role in shaping the educational experiences of students, staff members and faculty. From learning different perspectives to breaking down cultural barriers and ethnic stereotypes, research findings such as those from The Century Foundation have shown over and over again that students who learn in a diverse environment are more likely to outperform those who don't.
In the past few years, there has been increased talk about inclusion and diversity in classrooms and offices. In order to benefit our society, we all need to look at these issues and strive to address them, and this particularly important for those in leadership positions. However, there's much confusion about what actually counts as inclusion and what practical steps will help achieve it.
In an article for the Resilient Educator, Lilla Dale McManis, Ph.D. explains that inclusive education is "when all students, regardless of any challenges they may have, are placed in age-appropriate general education classes that are in their own neighborhood schools to receive high-quality instruction, interventions, and supports that enable them to meet success in the core curriculum." This includes students with cognitive or physical disabilities, students from various races and ethnicities and those who are gender non-conforming, for example.
With that in mind, here are five ways that supervisors, administrators, consultants and directors can have a positive impact on their communities by providing access for all:
- Representation Matters
There are a series of actions — big and small — that educational leaders can take in order to highlight representation, such as hiring faculty members from a variety of backgrounds and prioritizing curricula that celebrate the accomplishments of individuals of varying genders, races and religions. Leaders can use books with images showing different types of bodies.
According to Maria Kampen from Prodigy, "When schools take inclusive and responsive approaches to diversity, students are more likely to see their identity represented in classroom materials or other students. When diversity is not a priority and these students don't feel included, they're more likely to not participate and feel inferior to their peers."
- Using UDL Principles
UDL stands for "universal design for learning." This is a method that encourages educators to think about how they present material to the classroom, being especially sensitive to learners with disabilities. Understood.org offers advice for those wanting to introduce these principles in classrooms. For administrators and directors, teachers can consider UDL tactics when evaluating the curriculum, school-wide communication and the individual needs of each student.
- Involving the Families
Educational leaders need to become acquainted and communicate with their students' families. As XQ Superschool points out, "Parents and families are assets and allies. They provide an important perspective on their student's needs, strengths, and abilities. ... Being in communication with families helps to maintain consistency in the use of interventions and accommodations and to keep students more engaged in homework and learning."
- Inclusive Language for All
Language can unintentionally expose our personal biases. When communicating with teachers, staff, families and students, educational leaders must be adaptive — not all parents will use English as their first language, not all teachers will have the same cultural references and not all students have the same strengths.
There are many ways that language can be used as a tool for inclusivity. For example, gender-neutral terms and pronouns are important in order to foster an environment that is accepting of students' gender identities. It is important that some students on the autism spectrum have the opportunity to communicate clearly, without too many metaphors and jokes.
- Listen to the Students
Sometimes it's easy to dismiss the complaints of those who don't have the same experiences as us. If a student claims to be suffering from racist, sexist, ableist or xenophobic attacks, believe them. Try to understand where they're coming from and how to address the issue. The real first step towards change is recognizing inequality in our society and seeking steps for improvement.
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