Facilitating Cross-Institution DEI Innovations:
Lessons Learned from our Working Group Launch
by Christian Sparling
TeacherSquared’s partner institutions* have come together to form a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) working group to share current practices and develop new approaches to some of our shared concerns:
- Improving support for historically underrepresented candidate groups,
- Developing culturally responsive teacher educators, and
- Promoting diverse and inclusive institutional culture
Here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way that have contributed toward a successful launch of cross-institution sharing and innovation.
Group Norms Matter
Group norms are commonplace in many institutions and meetings. The norm creation process can often feel routine and participants might be under-engaged. When bringing together unfamiliar professionals from different organizations to talk about potentially sensitive DEI topics, there may be significant differences in experience and exposure among participants. We have found it necessary to deeply engage the group in the creation and continual re-evaluation of shared behavioral norms and participant expectations. Don't spend 5 minutes phoning in the norms. Spend 30+ minutes, and plan an activity to ensure open discussion and deliberation of norms. Here are some examples we compiled in our working group, some which are similar to those in professional development offered by the Fellowship for Race & Equity in Education.
Promoting Safe/Open Dialogue
- Be vulnerable and embrace discomfort.
- Assume the best of colleagues as they share.
- Be mindful of racial and power dynamics that may exist within this group.
- Listen to understand, not to respond. Self-monitor your airtime.
Ensuring Safety & Confidentiality
- Share openly with the expectation of confidentiality.
- What's said here, stays here. What's learned here, leaves here.
- 24-48 Hour Rule: Follow up after any uncomfortable interactions
- If any interaction leaves you uncomfortable, do not let it fester. Instead, follow up directly within a short time frame, 1-2 days, to address the situation.
Collaborate Across the Org Chart
Unlike function-specific problems of practice, discussions involving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion naturally call for a range of voices to be in the room. We have found that true cross-institution collaboration has not only been possible, but even more productive, with participants from a range of roles and positions. By including both chiefs and coordinators, with perspectives from instructional and operational functions, the group can be maximally inclusive and diverse in function and seniority. The resulting combined skill set within the group is also conducive for creating successful outcomes and deliverables.
Working Group Format Promotes Both Creation and Sharing
One of the highlights of our experience together has been the urgency and intensity in our interactions due to deadline-driven production of new deliverables. Instead of just gathering to talk and share experiences, this working group has pushed to create flexible tools that address problems of practice relevant to the whole group. Cross-institution sharing occurs by necessity as collaborators compare existing tools, strategies, and institutional experiences. Culturally, working toward shared outcomes accelerates the establishment of a collaborative dynamic within our limited time together.
Asset-based Approach to DEI Problems of Practice
The initial stages of our collective work focused on identifying common problems across institutions relevant for our working group to tackle. Language from these discussions can influence the resulting conversations about solutions, resulting in a deficit-based approach. For DEI problems of practice, a deficit-based approach can reinforce the very problems we are trying to solve!
For example, a common problem among our institutions is retaining and graduating male candidates of color.
- Deficit-based framing: All males of color should be monitored and supported academically.
- Asset-based framing: Academic monitoring data should be disaggregated by race and gender (at minimum) to ensure equitable retention and graduation rates for historically underrepresented groups.
When pivoting from identifying problems to brainstorming solutions, reinforce the pivot in language to asset-based framing to ensure solutions mirror the values our DEI working group aims to reinforce.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not a proprietary topic. Cross-institutional collaboration should be approached with an open-mind and eagerness to share by all teacher preparation programs. Through true collaboration and open-hearted sharing, teacher preparation programs can become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive institutions. Promise 54’s recent report, Unrealized Impact: The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, further reveals that teacher prep programs across the country seem open to sharing data for the broader good. There should be no DEI trade secrets: we’re all on the same team here, in service of giving our Pk-12 students the culturally responsive teachers they deserve.
About the Author
Deputy Director, TeacherSquared
As Deputy Director for TeacherSquared at Relay GSE, Christian’s work focuses on operational support for cross-institutional initiatives that support data-driven improvement, DEI, and teacher educator development. Prior to joining Relay, Christian worked at Uncommon Schools as Associate Chief Operating Officer serving North Star Academy in Newark, NJ. He started his career teaching 1st and 2nd grade in the Bronx, NY through Teach For America.